The 49ers are headed to the Conference Championship this weekend, and they largely have George Kittle to thank for their recent domination of the NFC. The tight end out of Iowa is breaking records and dominating the league as both a blocker and a receiver in his third season. The 2017 third-round draft pick has not only impressed as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, but has also revamped San Francisco’s offensive attack.
Prior to Kittle’s rookie year, the 49ers were struggling to win games with starting tight end Garrett Celek. Under Head Coach Chip Kelly, the 49ers produced a bleak losing record of 5-11 in 2015 followed by an even worse performance in 2016 with a 2-14 finish. After firing Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke and drafting Kittle in 2017, the team has been on a slow but steady uphill trajectory.
While Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, General Manager John Lynch, and powerhouse tight end George Kittle might have been the trifecta San Francisco needed to revamp their program, the franchise didn’t start to see real success until Kittle’s sophomore season. After battling injuries in 2017, Kittle finished the 2018 season more than doubling his receiving yards, breaking the NFL single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end at 1,377 yards.
However, it was the 2019 season in which Kittle leveled up in all aspects of his game, becoming a true playmaker in terms of not only receiving but also rushing and blocking.
Kittle has become a master at extending plays, turning short catches into 10 plus yard gains. Breaking tackles, intense speed, and the ability to consistently fall forward are only part of the story for Kittle, who is such a force in San Francisco’s offense that the defense is forced to account for him on every play. Kittle’s mastery at drawing attention away from receivers and making key blocks has also allowed the 49ers to pick up easy touchdowns all season.
What makes Kittle undeniably crucial to the 49ers’ offense is his dependability. He turns easy, short conversions into big plays, averaging 18 yards per catch in 2019, and he makes big blocks to set his teammates up for high yardage runs. When Shanahan gives Kittle a job, he delivers, making defenders look scrawny and lost on the field in the process.
While there is no denying players like Jimmy Garropolo’s and Tevin Coleman’s value to the 49ers, the timing of George Kittle’s entrance to the team and the team’s subsequent success can not be coincidental. San Francisco’s offense was in desperate need of a revamp and they found that new power in the record-setting tight end in the 2019 season.
For a team that hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since 2014, San Francisco has never appeared more well-rounded or prepared for a Conference Championship matchup. But for the 49ers, beating the Packers this weekend isn’t the endgame. They want the Super Bowl, and it’s up to Kittle to keep up his level of play under pressure to get them there. With his powerhouse blocks, clutch receptions, and big plays, Kittle has gotten the 49ers to where they are in early 2020, and will be instrumental in San Francisco achieving their ultimate victory in Florida.