George Kittle

49ers' Shanahan describes Kittle's Hall of Fame-type player growth

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George Kittle had a 2023 NFL season worthy of being given his flowers, and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, the leader that he is, is making sure his star tight end is properly recognized. 

Kittle, in his seventh NFL season, had a week to remember after surpassing 1,000 receiving yards for the third time in his career (first since 2019) against the Washington Commanders while also being selected to his fifth Pro Bowl.

During this week’s episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan,” Shanahan described to Greg Papa the type of career growth he has witnessed in Kittle.

“When you talk about those stats and stuff, that means that it is donning on you that he [Kittle] is a Hall of Fame-type of player,” Shanahan told Papa. “First time I’d say that was 2018, in the second year. We didn’t have a lot to play for there at the end. We were pretty banged up, (and) lost our quarterback at the end of the third week of the year.

“We had to go to George a lot more, and what he was able to do in that year ... He had more yards that year than any tight end in the history of football, and the way he did it: just the run after the catch was what was so unbelievable. The explosiveness he had. He was always that in the run game for us. And he was a big weapon for us as a rookie, but the step he took his second year and what it led to the third year and the Super Bowl. It started pretty early.”

With three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, Kittle, 30, joins Greg Olson, Shannon Sharpe, Todd Christensen and Kellen Winslow as the small, yet legendary list of tight ends to accomplish the feat that many times. 

Shanahan admitted that back in 2017, he and the 49ers organization thought highly of the then-Iowa tight end, but never imagined that Kittle, who was selected No. 146 overall and continues to build a impressive NFL resume, would slip further than the third round. 

“We really liked him coming out [of college]," Shanahan told Papa. "We had a third-round pick on him. We thought there’d be no way he was going to be there in the third round, but that’s what it looked like when we started looking into everything. We were like, ‘Yeah, he’s too good - someone is going to take him in the second [round].’ And when the third came, we had too many issues that we had to go and address. But then when the fifth [round] came, he was still there, and we couldn’t believe it.

“It’s very similar to what happened with Dre Greenlaw: we had a second, third-round grade on him, but we just couldn’t do it for other holes on the team. And he [Kittle] was there in the fifth [round]. I feel very thankful for that [and] both of those situations, but I can’t say enough about George. He’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to succeed here these [last] few years.”

In addition to his premier run-blocking and veteran leadership, Kittle leads NFL tight ends with 1,020 receiving yards and has six touchdowns through Week 17. 

There is no doubt that the 49ers -- the No. 1 NFC playoff seed -- will need Kittle to continue to put up big numbers as they begin their quest for the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.

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