George Kittle: 3 reasons 49ers TE is off to a slow start in 2021

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Jauan Jennings, San Francisco 49ers, George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) with tight end George Kittle (85) Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 2: George Kittle is serving as a 49ers offensive decoy

Healthy or not, George Kittle is not going to relinquish his title of being San Francisco’s top receiving threat even if the stats aren’t backing it up.

There are two factors working against Kittle, at least in terms of the numbers. First, the 49ers don’t exactly have a field-stretching deep threat. Even if they did, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t known for taking frequent shots down the field beyond 20 yards, thereby allowing defenses to cheat up towards the line of scrimmage.

Kittle is always a yards-after-catch threat anytime he gets the ball. And despite the lower-than-anticipated numbers, he’s still impacting this category with 161 of his 227 yards coming after the catch.

Opponents know this, too, and what’s become a strategy is to limit Kittle from getting behind the second and third levels of the defense. And it’s not uncommon for Kittle to draw multiple defenders, thereby cutting down on the number of easy targets.

Fortunately, however, this has allowed fellow 49ers pass-catchers like wide receiver Deebo Samuel to have a massive impact.

No doubting Samuel’s league-high 490 receiving yards have partially come at the expense of Kittle not getting his touches.