Super Bowl LIV has no shortage of playmakers. We’ve already taken a look at Raheem Mostert and the San Francisco running game, Patrick Mahomes versus the 49ers pass defense, and Tyreek Hill in the same light. We even took a look at dynamic tight end Travis Kelce. Well, the 49ers have a dynamic tight end of their own in George Kittle, who will play an integral role in the Super Bowl whether he’s catching passes or not.
Kittle has ranked second and first in run-blocking grades among tight ends at Pro Football Focus in each of the past two seasons. Unfortunately for us from a fantasy or player prop stance, there are no points per pancake scoring formats available. Being used a forceful blocker is what has happened to Kittle so far through two postseason games as he has caught just 4-of-6 targets for 35 yards over the opening two postseason games.
In the two games to begin the postseason, the 49ers have run the ball on 82.4% and 69.1% of their offensive plays. Those run rates account for the highest and third-highest run rate for a team in an NFL game this entire season. Through those two games, the 49ers have a 49-8 run-pass split in the second half. Because of that, Kittle has run just 26 pass routes total this postseason compared to 84 run blocking snaps.
This season, Kittle has played 802 snaps including the postseason. That mark is good for fifth among tight ends. But he has run a pass route on just 366 (45.6%) of those snaps, which ranks 19th. In comparing Kittle to his counterpart in this game, Travis Kelce has run 625 pass routes this season, which has accounted for 64.4% of his snaps played.
Even without factoring in that they are an underdog for the Super Bowl, it’s a good bet that the 49ers are going to need to score points to beat the Chiefs and will be needed to pass more than they have when coasting to victories so far this postseason. When the 49ers have to pass, there’s a strong bet they are getting the ball to Kittle. And in the receiving game, nearly no tight end rivals Kittle on a per passing play basis in terms of output across the board.
George Kittle 2019 Rate Stats and TE Rank
*Min. 25 Targets for TE
Despite missing two full games, Kittle once again led all tight ends in yards after the catch and in yards per route run after leading the position in both categories in 2018. Not listed, but only Kelce (1,229) and Darren Waller (1,145) had more receiving yards this season Kittle (1,053). Despite his lower overall route numbers, only Mark Andrews was targeted at a higher rate per route (31.2%) than Kittle.
Using the accessible free tools at Sharp Football Stats, we can go under the hood on where Kittle is getting the crux of his targets and the type of success he’s having on those targets.
George Kittle 2019 Receiving Performance Cones
Kittle has solid target dispersal everywhere 15 yards and in, but there is an increase across the board working left to right against the defense with those targets. From an efficiency stance, where Kittle has made the best use of his targets is anywhere in the middle of the field. Working the middle of the field at any target depth, Kittle has caught 28-of-37 targets for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
The middle of the field is where his quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has found the most success this season to go along with those numbers. In the middle of the field, Garoppolo has a 131.2 passer rating and has completed 73.8% of his passes as opposed to an 89.9 rating and 67.2% completion rate throwing to the outside.
The Chiefs have been a fairly unique defense when it comes to defending tight ends this season. During the regular season, opposing teams targeted their tight ends 25.6% of the time versus the Chiefs. That was the second-highest rate in the league. As a byproduct to that volume, only two teams in the league allowed more receptions to tight ends in the regular season than Kansas City.
But from an efficiency stance, Kansas City held up to the volume. They ranked 17th in catch rate (68.1%) and fifth in yards per target (6.8) allowed to tight ends this season while ranking fourth in touchdown rate (3.6%) allowed to the position.
The quality of competition can be brought into the fold. Kansas City faced just three tight ends across five games this season that ranked in the top-15 in fantasy output per game at the tight position (Kittle was second behind Kelce). Those games came against Darren Waller (6-63-0, 7-100-0), Hunter Henry (6-69-0 and 5-42-1), and Mark Andrews (3-15-0).
Flipping things around, we can take the same look at the production the Chiefs defense allows to opposing tight ends.
Chiefs 2019 Receiving Performance Cones vs Opposing tight ends
The postseason stats aren’t included in these cones. Both the Texans and Titans use their tight ends differently and neither have a player in the remote stratosphere as to what Kittle is. So far those teams have targeted their tight ends 18.5% of the time this postseason, with those tight ends catching 9-of-15 targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came in the middle of the field.
Overlapping Kittle’s chart to the Kansas City defense, that middle area of the field within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage is the sweet spot for pairing up Kittle’s efficiency against the weakest link in efficiency allowed to opposing tight ends. If the 49ers are going to take advantage of using their best passing game option in the most effective way, attacking the middle of the defense is the way to go.
George Kittle Super Bowl Props
per DraftKings Sportsbook
- First to score (+1000), To score (+125)
- o/u 67.5 receiving yards (over -162, under +130)
- o/u 5.5 receptions (over -155, under +120)
- Longest Reception 24.5 yards (over -112, under -112)