The San Francisco 49ers are going to see George Kittle climb quite high in the ranks of all-time receivers when all is said and done.
The joys of employing a player who is among the very best at his position in the entire NFL is that, over time, the fan base of that team also begins to see that star player establish his legacy with season after season of top-tier production. That’s what San Francisco 49ers fans are lucky enough to witness with each passing year that George Kittle is on the roster.
Kittle has already established himself as one of the NFL’s best tight ends and he’s coming into the prime of his career. With a healthy five-year, $75 million deal, the Niners have already locked him up through the 2025 season, which means they’re hoping for/counting on at least four more years of Kittle showing off the league’s best all-around skill set for a tight end and serving as an integral part of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
To date, Kittle has already put up 335 catches for 4,489 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in five NFL seasons. While those averages aren’t overwhelming, the picture of dominance is made clearer when waiving a half-season lost to injury in 2020 and a rookie season spent adjusting to the league. In those three other seasons, Kittle has made the Pro Bowl and contended with Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews as the most productive player at his position.
So how does Kittle stack up on the 49ers’ all-time lists at this stage? Right now, Kittle is already in the top 10 receivers of all time after having surpassed Roger Craig and Michael Crabtree last season. With another standard season (e.g. 800-900 receiving yards), Kittle will leap Freddie Solomon and Brent Jones to claim the No. 8 spot. If so, that will put only tight end Vernon Davis in front of him among receiving yards leaders when referencing his position.
The truth is that a single outstanding season from Kittle—of which he’s certainly capable and might be made even more realistic with Trey Lance under center—would be enough to knock Davis from his perch. If you extend the numbers of Kittle this season to an exemplary 1,152 yards receiving (which he’s eclipsed by nearly 200 yards in the past), he’d leap another two spots and overtake both John Taylor and Davis for No. 6 overall on the list.
In terms of receptions, Kittle is going to need two seasons to move beyond Davis in the Niners’ record books. Kittle’s own career high is 88 so it’s hard to imagine he’ll garner the 106 needed to match Davis in that regard. That said, Kittle’s health and Lance’s performance are both variables here that will affect production, so it’s impossible to say one way or the other. At present, Kittle has 335 receptions at No. 12 overall and Davis has 441 at No. 5. In other words, even if it takes two seasons, Kittle will be in rarified air by the time he’s 30.
When it comes to touchdowns, Kittle is going to need a much more explosive offense (or he’ll need to hoard the end zone targets) because he’s sitting at No. 17 now with 20, tied with R.C. Owens. Kittle has never caught more than 6 (last season), so there’s no reason to project him with Davis in this regard since Davis has an incredible 55 touchdowns as a true end zone legend in Niners history.
Even if you want to be modest and project only three more very productive seasons for Kittle and you keep those totals “safe” at 800-900 receiving yards per year, Kittle will be the third-most productive receiver in team history by the final year of his contract. That will place him behind the immortal Jerry Rice and fellow Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. If Kittle can stay dominant (which in the NFL is very difficult), even Owens’ total of 8,572 yards is in reach with another productive season or two from Kittle.
As for Rice, that total of over 19,000 receiving yards feels almost laughable when looking at Kittle’s greatness and realizing the difference that still remains.