2019 Fantasy Football: George Kittle prepared to carry the torch (PFN Film Room)

With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, we say goodbye to a player who boasts one of the most celebrated individual seasons in the history of fantasy football. No worries. There's an ascending bunch of 2019 fantasy football TE's qualified to take up the mantle.

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Fantasy football dates back nearly 60 years. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that it became so widely embraced. Since then, many NFL players have been renowned for their amazing single-season performances. These accomplishments were the stuff of legends. But many household names have since retired. And those that haven’t will soon be.

For that reason, I scoured the league’s budding talent for future fantasy legends. Similar to past greats, these 2019 fantasy football studs will reward owners with bragging rights, championships and most notably, lots of money. Let’s kick things off with the tight end position.

Out With The Old: Rob Gronkowski, TE (2011) – 90 rec, 1,327 yds, and 17 touchdowns

The New England Patriots will not be the same without tight end Rob Gronkowski. For nine seasons, Gronkowski terrorized safeties, linebackers, and even cornerbacks. His effectiveness as a blocker will leave a significant void as well. Because of his skill set, Gronkowski is arguably the greatest all-around tight end to ever play the game.

In his second season, he’d start all 16 games. It would be the lone season in which Gronkowski played in every contest. And boy would it make a difference. That year, Rob Gronkowski completed the single most productive season for a tight end in modern-day fantasy football history.

For example, in a half PPR league with average scoring, Gronkowski would’ve put up 279.7 total points or 17.5 points per game. For perspective, only three tight ends averaged more than 13 points per game in 2018. None of which could score more than 244 total points.

Ahead of the 2019 fantasy football season, I wonder which of the three is capable of surpassing Gronkowski’s legendary 2011 season?

In With The New: George Kittle, TE (2018) – 88 rec, 1,377 yds, and five touchdowns

Wait a minute. Shouldn’t this be Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce? I mean, he was the leading scorer in fantasy leagues last year for the tight end position. Sure, that’s the obvious choice. But Kelce will turn 30 in October and hadn’t put up ‘2011 Gronkowski’ numbers until Patrick Mahomes came along.

Even with Mahomes, Kelce failed to lead the league in receiving for his position. He did catch over 100 balls for a ton of yardage and double-digit scores, however. So other than his age, why wouldn’t Kelce be the choice? Hear me out. I love Travis Kelce. He’s currently my number one TE for the upcoming 2019 fantasy football season. However, it’s more likely that he regresses from 2018 to 2019.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles now have an up and coming tight end (Dallas Goedert) who may take away from 2018’s second-leading scorer at the position. So even Zach Ertz isn’t my pick to replace Gronkowski’s fantasy void. That honor goes to the former San Francisco 49ers’ 2017 fifth-round pick. In just his second year, George Kittle not only led the NFL but set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end.

Coming out of Iowa, Kittle was touted for his blocking technique and athleticism, but scouts were critical of his size as an in-line blocker. How’s it looking two years later?

The Patriots hall of fame tight end was just as effective in the run game as he was difficult to tackle. The all-around aspect of Gronkowski’s game is what increased his snap count and ultimately his production. Kittle’s continuation of growth will likely affect him in a similar fashion.

Gronkowski didn’t have the quick-twitch movements. He wasn’t going to juke or spin. What he did best was put himself between the defender and the ball. Like Gronkowski, being in good position in the passing game combined with soft hands and toughness after the catch is what Kittle does best.

He’s so technically sound for a two-year pro. When it comes to future success in the NFL, the sky is the limit. And so is his fantasy value. As the 49ers become more competitive, his role will only grow. Increased snaps will lead to more targets and production overall. If you’re into dynasty leagues, selecting Kittle over both Kelce and Ertz is a no-brainer.

Another factor to mention is that in his first two seasons, Kittle has dealt with his starting quarterback being injured–a lot. While quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was on the mend for 13 games in 2018, guys like C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens were leading the offense. Despite an inconsistency at quarterback, Kittle was still extremely productive.

How about that Denver Broncos game? With Mullens under center, Kittle had 210 yards receiving–at halftime. This should get the attention of 2019 fantasy football owners.

Should Garoppolo remain healthy in 2019, Kittle likely leads tight ends in receiving for a second straight year. The 49ers will benefit in the red zone, too. An area where Kittle stands to improve the most. If he can score more touchdowns, catch nearly 100 balls and push for 1,400 yards again, he’ll surpass Gronkowski’s infamous 2011 season with ease.

But if Garoppolo goes down again, then Kittle will just have to settle for something similar to 2018. Not a bad consolation prize for 2019 fantasy football owners.

Shane G. Tyler is the Content Director and writer for the Film Room at Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter @SugaShane15.

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