Kyle Shanahan and passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik must work together to make George Kittle the 49ers’ top receiver in 2022.
No matter how you slice it, San Francisco 49ers 2017 fifth-round pick George Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the entire NFL.
Since arriving in the Bay Area, he’s been an invaluable piece of the puzzle and all the success the Niners have had lately, earning two trips to the NFC Championship Game in the past three years.
Kittle’s workload and production for San Francisco ramped up from year one through year two. To illustrate, as a rookie he started seven games and mustered 43 receiving targets for 515 yards, which set an NFL record for rookie tight ends drafted in Round 5 or later. In his second season with the 49ers, he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, started 16 games, and recorded 136 targets for an NFL record 1,377 receiving yards at that position.
Various injuries have played a role in some reduction in his output over the past two seasons, at least in terms of targets and catches. However, despite injuries which caused him to play fewer games than in previous seasons, he still had a solid year. In 2021, on far fewer targets than in previous seasons, Kittle recorded his regular-season career-best six touchdowns.
Nonetheless, 49ers passing game specialist Bobby Slowik is set to enter his second season at the helm by devising a plan for philosophy to focus on Kittle.
Offensive durability of George Kittle and the 49ers
As previously highlighted, in 2017 when Kittle first arrived in San Francisco, he and quarterback Jimmy Garaoppolo thrived. In 2018, Kittle was San Francisco’s No. 1 option even after Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3.
However, Kittle’s lingering injuries recently led to the Niners handing over the baton.
In 2021, the 49ers’ offensive philosophy revolved around their 2019 second-round pick, rising star receiver Deebo Samuel. While Samuel had a great season receiving the ball as a wide, Samuel’s impact in the backfield taking transfers was paramount.
Now yes, Samuel in the backfield taking transfers as a “wideback” has been efficient and electric.
However, that’s not sustainable for the future of the offense or his health, as he was also the Niners’ leading receiver in targets, receptions and yards for the 2022 season.
The thing is, if San Francisco wants to keep its rising star, Samuel, healthy and an offensive focal point for the future, they need to make sure he doesn’t put too many miles on him so early in his career. career.
Read more: 3 reasons George Kittle got off to a slow start in 2021
It would be wise for the 49ers to consider re-emphasizing Kittle. Once again, placing the responsibility of being the “alpha receiving target” on Kittle will bring a unique kind of balance to the Niners offense with this fearsome duo.
The bottom line for George Kittle and the 49ers
For San Francisco to reach its full potential in 2022, Kittle must once again become the alpha receiver. Although he recorded a career-high in touchdowns last season, his presence was barely felt during the Niners’ run to the NFC Championship Game.
Kittle has scored just nine targets for the entire 2021 playoffs and hasn’t scored a touchdown. Sometimes it felt like Kittle was lost in the shuffle during the playoffs.
There’s no doubt that Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce are at the top of their positional pecking order, but San Francisco needs to find more ways to capitalize on having such a strong player. impact at a critical position. Kittle’s athleticism and speed pose him as a considerable offset against most NFL defenses.
Despite that, Kittle had just nine targets in the red zone for the entire 2021 season, earning an 88 receiving percentage and scoring four touchdowns on those opportunities.
With Trey Lance set to start at quarterback in 2022, the skills and impact of Kittle, in particular, will become enormously more valuable. Not only a safety blanket for Lance, but also a catalyst to completely renovate and open up the passing game to complete the rushing attack.
Centering the offensive philosophy around Kittle would also create additional opportunities for stud runner, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who was impressive last season.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan, of course, will intend to implement a heavy dose of running game to tone things down for the smart young Lance. In terms of the passing game, centering it around Kittle would have the same effect.
Ultimately, it’s critical that the 49ers offensive coaching staff shift their primary offensive focus to Kittle and make him the alpha receiving target for the foreseeable future.
Kittle is yet to have a double-digit touchdown season, and it’s safe to say he’s way behind schedule.