Through the decades, the 49ers have had some terrific tight ends. Russ Francis, Vernon Davis, Brent Jones and Ted Kwalick rank among some of the finest.
Now, George Kittle is starting to look like he may eventually join that group.
Kittle, in just his second NFL season, came out of Iowa as a highly regarded blocker and little-utilized receiver. In San Francisco, that’s changed. He’s developed into a clutch receiver with the speed and moves to turn short gains into long ones. His all-around game is so strong that the analytic website Pro Football Focus has graded him the No. 1 tight end in the NFL through four games and has named him – along with running back Matt Breida – to its first-quarter-of-the-season all-NFL team.
Through four games, Kittle has caught 18 of the 28 passes thrown his way and has 316 yards receiving with one touchdown. He is fourth in the NFL among tight ends in yards per catch (17.6). As PFF notes, Kittle has 13 catches for first downs and has forced five missed tackles.
Kittle is coming off his best game of the season, a six-catch, 125-yard day against the Chargers that included an 82-yard TD.
Writes PFF: “If he maintains similar efficiency through the end of the 2018 season, Kittle will finish the season with 1,263 receiving yards, which would be a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end.”
In the game against the Chargers, Kittle was paired with quarterback C.J. Beathard for the first time this season, after the injury to starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The Beathard-Kittle combo dates back to their days at Iowa.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan says he loves what he’s seeing out of Kittle right now.
“I think Kittle’s very good,” he said. “I think he’s been good since he got here. He was a guy we were very surprised on that he fell to us in the draft. I thought he was one of our best players last year going into the season. He got banged up early on, as I’ve talked about. He made it through and kept playing, but he wasn’t moving the same way he started out.
“He got healthy towards the end of the year to where I think more people saw his ability. Then he’s been healthy this year, so I think it’s been easier for him to show it.”
Kittle and the 49ers, off to a 1-3 start, will try to get their second win this Sunday against the 0-4 Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.