49ers: 5 players who will have bigger roles in 2018

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Jimmy Garoppolo #10 after a one-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Jimmy Garoppolo #10 after a one-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images) /
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SANTA CLARA, CA – DECEMBER 24: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring on a eight-yard touchdown catch against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA – DECEMBER 24: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring on a eight-yard touchdown catch against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images) /

No. 2: TE George Kittle

The George Kittle hype train was in full force in the offseason, with fans proclaiming that he was the next Rob Gronkowski, and Brian Hoyer saying that the Iowa offense should have revolved more around Kittle when he was in college.

The hype soon died down with the fourth-round pick, as he seemed to get injured every week in practice in preseason. Kittle also had a case of the drops early in the season, not being able to hold onto a lot of balls thrown his way.

And then, all of a sudden, veteran tight end Garrett Celek started making big plays for the 49ers, leading to the “Celek Time” craze around the organization and its fans. It looked like the rookie was now no more than the No. 2 tight end on the roster.

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However, Celek had to exit the game against the Tennessee Titans with an injury after catching a touchdown early in the game, leaving Kittle as the tight end on the field. The rookie ended up making a crucial 24-yard catch on a game-winning drive to get the team into field-goal range.

The next game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, Kittle stayed hot, converting an early third down with a phenomenal 13-yard grab where he had to leap in the air to catch the ball while getting hit hard by Jacksonville safety Barry Church. I was at the game and had no idea how Kittle caught the ball.

Later in the game, Kittle caught a touchdown in triple coverage, displaying his raw potential as a tight end.

And may I remind you again that this is against the No. 1 pass defense in the league?

As much as I love Celek Time, it is Kittle’s time to shine. Celek is getting up there in age for a tight end at 29 years old, and he was brought in by former GM Trent Baalke.

By working on softening his hands a little, Kittle is the future at tight end, and it should show next season.