George Kittle is not a household name among the 2017 NFL prospects at the tight end position. His receiving numbers in college are pedestrian, and guys who catch a lot of passes dominate the headlines. Kittle isn’t the most well known tight end prospect, but he just might turn out to be the best. Let’s take a look at what makes Kittle an interesting prospect.
Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma
Weight: 247 lb's
Hands: 9 1/4"
Arms: 33 1/8"
Bench: 18 Reps
40 Time: 4.52
2013: 5 REC, 108 Yards, 21.6 AVG, 0 TD
2014: 1 REC, 25 Yards, 25.0 AVG, 0 TD
2015: 20 REC, 290 Yards, 14.5 AVG, 6 TD
2016: 22 REC, 314 Yards, 14.3 AVG, 4 TD
- Outstanding scoring production. 10 TDs of 34 total Iowa passing TDs last 2 years.
- Excellent, soft hands. One dropped pass in college career.
- Best blocking TE in draft. Allowed 1 QB pressure over the last two years.
- Outstanding speed/size ratio.
- Relentless, aggressive run blocker.
- Plenty of speed to threaten the seam.
- Surprisingly elusive in space.
- Somewhat injury prone. Missed multiple games in each of last two years.
- Was not utilized extensively in passing game. Still something of an unknown as a receiver.
- Not a polished route runner. Tends to round off routes some. Will require some work at the next level.
You may have heard this tight end or that tight end is the best blocking tight end in the 2017 NFL draft. Unless this or that tight end is named Kittle, don’t believe it. George Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the 2017 draft, and it isn’t particularly close. Kittle has superb technique, routinely getting inside leverage with good pad level. He routinely holds his own against defensive linemen having 20 or more pounds on him, and he destroys smaller defenders, at times driving them back five or ten yards before pancaking them. Kittle also is outstanding at getting out in front of a play and making blocks at the second level. Although he could stand to add seven to ten pounds to his frame, this is a tight end ready to block at a high level in the NFL on day one.
Kittle’s skills as a receiver are a little more based on projection. Kittle was not utilized all that much as a receiver in college. He was in a smashmouth, run based offense that averaged just a bit more than 150 passing yards per game. Kittle’s first priority was run blocking, his second, pass blocking. However, when asked to work as a receiver, Kittle was effective. Kittle scored a touchdown on more than 20% of his receptions, and he accounted for 30% of his team’s passing touchdowns his final two years despite catching only 10% of Iowa’s passes. Kittle has very good ability to make adjustments on the ball while traveling full speed, and he is surprisingly elusive in the open field. Kittle has excellent speed to outmatch many safeties and nearly any linebacker. He exhibits soft hands and plucks the ball nicely away from his body. At the NFL combine Kittle put on a show, broad jumping 11 feet and running a 4.52 40, marks that would be very respectable for a wide receiver carrying 30 or 40 pounds less bulk. This is a tight end with all of the physical abilities to be an excellent receiving threat at the NFL level. However, his relatively raw route running and his very limited receiving experience in college make projecting success as a receiver much more problematic than his blocking skills. Kittle should be viewed as something of a question mark as a receiver, but one with elite level upside.
Draft Grade - 3rd to 5th
George Kittle will not go at the top of the draft. That honor will go to O.J. Howard, and deservedly so. What you are getting with Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the draft, with a toolsy projection with some uncertainty as a receiver. The best blocking tight end in the draft is probably worth a 5th or 6th round selection. Kittle’s upside as a receiver should bump him into the 3rd or 4th round range. I wouldn’t go so far as to predict this, but I will not be surprised if Kittle ends up having the best NFL career of any tight end in this draft. A good NFL comparison might be Jason Witten. Witten, like Kittle, was the best blocking tight end in his draft. Witten, like Kittle, lacked production as a receiver in college, operating in a run oriented offense, but he showed great promise in his limited work as a receiver. Witten went on to be the 5th tight end selected in the 2003 NFL draft. He will end up with by far the best career of any tight end in that draft, and will approach exceeding the receiving production of every other tight end in that class combined. I’m not saying Kittle will follow a similar path, but it would not surprise me if he did.
The Jets have made it clear they are looking to move towards a more run oriented offense. They have also made it clear they are looking to involve the tight end more in the passing game. George Kittle seems like the perfect match for the Jets’ needs here, giving them the best blocking tight end in the class and a bonus of serious upside in the passing game with a little work with the receivers coach. I would be very happy to hear George Kittle’s name called by the Jets if Kittle is still on the board when the Jets are set to use their third round compensatory selection.
For those who love good blocking, take a look at the following video of Kittle against North Dakota State University. I’m not a fan of taking one highlight reel play and making it out to be representative of a player’s entire career, so take this for what it’s worth, which isn’t a whole lot without the broader context of Kittle’s college career as a whole. Nonetheless this play is just plain impressive, and fun to watch. For those who have seen The Blind Side, it is reminiscent of the play where Michael Oher was penalized in high school for "excessive blocking." The play starts at around the 11 second mark of the video, so you don’t need much patience to get to it. Kittle lines up in line at the top of the screen. I’ll let the play speak for itself.