49ers All-Pro George Kittle could get even better in 2020

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers.(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers.(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /
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George Kittle, 49ers
Tight end George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Why George Kittle improves with 49ers in 2020

For now, George Kittle is in a contract year. So that’s motivation. Hopefully, the Niners don’t let that be a factor, though (more on that in a bit).

Kittle’s on-field impact is about as top-tier as any player could provide. The stats only tell a part of the story, too:

George Kittle Receiving Table
Game Game Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year Age Tm Pos G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD 1D Lng R/G Y/G Ctch% Y/Tgt Fmb
2017 24 SFO te 15 7 63 43 515 12.0 2 24 44 2.9 34.3 68.3% 8.2 0
2018* 25 SFO TE 16 16 136 88 1377 15.6 5 60 85 5.5 86.1 64.7% 10.1 0
2019*+ 26 SFO TE 14 14 107 85 1053 12.4 5 53 61 6.1 75.2 79.4% 9.8 1
Care Care 45 37 306 216 2945 13.6 12 137 85 4.8 65.4 70.6% 9.6 1

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/14/2020.

San Francisco’s No. 1 receiving threat the last two years still managed to have an impactful 2019 campaign despite upgrades at wide receiver (Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel) and also being limited to 14 games with both ribs and ankle injuries. And of those 1,053 yards last season, 602 of them came after the catch.

Kittle’s route running? Well, it’s elite, too. Just take this NextGen Stats chart from Kittle’s best single-game performance last year (Week 15 versus the Atlanta Falcons) to see the complexity of routes run:

Pretty special for a player who operated in a primarily run-first, simple pass-game offense in college.

Kittle’s blocking is also top notch, and it’s one of the reasons Pro Football Focus separated him from the other top-two tight ends in the league today, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Ertz.

But this is where things get fun in anticipation of Kittle getting even better in 2020.

One would normally expect Kittle’s touchdown numbers to be bigger, given he’s a red-zone threat and master at yards after the catch. Five seems a little low. Yet Pro Football Focus’ Ian Hartitz (h/t Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area) pointed out Kittle had three would-be touchdowns nullified by penalties last season.

In total, San Francisco had seven touchdowns reversed because of penalties in 2019.

If the Niners cut down on the yellow flags, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Kittle emerges as a top scoring threat, too, which is one of the areas somewhat absent from his otherwise flawless profile.