George Kittle injury history, outlook for 49ers tight end

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have one of the NFL’s most prolific tight ends, George Kittle, but he also comes with a pretty extensive injury history.

Let’s just settle this debate: The San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle is the NFL’s best overall tight end.

Sure, the Kansas City ChiefsTravis Kelce might be the single-season yards leader at the position (taking away a record previously set by Kittle), and Kelce might be more of a scoring threat. But if you want all-around production, blocking, being a decoy and doing more with a lesser-talented Niners roster, Kittle is the guy.

As fun as it is to hype Kittle, and it never gets old, there’s an unfortunate and still-concerning element to his game.

Kittle comes with a long list of injuries.

Most recently, Kittle missed an extensive period of time in 2020 when San Francisco was dealing with significant injuries all across the roster. So, fans can hope last year’s setback was more of an anomaly, but it’s still going to be important for the 49ers to at least acknowledge the fact Kittle hasn’t always had the cleanest slate of health.

George Kittle injury history with 49ers, at Iowa

Kittle has appeared in 53 out of a possible 64 regular-season games over his four-year NFL career, which isn’t terrible by any means but does highlight the fact the chances of him missing time during any particular year tend to be higher than many other players at his position.

More on that in a second, but let’s look at Kittle’s injury history, both at the pro level and in college.

George Kittle groin injury, 2022

A groin injury suffered in practice forced Kittle to miss the first two games of the 2022 season.

George Kittle calf injury, 2021

Kittle dealt with a calf injury in Week 4 but still played with it before being placed on injured reserve heading into the Niners’ Week 5 game, which meant he’d miss at least three weeks.

George Kittle broken foot and MCL sprain, 2020

Kittle suffered a knee injury after Week 1 last year, which forced him out of the subsequent two weeks where San Francisco traveled to MetLife Stadium.

Yet that wasn’t the big injury he dealt with during the year, as Kittle ended up catching a high pass from fill-in quarterback Nick Mullens in Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks, landing awkwardly on his foot, causing a fracture that sidelined him for six more weeks.

Some thought it smart for head coach Kyle Shanahan to shelve Kittle for the rest of the year, but the tight end returned for the final two games of the season, helping engineer the 49ers’ final win of the year in Week 16.

George Kittle knee sprain, 2019

Fans won’t soon forget Kittle’s heroic performance on Halloween back in 2019 where he was playing with banged-up ribs and a knee sprain.

But that particular injury forced him to miss the following two weeks — Weeks 10 and 11 — allowing No. 2 tight end Ross Dwelley to step into Kittle’s absence.

George Kittle shoulder sprain, 2018

Going back to the 2018 preseason, Kittle suffered an A/C joint separation in his right shoulder during the Niners’ exhibition opener, which immediately caused concern he had suffered a broken collarbone.

Fortunately, the injury didn’t cause any major damage, and Kittle was able to return in time for the regular season where he’d go on to set the single-season record at the time for tight end receiving yards with 1,377.

George Kittle ankle and hamstring sprain, 2017

After being selected by San Francisco in Round 5 of the 2017 NFL Draft, Kittle suffered a hamstring injury in training camp, but that didn’t hold him back from being ready in time for Week 1.

He did, however, suffer an ankle injury later during the regular season, which forced him to miss Week 10.

George Kittle foot sprain, 2016

During his final collegiate year at Iowa, Kittle suffered a pedal foot sprain against Purdue on Oct. 15, which caused him to miss two games and limited his production leading up to the NFL Draft the following year.

George Kittle injury outlook with 49ers in 2021

The 49ers and their fans are hoping Kittle is available fully like he was during 2018 or, at the very worst, misses only a game or two this season with a minor injury.

Unfortunately, Sports Injury Predictor suggests that probably won’t be the case.

In their latest prediction piece, Kittle is sadly ranked the No. 1 tight end in the NFL likely to deal with an injury that forces him to miss at least two quarters this season, coming in with an 89-percent chance.

Provocative, considering other injury-prone tight ends like Hunter Henry (74 percent) are listed below Kittle.

The prediction also suggests Kittle will miss 3.3 games this upcoming season with the highest probability of injury out of the entire tight end crop of 12.2 percent injury chance per game.

Yes, that’s high.

The good news, though, is Kittle has remained highly productive even in limited seasons when he hasn’t been on the field the entire time, and last year is a prime example where he still managed 634 yards on 48 catches with two touchdowns while only playing eight games.

Let’s just hope that number reaches a full 17 in 2021, though.

Next. Top 5 rookie seasons in 49ers history under Kyle Shanahan. dark