George Kittle is Heading for a Sophomore Surge

May 08, 2018
George Kittle is Heading for a Sophomore Surge

The 2017 season was an unusually fruitful one for rookie tight ends. Four first-year players at the position broke into the top 25 in PPR fantasy points—Evan Engram (TE5), George Kittle (TE19), O.J. Howard (TE21), and David Njoku (TE24). This quad of players could see high production in 2018, but Kittle is arguably the one in the best position to break out. Below are my reasons why.

Golden Boy at QB

With Jimmy Garoppolo under center, the clouds will part, animals will frolic freely and we’ll finally achieve world peace, right? The NFL world is fired up, almost at an unhealthy level, to see what Tom Brady’s former clipboard-holder has in store this season for the 49ers and their revved-up Kyle Shanahan offense. Garoppolo was impressive in his six-game stint at the end of last season, tossing the rock for 1,560 yards and seven touchdowns, adding another score on the ground.

Editor's Note: Find all our 2018 Player Profiles here.

Kittle certainly benefited from Garoppolo's presence on the field, going from 6.3 PPR points per game with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard throwing the ball, to 8.7 per contest with Garoppolo as the signal-caller. If we take Kittle’s production in December with Garoppolo at quarterback, (15 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown), and project an entire season, we’re looking at 60 receptions for 900 yards and four scores. Those numbers would have been good enough for top-five production among tight ends last season, indicating great things are on the horizon for this duo in 2018.

Kittle's Production with a Carousel of QBs
QB Time Under Center Kittle's Standard Pts/G Kittle's PPR Pts/G Total Standard Pts Total PPR Pts
Brian Hoyer Weeks 1-6 4.5 8.0 27.2 48.2
C.J. Beathard Weeks 7-12 3.6 5.4 18.2 27.2
Jimmy Garoppolo Weeks 13-17 6.2 8.7 30.8 43.4

No Real Competition

In his rookie season, Kittle was targeted nearly double the amount of teammate Garrett Celek—63 to 33—and his target rate per snap was close to two times higher (10.6% for Kittle, with Celek’s at 5.9%). Celek did a decent job filling in last season when Kittle was sidelined with an ankle injury but he presents no real threat to the former Iowa tight end's starting role.

Seemingly confident in a solid sophomore season ahead, San Francisco's coaching staff didn’t select a tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft, assuring us that the job belongs to Kittle. He is free to soar, spread those wings, and put up Star Wars numbers the fantasy community will revel in.

Red Zone Threat

Kittle led the 49ers in targets and receptions within the 20-yard line last season. He also recorded the most catches from the 10-yard line in. Compared to his more experienced teammates, the rookie certainly held his own in the scoring zone in his first season as a pro and should only improve with a full year under his belt. It also doesn’t hurt that Garoppolo ranked ninth in completion percentage in the red zone among starting quarterbacks, which bodes well for their scoring potential as a tandem this season.

Niners' 2017 Red Zone Receiving
Player TGT 20 REC 20 Catch % 20 YDS 20 TD 20 % TGT 20 TGT 10 REC 10 Catch % 10 YDS 10 TD 10 % TGT 10
George Kittle 16 9 56.25% 41 1 17.80% 7 4 57.14% 22 1 18.90%
Marquise Goodwin 15 5 33.33% 50 1 16.70% 9 1 11.11% 8 1 24.30%
Carlos Hyde 11 9 81.82% 57 0 12.20% 2 1 50.00% 7 0 5.40%
Kendrick Bourne 8 0 0.00% 0 0 8.90% 5 0 0.00% 0 0 13.50%
Trent Taylor 7 5 71.43% 29 2 7.80% 3 2 66.67% 8 2 8.10%
Garrett Celek 6 3 50.00% 12 3 6.70% 6 3 50.00% 12 3 16.20%
Kyle Juszczyk 6 6 100.00% 42 1 6.70% 1 1 100.00% 6 1 2.70%
Pierre Garcon 5 3 60.00% 20 0 5.60% 0 0 0 0 0.00%
Matt Breida 4 1 25.00% 11 0 4.40% 1 0 0.00% 0 0 2.70%
Louis Murphy 4 1 25.00% 10 1 4.40% 2 1 50.00% 10 1 5.40%
Aldrick Robinson 4 2 50.00% 20 1 4.40% 0 0 0 0 0.00%

Kittle Is Built for Success

At an impressive 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Kittle is by far the tallest weapon Garoppolo has among his starting pass-catching corps. Only Pierre Garcon cracks the six-foot mark at an even 6-foot-0, with Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and Trent Taylor measuring 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10, and 5-foot-8, respectively. When the field gets compressed and pass-catchers can’t separate, it’s the sophomore tight end who has the potential to excel in one-on-one situations both downfield and in the red zone, translating to more points for your fantasy squad.

Currently averaging an ADP of TE14.3 in best-ball contests on DRAFT, MFL10, and RTSports, Kittle possesses excellent value. He’s being selected somewhere in the 10th round, and he may even slip to rounds 14–16 once redraft season rolls around. If you miss out or decide to pass on Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, let others grab Evan Engram, Zach Ertz, and Kyle Rudolph much too early. Instead, chill and wait for Kittle in the later rounds, reaping the benefits of a better-balanced roster.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images.

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