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George Kittle fantasy
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers runs after making a reception during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 24-20. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Fantasy Football

How George Kittle’s injury affects the fantasy value of Jordan Reed, Nick Mullens

Regardless of how good a player is, if they don’t have a quarterback who can get them the ball, they lose virtually all weekly fantasy football value. Hardly anyone in the NFL or fantasy world is better than tight end George Kittle. However, with Nick Mullens named the starting quarterback in place of Jimmy Garoppolo for the foreseeable future, does Kittle retain the same fantasy relevance as before?

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George Kittle has been ruled out for Sunday’s against the Giants

The San Francisco 49ers need every available person this weekend because no team was decimated by injuries in Week 2 more than them. Kittle missed their Week 2 matchup against the New York Jets while battling an MCL sprain and a bone bruise in the same knee. 

On Friday, head coach Kyle Shanahan declared Kittle a game-time decision. My initial gut reaction led me to believe that he was going to play. However, after seeing player after player go down last week, the team quickly brought up concerns over the turf at MetLife Field, basically implying that it was a factor in some of the injuries.

Related | What’s next for the 49ers and other injury-riddled teams?

Thanks to an odd schedule, the 49ers are back on that same field this week. Consequently, I believe they want to get out of New Jersey as quickly as possible, and anyone that is not absolutely necessary will be kept on the sidelines.  

If the 49ers want to stay in contention in the NFC West, they need Kittle for the whole season, not just a matchup against the hapless Jets. Having Kittle sit is the best long-term decision for them and fantasy managers. While it causes you to pivot this week, at least you should get a healthy Kittle back in Week 4 as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now that Kittle has been ruled out, they will once again rely on TE Jordan Reed to carry the workload this week. Brandon Aiyuk will also be making his second career start and new addition Mohamed Sanu will all help to carry the load for the 49ers.

With Nick Mullens under center, should we view Kittle and Reed differently in fantasy?

One of the team’s massive injuries last week was to Garoppolo. Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain and was initially labeled as week to week. The team ended any weekend suspense by making the obvious choice in naming Nick Mullens the starter. 

Mullens, who filled in last week, completed eight of his 11 passes (72%) for 71 yards and an interception. The fact that Mullens played in half the game and only had 71 passing yards is alarming. 

Let’s use Reed as an example. Last week, Reed had a phenomenal week catching seven of his eight targets for 50 yards and two touchdowns on his way to a TE5 finish in PPR fantasy scoring. The issue is that virtually none of this came from Mullens. All but a single yard came from passes by Garoppolo.

Related | Jimmy Garoppolo’s future in San Francisco hanging in the balance

To say this is concerning on how it could affect Kittle is an understatement. Perhaps it was just due to the lack of preparation for Mullens because if we check his career, Shanahan has called his number before.

How has Mullens performed in the past? 

Back in 2018, Mullens was the starter out of camp and during the first eight games of the season, played decent football. He completed 176 of 274 attempts while averaging 284.6 yards per game and threw 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Mullens’ 34.3 attempts per game average showed that Shanahan wasn’t afraid to let him be a focal point of the offense rather than play conservative like most teams do when using a backup.

In fact, Mullens’ average is nearly 4.5 attempts more per game than Jimmy Garoppolo’s 29.8 average in 2019. I am not saying that more attempts mean more success, but it does mean that the team will not be afraid to utilize the passing game still. When looking at Kittle and his fantasy value, that is all you can ask for moving forward until his best buddy returns.

The same goes for Reed, who everyone forgets how capable of a tight end he can be. Even during camp, Richard Sherman was calling him “unguardable.” If you have ever listed to Sherman, he doesn’t give praise to pass-catchers too often.

The issue with Reed was never ability, rather his inability to stay on the field due to a myriad of injuries that have plagued his career. If Reed is healthy, he has high-end TE2 upside when Kittle is missing time. When they are both on the field, Mullens will always look to Kittle as his primary option but Reed brings a sneaky redzone threat to the team.

Should we be concerned about George Kittle’s fantasy relevance with Mullens the starter?

If you are lucky enough to have George Kittle on your fantasy football roster, you have to start him. Although, you will have to wait another week to plug him into your lineups. Jordan Reed will see all of the work this week in his absence. Once Kittle returns, even with Mullens under center, don’t get too cute. He is too dominant at a position that has limited depth.

In 2018, when Nick Mullens was the starter, Kittle was still producing TE1 numbers. He was targeted 57 times, catching 37 passes for 584 yards and two touchdowns. That is a 16-game pace of 115 targets for over 1,168 yards. 

I don’t think it matters who is under center for the 49ers. Shanahan is smart enough to make sure his best playmaker will still see the ball. Luckily, we are not looking at a long-term injury for Garoppolo, but until his return, Kittle will always be a top fantasy option at the position. Given the plethora of injuries on the 49ers offense, they will need him more than ever, and fantasy managers will see the benefits.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @PFN365 to stay up to date with all things around the NFL and the 2020 fantasy football season. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis while also visiting our fantasy football section for more coverage and up-to-date rankings.

Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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