George Kittle injury update: Will the 49ers be without their elite TE in Week 1?

    George Kittle has been unable to practice due to a groin injury suffered at Monday's practice. What should fantasy managers do if he can't play on Sunday?

    George Kittle injury update: Will the 49ers be without their elite TE in Week 1?

    Week 1 hasn’t even started, and the injury bug is already rearing its ugly head. George Kittle’s injury is the worst kind — a midweek injury. Kittle tweaked his groin at Monday’s practice, and his Week 1 status is now in serious doubt. What is the latest information on Kittle’s injury, and how should fantasy football managers react if he can’t play?

    George Kittle’s injury status

    Injuries are, by far, the worst part of fantasy football. Much like 16-year-old me playing Madden, I wish we could just turn them off. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way. There are a handful of fantasy-relevant players whose injury status is up in the air heading into Week 1. Kittle is among them.

    Kittle entered this week with no injury to speak of. When he couldn’t take the field for Wednesday’s practice, alarm bells went off. Head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed Kittle is dealing with a groin injury he sustained at Monday’s practice.

    Injuries that occur during practice are worse than in-game injuries as players have less time to recover. Although Kittle’s injury doesn’t sound serious, sources that spoke to PFN believe it is unlikely he will play on Sunday.

    The 49ers are touchdown favorites in Chicago. It’s the first week of the season. And Kittle is an integral part of their offense. It makes too much sense for the 49ers to play it safe with their elite tight end and ensure he’s fully healthy when he takes the field. My guess is Kittle only misses a week or two, but that doesn’t help fantasy managers in their opening matchup of the season.

    What does Kittle’s absence mean for the 49ers’ offense?

    Kittle’s absence doesn’t just take a pass catcher away from Trey Lance in his first start of the season. Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the league. His absence will be felt in the running game as well. I still like Elijah Mitchell to have a strong game this week due to positive game script and volume, but losing Kittle is undoubtedly a negative.

    From a passing-game standpoint, there’s no replacement for Kittle. Fantasy managers should not look to Charlie Woerner, who was listed as the TE2 on the 49ers’ unofficial depth chart. Head to the waiver wire and grab a tight end from another team.

    Lance will now have to lean more heavily on Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. I was prepared to list Aiyuk as a fade this week, but I’m less confident now that the 49ers are down to only two reliable pass catchers.

    Expect Shanahan to utilize Samuel similarly to how he was deployed last season. He will line up all over the formation and command touches as both a rusher and a receiver.

    Aiyuk stands to benefit as well, as he now gets elevated to second on the target totem pole. Last season, Aiyuk got off to a very slow start due to being in the doghouse. He didn’t become an every-down player until Week 8. Once he regained his starting role, though, Aiyuk was a useful fantasy asset. He averaged a respectable 13.2 PPR fantasy points per game from Week 8 through the end of the season.

    How should fantasy managers handle 49ers’ pass catchers in Week 1 lineups?

    Given that it’s Week 1, I can’t fathom a scenario where Kittle plays at anything less than 100%. If he’s out there, fantasy managers should feel confident inserting Kittle into lineups. He will almost certainly be a full go.

    Assuming Kittle does not play, which is the most likely scenario, Aiyuk becomes a far more intriguing option. Although I don’t expect Lance to attempt much more than 25 passes this week, without Kittle, the overwhelming majority of his passes should go to Samuel or Aiyuk. The former is an auto-start every week. The latter becomes a very interesting WR3.

    Jason Katz is a fantasy football analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Jason’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13.

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