By: Chris Sanchez (@Chucky__Sanchez)
Final Edit: (Zachhernan)
The past few seasons, the tight end position has been everything but steady for the 49ers. Since Vernon Davis’ last good year (2013), we saw his production drop off significantly until he was traded to the Denver Broncos late in the 2015 season. Vance McDonald, a second round pick in 2013 and Delanie Walker’s replacement, was supposed to step up and solidify the position. And while McDonald has shown flashes in the running and passing game, he is very inconsistent. He sometimes misses assignments as a blocker, and let’s just say his hands are far from reliable. Of course, there have been other tight ends on the roster. but forgive me if I don’t get overly excited about Garrett Celek or Blake Bell. Also, the 49ers added veteran tight end Logan Paulsen in free agency. But it would be unfair to expect anything more than solid blocking and a handful of catches out of him.
During the 2017 NFL Draft, the 49ers drafted standout tight end George Kittle from the University of Iowa. Kittle is a plus athlete at his position and one of the premier blocking tight ends in this year’s draft. He is also a superbly reliable pass-catcher. I am projecting that by the end of training camp, Kittle will be the 49ers number one tight end. It should be no problem for him to fight off the competition and emerge as Kyle Shanahan’s favorite option at the position.
Under Shanahan’s offense, Kittle will be used in a variety of ways. He will primarily be utilized as an in-line blocker to seal the outside during running plays. However, Kittle also has the athleticism and versatility to be lined up all over the field. He can be lined up in the backfield as a traditional fullback, as a slot receiver, and he also has the speed (4.52s 40) to possibly be lined up on the outside on pass plays. With enough grooming, Kittle can be another versatile “OW”. We all know how much Shanahan loves players who can do multiple things.
Here are some of Kittle’s strengths and weaknesses as identified through film study:
•Played four years in a pro-style offense. Critical to being successful in Shanahan’s scheme.
•Violent and relentless in-line blocker who is rarely out of position.
•Extremely reliable hands – only 48:1 catch/drop ratio.
•Good speed for the position, which gives him the ability to line up inside or outside as a receiver.
•Able to track the football and alter his positioning to make tough catches.
•Very tough after the catch. Shifty for a big man with the ball in his hands.
•Route-running needs work, as he runs a very limited route tree.
•Needs to learn ways to create separation from defenders other than through straight-line speed.
•Sometimes overly-reliant on upper-body strength when blocking. Needs to clean up some of his footwork.
All in all, Kittle is obviously a rookie and will have a lot of work to do in order to prove himself. He does come from a pro-style system and I expect the learning process to be relatively easy for him. The main adjustment for him will be the speed of the pro game and the strength of the players he’ll be going up against. Both of which can be adjusted to by studying/experience and through working with the strength and conditioning staff. I expect big things out of Kittle in this offense. When it is all said and done, he could be one of the steals of the draft. At the very least, he will finally solidify the tight end position for the 49ers.
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