George Kittle wasn’t the first Iowa player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he won’t be the first tight end off the board. But his skill set and production at Iowa means he’ll have a chance to succeed in San Francisco, as the 49ers drafted him in the fifth round.
Who is George Kittle? 5 things to know:
1. He doesn’t have great size, but he’s an excellent blocker.
Blocking is Kittle’s strong suit. For a player who measures in at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Kittle gets after it on run plays. His ability to seal edges and drive defenders backward led Pro Football Focus to call him the best tight end in the nation before the 2016 season. He’s not quite at the top of any projections before the draft, but Kittle’s blocking ability is fearsome enough to get his foot in the door with pro teams.
George Kittle blocking pic.twitter.com/bZK8IlEGKf
— jefferson steelflex (@WurthDraft) March 8, 2017
2. He’s a solid pass-catcher and was one of Iowa’s only threats.
Kittle had only 6 receptions in his first two seasons at Iowa, but had 20 and 22 in his junior and senior seasons, and finished his college career with only one drop. He averaged 14 yards per reception as a senior, a good number in an offense without an efficient passing game. While Kittle’s blocking ability was his best trait in college, the NFL team that drafts him will hope it will get catches like this:
— #AkrumForHeisman (@Akrum4Heisman) December 23, 2015
3. Kittle came to Iowa as a wide receiver and put on 50 pounds to become a tight end.
Count this as promising for teams hoping to get a little more out of him as a receiver at the pro level. Kittle’s 42 total receptions the last two seasons don’t match up with most other top-10 tight ends. Most of those prospects had reception totals in the 40s in 2016. His makeup as a former wideout who applied himself to become a great blocker could bode well for him in this regard. His sure hands and athleticism should be enough to give coaches hope he can become an NFL receiving threat, even if he lacks top-end speed for a tight end.
4. An impressive performance at the NFL combine has him trending upward.
Kittle did as well as he could have hoped in Indianapolis, turning in the third-best 40-yard dash time among tight ends — and the 13th-best of any tight end ever. He finished third in the broad jump, sixth in the vertical jump and 11th in the bench press among players at his position. He had media members and experts tweeting out compliments, and helped establish himself as a name to know.
5. He’s an Iowa tight end on a Kirk Ferentz team. That’s usually a good sign.
Iowa’s head coach has had seven tight ends drafted, which works out to about one every three years. Current Houston Texan C.J. Fiedorowicz went in the third round in 2014, so Kittle’s right on schedule. He probably won’t end up matching Dallas Clark’s numbers, but Kittle has the skills to make a career for himself.