Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at who the best player is on the offense.
There’s no debate that George Kittle has been the star of the 49ers’ offense thus far. Coach Kyle Shanahan still isn’t completely sure why the tight end dropped to the fifth round in the 2017 draft, but he’s thankful it happened.
Shanahan points his finger toward the heavy run-first Iowa offense for Kittle lasting until the 146th overall pick but says he saw more than that in his second-year tight end. Shanahan always had high expectations for Kittle and still believes the tight end hasn't reached his ceiling.
Kittle put together a solid rookie season, catching 43 of his 63 targets for 515 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 68.3 catch percentage and one 100-yard game.
In his sophomore season, Kittle was able to adjust his offseason training program to be more specific to his position instead of being geared toward the NFL Scouting Combine. He has learned how to take care of his body in order to recover and stay on the field, which Shanahan said has been a key to his success.
Kittle has caught 50 of his 71 targets for 775 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him on pace for 1,240 yards for the season. He has a 70.4 catch percentage and has posted two 100-yard games.
One thing markedly different about Kittle in his second year is his desire to play angry. After the loss to the Giants, he explained where this aggression came from.
“I learned this from Pierre Garçon last year,” Kittle said. “That dude has the nastiest switch from when he goes from not on the field, to on the field. He goes from the nicest guy in the room to the angriest, meanest person ever.
“Seeing him play like that last year, completely, it’s a kind of mindset, seeing him play like that has definitely helped me this year. And flipping that switch to play as angry as possible, because there’s a lot of guys who don’t play angry, that’s helped me a lot.”
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“So when I see someone flat-footed, and I can run over them, it makes me very happy, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
That anger has helped Kittle gain more yards after catch than any other tight end in the league. His 535 yards after catch far outreaches Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce’s 362 yards. Kittle is on pace to shatter the season record of 652 yards after catch, currently held by Kelce.
Kittle also has 10 receptions of 20 yards or more, tied for the most among tight ends with Kelce and Raiders Jared Cook.
And he's done all of this while working with three different quarterbacks in those 10 weeks: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.