Fantasy Court: The Case Against George Kittle in 2023 (Fantasy Football)
This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court Series. Don’t forget to check out The Case For George Kittle by Dan Lovi for his opposing view.
I gotta say, your honor, it feels weird to stand in this courtroom to speak against one of the greatest tight ends of our time. George Kittle is not only a very good football player, but also a great human being that has done a lot for the tight end position.
But we’re not here to talk about all the wonderful things he has done over the years. My job as the prosecutor in this case is to find the truth by taking an objective look at what George Kittle can do for fantasy football teams in 2023. After finishing the 2022 season as the TE2 in fantasy points per game, a lot of fantasy managers might feel excited about him, but his production won’t be easy to replicate. I’ll try to show you why nobody should draft George Kittle at his current ADP.
A Deceiving 2023 Fantasy Football Finish
George Kittle finished the season with a career-high 11 touchdowns. That’s almost double his next-best season in that category. However, his general fantasy production has been declining year over year, as the 49ers have become less dependent on him as a focal part of the offense. 2018 was his best season both in volume and fantasy points per game. Since then, he has never seen as many targets, receptions, or yards. Things were different back then. For instance, Deebo Samuel wasn’t in the NFL yet.
As you can see, his targets, receptions, and yards have been correlated to his FPPG during almost his whole career. His touchdowns have followed a similar path as well. But as we all know TDs are not a sticky stat and Kittle’s 2023 season is a perfect example of that. Despite seeing a decrease in yards and catches, he had a spike in TDs, which boosted his fantasy points per game.
Besides, 63.6% of his TDs happened during the season’s last four games, after Brock Purdy took the reins of the team and leaned heavily on his tight end, as inexperienced rookie QBs usually do. George Kittle’s target share went from 19% to 26% during these weeks. We can’t rely on this being the new norm.
The expected TDs for the volume he had should be around four, which would have lowered his FPPG to 8.03 and his fantasy finish to TE5. Not very exciting, right? A touchdown regression is in the cards for George Kittle, and considering he finished 10th in targets, we can make a more realistic idea of how low his floor can be.
Today, the 49ers’ offense is built very differently from how it was in 2018. They have two more than capable wide receivers in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and last season the target competition got even more crowded since they acquired Christian McCaffrey, the second most targeted running back in 2022. He will definitely command more passing work this season.
All these players will have boom weeks. There’s no doubt about it. But as long as they are all healthy, we can’t expect consistency from George Kittle. There will be Deebo weeks, Aiyuk weeks, Kittle weeks, and of course, every week will be a CMC week.
If you look at the consistency charts in the Fantasy Footballers UDK+, you’ll notice that George Kittle finished among the top 12 tight ends only 53.3% of the time in 2022. This is not an encouraging baseline for a full season with Christian McCaffrey as a constant option in the passing game.
Too Expensive For A Volatile Tight End
Right now George Kittle is going in the fourth round as the TE4 (overall ADP 49). This is mostly based on what he did in the season’s last four games. It’s very risky to spend a fourth-round pick on a player who might let your fantasy team down half of the time.
I usually follow the “go great or go late” mantra when drafting tight ends. But this year there are much safer options than George Kittle in the middle rounds, such as Dallas Goedert or Darren Waller, who I think could be one of the best values at the position. I know it can be scary to bet on a player who just changed teams, but at least you wouldn’t be risking a fourth-round pick.
Already Dealing With An Injury
At the moment of writing this, George Kittle is already dealing with a hip injury. It’s not supposed to be anything serious, but we must take it into consideration. Drafting a player who is dealing with an injury in August is never a good idea, especially at George Kittle’s current price.
Here are some fantasy-relevant players who had injuries that were deemed minor around this time of the preseason in 2022:
I know it’s impossible to predict which injuries will aggravate during the season, and this might seem a somewhat simplistic way to look at it, but apart from Miles Sanders who still had a great season, the rest of the players in this list kept battling injuries and finished lower than their ADP. So at least there’s a lesson to learn here.
I’m not saying we should discard Kittle because of his minor injury, but it’s one more reason to consider him a risky draft pick at his ADP.
As much as I acknowledge what George Kittle means for the 49ers and the NFL, I can’t find a reason to draft him in the fourth round. His 2022 finish is an illusion caused by a high number of touchdowns that he simply won’t be able to replicate in 2023 unless a relevant teammate such as Deebo Samuel or Christian McCaffrey suffers an injury. That would definitely boost Kittle’s volume.
Your honor and members of this honorable jury, I strongly recommend punting the TE position a couple more rounds and taking a much safer player around George Kittle’s ADP, such as Terry McLaurin, Justin Fields, or Miles Sanders.