The jury remains out on how Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and Ahkello Witherspoon will pan out as impactful players in the NFL. Those three, taken by the 49ers in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, have had highs and lows over their first season and a half. Foster looked like a future All-Pro as a rookie, but has dropped off in 2018. Thomas is solid, but hasn’t been dominant yet as a pass rusher. Witherspoon started as a rookie but has graded lower in Year 2.
But the one 49er picked in last year’s draft -- all the way down in Round 5 – who already is among the NFL’s elite is tight end George Kittle.
The second-year man from Iowa leads the 49ers with 41 receptions for 692 yards, is averaging 16.9 yards per catch – almost five yards more than in 2017 – and has three touchdowns. He ranks third in the NFL in receptions among tight ends behind only the Eagles’ Zach Ertz (61) and the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce (51). He ranks second among tight ends in receiving yards.
Since he joined the 49ers, Kittle has proven to be a reliable blocker and receiver, who also is capable of getting separation from defenders because of his above-average speed. Earlier this season he had an 82-yard TD play.
Kittle is coming off a four-catch, 108-yard game against the Raiders in which he and new starting quarterback Nick Mullens had instant chemistry.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus selected Kittle to its midseason All-Pro team.
As the 2-7 49ers get ready to play the 1-7 New York Giants this coming Monday night, head coach Kyle Shanahan says Kittle is making an impact across the board on offense.
“You only get better or worse and he’s a guy who’s gotten a lot better after playing at a pretty high level last year,” Shanahan told Keiana Martin of the team’s website. “George, I think people underestimate or don’t talk enough about how good he is for us in the run game. He’s a very good run blocker. He’s a very physical player.
“I think everyone is starting to see how good he is in the pass game. What’s been most impressive is, when you get the ball in his hands you guys can just see that he has a certain attitude to him that he’s trying to score every time he touches the ball, whether he’s 80 yards away or 2 yards away.”
Monday’s 49ers-Giants game at Levi’s Stadium is set for a 5:15 p.m. kickoff