Is George Kittle Legit?
Having read the title, you might think this will be a ridiculous article that is just going to tell you things you already know about George Kittle. Yes, he was the TE3 overall in PPR formats last year. Yep, he is being drafted as the TE3 in dynasty leagues. Yes, he did just break the single-season record for receiving yards among tight ends in NFL history. You knew all of this already. However, I have noticed a growing notion that Kittle’s success is not repeatable and therefore a sell at his current TE3 price. This article intends to refute these claims, thus proving that George Kittle is legit.
“He Cannot Repeat Last Season”
I’ll say it straight up. No, he cannot repeat his historic, record-breaking season. It is completely unfair to expect a near 1400-yard season again when only five tight ends since 2000 have ever broken the 1200-yard mark. However, let’s take a look at those tight ends who have accomplished this milestone:
As you can see, there are four big-name tight ends (Gonzalez, Graham, Gronkowski, and Kelce) and George Kittle. In addition, only three tight ends above broke 1200 yards in a season in their second year in the league: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and George Kittle. Kittle is a special player already among Hall of Fame tight ends in his second season.
“He’s the Next Evan Engram”
This is probably the strongest argument against Kittle, but it still has some big flaws. Evan Engram found a lot of success in his rookie season, catching 64 receptions on 115 targets for 722 yards and six touchdowns, finishing as the TE5 in PPR formats in 2017. In 2018, his production dropped significantly to the tune of 64/45/577/3 and finishing as the TE14. The reason for Engram’s fall was the return of basically every Giants wide receiver and the addition of Saquon Barkley. The drop in production was very predictable even without adding in Barkley.
Kittle would appear to be in the same boat as Engram in 2017.
What some people might find to be even scarier is Engram’s 2017 target share was 19.81% while Kittle’s 2018 target share was 25.38%. The second highest targeted receiver on the 2017 Giants was Sterling Shepard with 84 targets. On the 2018 49ers, it was Kendrick Bourne with 66 targets. Is Kittle in for an Engram-like drop in production in 2019? Absolutely not. As I said, Engram’s fall was predictable, as both Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard were returning from injuries. However, Kittle’s situation is not like Engram. There are no target hog receivers returning from injuries. Marquise Goodwin had 43 targets in 11 games. Dante Pettis had 45 targets in 12 games. We also shouldn’t forget that Pierre Garcon’s 46 targets are not returning in 2019.
The only player returning from injuries in Jerick McKinnon, who should see a high amount of targets out of the backfield. Jimmy Garoppolo is back as well, who averaged about 30 pass attempts per game in his three games in 2018, on pace for 475 attempts through 16. Additionally, Nick Mullens averaged almost 35 attempts per game, on pace for 548 attempts in a season. Historically, Shanahan’s QBs average of 562 attempts per season. Giving the running backs 150 as a group and another 70 for random receivers like Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, and Garrett Celek, that leaves about 330 targets for Kittle, Goodwin, Pettis, and *insert Day 2 draft pick here*. Is it really a stretch to say Kittle flirts with 130 targets again in 2019? Certainly not.
The real worst case scenario is if the 49ers trade for Antonio Brown, which is a big if. Should Brown join San Francisco in 2019, however, I expect his presence to hurt Goodwin and Pettis more than Kittle, similar to how Tyreek Hill’s presence hurt Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley more than Travis Kelce. But let’s suppose Antonio Brown shows up for 2019. We can no longer expect Kittle to reach 130 targets or close to his 25% target share he saw in 2018. If we truly follow what happened to Evan Engram, we could expect about an 8% drop in target share for Kittle or an 18% target share. An 18% target share of 550 pass attempts in a Shanahan offense is approximately 99 targets. Below is a table of every tight end season since 2000 with between 95 and 105 targets:
The average of 174.4 PPR points would have been good for TE6 in 2018. Now, remember, we only did this exercise to predict what Kittle’s production would be with Antonio Brown aka a TE6 worst-case scenario floor.
“We Cannot Compare Him to Travis Kelce”
George Kittle college stats:
Travis Kelce college stats:
I really do not know why we cannot compare him to Kelce. Or why Kelce is head and shoulders more talented than Kittle. This needs to stop.
There is Still Meat on the Bone
As great as Kittle’s 2018 season was, it is amazing that it could have been even better. In 2018, Kittle caught only five touchdowns on 135 targets, a lackluster 3.7% touchdown percentage. The league average for all tight ends since 2000 is 5.97%. At league average, Kittle should have caught closer to eight touchdowns last season. Also of note, Kittle ranked fourth among tight ends in targets inside the 20 (19 targets) and fifth among tight ends in targets inside the 10 (8). Positive regression is real, especially when comparing Kittle to Ertz and Kelce, who had ten and eight touchdowns respectively. At 6’4”, Kittle can be a very dangerous red-zone threat and target for Jimmy Garoppolo.
In conclusion, Kittle is legit. Kittle offers a high floor and a TE1 overall ceiling. It is unfair for us as fantasy players to expect another record-breaking season or even a 1300-yard season. The target volume may also drop and it should not be a concern if it does. As shown above, I believe the worst case scenario would only drop Kittle to about 100 targets, which is still a top-6 tight end or better. One thing I learned from 2018 is regression is not always damning.
I expected heavy regression from Todd Gurley from 2017-18 and was scared to draft him as a top-3 running back. While Gurley’s end of year stats did not match his 2017 stats in carries/yards, he was the RB1 in ppg and the RB3 overall. Similar to Gurley, Kittle may not match his 2018 numbers in 2019, but that does not mean that he will not still finish as a top-3 tight end. If you still want to sell him, I would recommend trading up for Ertz or Kelce than trading down at the position.