George Kittle is probably the best overall tight end in the NFL. That’s great for the San Francisco 49ers, but from a fantasy perspective, we don’t want our tight ends to be elite blockers. We want them running routes. Kittle has been a top-five tight end since he broke out in 2018 but has always felt a bit ceiling capped. Is this the year Kittle finally has that monster season? How should dynasty fantasy football managers value Kittle in 2022 and beyond?
George Kittle’s dynasty profile for 2022
Evaluating tight ends is always a bit trickier than running backs and wide receivers. When it comes to tight ends, it’s not enough for a player to be one of the best at his position — he also has to be a difference-maker.
Travis Kelce has been the dynasty TE1 for the last half-decade. But being the best doesn’t mean the same thing every season. From 2018-2020, Kelce finished as the overall TE1 in fantasy points per game (minimum eight games played). He averaged 18.4 points per game in 2018, 15.9 in 2019, and 20.9 in 2020. Those are all very different seasons. You can’t just say Kelce was the best tight end in fantasy and convey how well he performed.
Kittle, meanwhile, broke out in 2018. His 1,377 receiving yards led all tight ends. He posted career-highs in targets (135), receptions (88), and yards per reception (15.6) as well.
Following this breakout, many fantasy managers expected continued ascent. Instead, Kittle’s production stagnated. By no means should anyone scoff at a guy who has averaged 14-16 ppg for four consecutive seasons and finished no lower than fourth in any of them. Nevertheless, it does feel like something is missing. What does this mean for Kittle’s dynasty value going forward?
Fantasy projection for Kittle
Kittle has been remarkably consistent from a seasonal perspective over the past four seasons. He’s scored 16, 15.9, 15.6, and 14.1 ppg, respectively, over those four years. I get the sense Kittle has a bit of a reputation for missing games, likely due to his violent playstyle. However, he has played at least 14 games every year except in 2020. The real problem for Kittle’s dynasty value is the lack of a true ceiling.
At 6’4’, 247 pounds, Kittle should be a more dominant red-zone option. Yet, he only saw 8 red-zone targets last season and has never scored more than 6 touchdowns in a season. Now entering his sixth NFL season, it’s just not realistic to project Kittle to be anything other than what he’s been. His 2018 season really feels like a career year and one he will never surpass.
With that said, 14-16 ppg is excellent, especially at the TE position. The problem is Kittle may be a bit overvalued in dynasty circles. With the emergence of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, Kittle averaged a career-low (excluding his rookie season) 65 receiving yards per game in 2021. His 24.9% target share was also his lowest mark since his rookie season.
Another part of the problem is what target share means in San Francisco. This is a run-first offense. The 49ers ran the ball 49.3% of the time in 2021, fourth-most in the league. In 2019, they ran the ball 51% of the time, second-most in the league. In Kittle’s other seasons, they were still in the top third of the league in run rate. Unless Kittle experiences a spike touchdown season, he’s unlikely to progress in the receptions or yardage department due to lack of volume.
What is Kittle’s future beyond 2022?
One area dynasty managers need not concern themselves with is Kittle’s long-term future. He’ll turn 29 years old in October, which is not old for a tight end. He’s also signed through his age-33 season.
The biggest uncertainty at the moment is what the 49ers’ quarterback change will mean for Kittle. They have their presumed quarterback of the future in Trey Lance. The team hasn’t traded Jimmy Garoppolo yet, but Lance is fully expected to start in his second professional season. What will his rapport be with Kittle? Of equal importance is what will this offense look like?
What can fantasy managers expect from Kittle?
The 49ers were already incredibly run-heavy with a stationary Garoppolo under center. Lance is going to run at least 6-8 times a game. His mobility will further reduce this team’s already low passing volume. Between Samuel, Aiyuk, and Kittle, there’s only so much to go around.
Fantasy managers should view Kittle as a locked-in top-five tight end. However, they should not view him as someone with league-winning upside. 14-16 ppg is great from a tight end. But those tight ends that are worthy of first or second-round redraft picks don’t merely score 14-16 ppg. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham posted multiple seasons over 17.5 ppg at their peaks. Kelce has multiple seasons over 17.5 ppg. Mark Andrews hit the 17.5 ppg mark last season.
Despite being an elite receiver, Kittle ran just 24.7 routes per game. For comparison purposes, Kelce ran 33.9 routes per game. That best exemplifies the difference between the two. Simply put, Kittle blocks too much. That’s great for the 49ers but not for fantasy managers. As a result, I don’t ever see Kittle hitting those top-end numbers that Gronk, Graham, and Kelce managed multiple times throughout their careers.
Dynasty managers with Kittle should see if someone out there values him at the same level as the truly elite fantasy tight ends. Don’t just give him away for the sake of doing so, but if someone wants to pay for Kittle as if he’s a true difference-maker, you just might be better off trading him than putting him in your lineup.
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