The 49ers’ George Kittle is one of the NFL’s elite tight ends. Aware of the immense talent available at the position in the 2021 NFL Draft, he thinks Florida’s Kyle Pitts — the clear-cut top tight end prospect — will live up to the hype.
“I’m excited to see this new rookie class because there are some ballers in there. If they all get with teams who use them the right way, they can all be special players,” Kittle told Sporting News. “Kyle Pitts, he’s going to dominate wherever he goes. He is a fantastic player who makes plays, makes the right decisions when he has the ball in his hands. It will be fun to see his success at the next level.”
For many tight ends, it takes a season or two to figure out how to excel in the NFL. Kittle said the demands of the position are a big reason for that.
“Tight end is one of the most difficult positions to play in the NFL just because you have to do absolutely everything at a high level, or you don’t get to play. I have to be able to run routes on safeties and corners, catch the ball and score touchdowns. On the next play, I have to block, come down on a nose tackle on a pull technique or try to move a 300-pound defensive end in space. Then, you also have to pass protect against All-Pro defensive ends.”
Since Kittle was a steal for San Francisco as a fifth-round pick in 2017, he’s seen two of his former Iowa teammates, T.J. Hockenson (No. 8 overall) and Noah Fant (No. 20 overall) go in the first round, both in 2019. Sam LaPorta would be the next Hawkeye in line to get to the NFL. Kittle is proud of that positional factory.
“Anyone can argue with me, but Iowa is ‘Tight End U.’ Until any other college has two tight ends drafted in the first round, come talk to me about another ‘Tight End U.’ Until then, you can’t. It’s been fun watching T.J. and Noah become the good people and football players they are now.”
Kittle has become one of the league’s most popular players as well. With his physical stature, receiving skills and blocking prowess to go along with his professional wrestling-like persona, he’s been compared often to the Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski. Kittle loves how Gronkowski, 31, is back in the league and thriving again.
“The NFL is better with Gronk, just knowing how exciting a player he is, how exciting and incredible a person he is. Every conversation he has, he’s fun,” Kittle said. “The tight end position, we’re the brotherhood, we’re all friends. It was fun to watch him come back and ball out in the playoffs like he always does.”
Kittle, who has battled a few injuries during his young career, also has seen the other side of NFL tight end retirement while with the 49ers. One of his backups, Jordan Reed, chose to retire at 30 this year over concussion concerns after his lone season reuniting with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
“I’m just sad that we didn’t really get a chance to play together that much,” Kittle said of Reed. “I missed two games early, he was out for six weeks. Not being able to share the field at the same time when our paths actually crossed, that was tough.
“Just talking to him, seeing how he appreciates things differently now, giving advice like a veteran instead of being a young guy, I learned a lot from him. I was able to swap a jersey with him and I am proud to have it on my wall.”
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