Fantasy Football: George Kittle is a Top 10 Fantasy TE in the Making
I know what you’re thinking… this is another one of those “puff pieces” written by another person who thinks their fantasy hot take is somehow more valid and convincing than the next. At this point in the offseason, I think it’s still valid and pertinent to make some projections through combining opportunity, statistics, and game film watching in order to make an educated guess on a player’s range of possible outcomes. George Kittle has had some offseason chatter surrounding his potential in this Jimmy Garoppolo-led 49ers offense and was recently mentioned in the Early TE Rankings & Sleepers episode.
But before we begin setting our rankings and projections ablaze, it’s valuable to understand that a top 10 TE isn’t what it once meant. Last year’s TE10 in 0.5 leagues was Jason Witten, old faithful. He was only startable in a handful of games in 2017 and was detrimental to your team in 8 games. In other words, what we’re asking ourselves about Kittle is does he have it in himself to be somewhat consistent.
See where Andy, Mike, and Jason have George Kittle and other TEs ranked in the Ultimate Draft Kit.
College Production & Athletic Pedigree
At Iowa, Kittle was an effective blocker and receiving TE on an offense that was bent on running the football. He ended his 2016 season with just 22 receptions for 314 yards with four touchdowns. Going into the combine, there was little to get excited about in terms of a production standpoint especially with a draft chalk-full of athletic freaks at the TE position. Kittle was rated then as a late-round guy at best as a rotational filler, roster-depth pick. He then blew the doors off at the combine to match some of his much more heralded TEs.
Although Howard and Engram came in with some incredible measurables scouts were drooling over, Kittle is no stranger to athletic skills. In fact, according to PlayerProfiler, he outpaced his fellow rookies in Burst & Agility percentile scores as well as Catch Radius. Reports came out that newly minted 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan took a liking to Kittle as he loved installing double-tight end sets. Although Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek had performed fine, the QB play in San Francisco left little to be desired. Shanahan said Kittle had the flexibility to contribute as both a blocker and a key receiver in his offense.
2017: Season In Review
As mentioned in our 25 Statistics TE article, Kittle had as many top 2 PPR weeks (2) as Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Kyle Rudolph, and Jack Doyle… COMBINED. Now I mention that stat at the beginning of Kittle’s review to let the cat of the bag (you like that Kittles-N-Bits reference?)… those were 2 of his 3 elite weeks on the year. His highs were high and his lows were essentially a norm. Based on a consistency measure, he was 25th among TEs.
–ESPN’s Mike Clay recently pointed out in a recent article that Kittle was on the field for “77 percent of the team’s snaps, ran a route on 73 percent of the team’s pass plays and handled a 13 percent target share during Weeks 1-6 last season. Those marks were 44 percent, 46 percent, and 10 percent during his final nine games.”
-This was a constant theme in reviewing Kittle’s yearly stats: his usage was confusing. In Week 4 against Arizona, he ran a 43 passing routes, his highest total of the year drawing only 3 targets for 1 catch and 8 yards. The next week against Indianapolis, he ran about a third of the routes and yet ended with 9 targets for 7 catches and 81 yards and a TD. It was by far his best game of the year. What gives?
-What is clear is that Kittle was a consistent red-zone weapon. In 9 of his 16 games, he received a look inside the 20. He ranked 6th at the position for red-zone receptions with 9, or as many as DeAndre Hopkins had all year despite seeing almost 500 fewer snaps than the all-world WR.
-When Garoppolo took over for the final 5 starts of the season, Kittle was the TE10 in fantasy. This stat can be a bit misleading as he didn’t hit that mark for Weeks 13-15 before spiking to as the TE7 in Week 16 and the TE2 in Week 17. In other words, he wasn’t a usable asset and didn’t get comfortable with Jimmy GQ until the end of the season.
-Finally, it should be noted that the 49ers called the MOST passing plays (which is different than passing attempts) in the NFL at 650. We can chalk this up to many negative game scripts and an offense that was bent on installing Shanahan’s unique schemes. The 49ers usually shift or motion a TE (Kittle or Celek) or fullback (Kyle Jusckyc) to disguise their formation. In this role, the tight end allows the offense to attack opposing defenses in a number of ways: crack blocks on toss/outside zone plays, down blocks, and for fantasy purposes, deep crossing routes to get to the other side of the field quickly. I found Kittle running the deep cross many times in the final 5 games with Jimmy G including some chunk yardage gains in his 100-yard performance of Week 17.
2018: Moving Forward
To summarize, George Kittle is a good football player. Not just in terms of his athletic profile, or the 49ers desire of targeting him in the red-zone but also in terms of the developing situation in San Francisco. He is the perfect type of home-run swing you can take in redraft leagues. In terms of projections, if he sees a snap percentage a small tick above his rookie year (which isn’t asking much) I’m currently seeing him with a line in the following range:
|0.5 PPR Finish
But please take note: he is a prime candidate to see his draft price rise considerably before fantasy drafts take place in August. As the 19th TE off the board in 14th round according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, you can afford to wait until the very end of the draft and take a flier on a player who has the opportunity and pedigree to possibly enter into that top 10 TE conversation at a basement-level price.