George Kittle is NFL’s best TE and it isn’t close

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George Kittle’s eye-popping receiving numbers have seen a little bit of a drop off since his record-breaking 2018 campaign. As the 49ers have gotten their roster together and added more offensive weaponry, the need to lean so heavily on Kittle has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is his importance to what the 49ers do on offense and the way he’s capable of dominating games through the air and on the ground.

An ESPN survey of 50-plus NFL executives, scouts, coaches and players had Kittle atop the group of 10 tight ends. Via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:

His production last year — 71 catches for 910 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games — was modest for his standards, and he missed time for a third straight season because of a calf injury. But Kittle’s 6.2 catches above expectation (per NFL Next Gen Stats) and 19.4% reception rate per route run were both second highest among tight ends.

“He’s such an explosive player with or without the ball, run game, run after catch — that to me is the biggest thing,” an NFC offensive coach said. “He’s never going to be a great route runner. But he plays so physical through contact, and his savvy, and his play speed is so fast that he can overcome all of that.”

Even as other tight ends like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller emerge as threats in the passing game, Kittle is still the most dominant all-around TE in the league. His ability to run block at the level he does opens a ton of avenues for head coach Kyle Shanahan when it comes to play calling and keeping defenses off balance.

It’s not that Kittle simply can block. It’s that he thrives in that role. Pro Football Focus gave him a 73.6 run blocking grade, which tied him for third-best among TEs last year. His 449 run-blocking snaps are by far the most among the top 10 as well. The next player with more than 400 was Titans TE Geoff Swaim who graded out at 53.6 in 460 run-blocking snaps.

Kittle excelled when asked to pass block as well. PFF had him at 70 pass blocking snaps with a 76.4 grade last season – good for fourth among TEs.

Combine those excellent blocking numbers with his 71 catches for 960 yards and six touchdowns and you get the league’s best all-around tight end, and it’s not particularly close.

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