By Rob Mongole
George Kittle is a dynasty must-sell
No, that first sentence isn’t a typo. No, this article wasn’t ghost written by Kyle Pitts. Let me say it again. George Kittle is a dynasty must sell. According to KeepTradeCut.com (KTC), Kittle is now the TE3 in dynasty superflex startup rankings (non-tight end premium) and the 33 player overall. I have plenty of issues with KTC’s rankings. KTC tends to skew too much towards youth for me. However, KTC is collecting data points from the average dynasty player. And the consensus opinion of the average dynasty player is just as important as any expert rankings you might browse. Unless you are playing in an expert or high stakes league, KTC is likely representative of over half your leaguemates opinions.
A glance at Kittle’s KTC value for the past year shows a player who the general public believe is on the decline. While I don’t always agree with the general public, I do in this scenario. Kittle is not on the decline as an NFL player, but his value certainly is. This time last year, Kittle’s value was 1,771 points higher or 7,995. 1 year ago, Kittle was perceived as the 18th best dynasty player by the general public.
According to KTC, Darren Waller is ranked 31 overall – two spots ahead of Kittle. Most expert rankings have Kittle as either the TE2 or TE3. Just two years ago, the off season debate in startups was who would go as the TE1, Kittle or Kelce. From 2019 on, Kelce and Waller’s production have been off the charts. During that same stretch, Kittle has struggled with injuries but has produced for your team when healthy. The general public currently perceives Kittle’s value in the same range as Trey Lance, Ja’Marr Chase, Terry McLaurin, D’Andre Swift, and DeAndre Hopkins.
This article will discuss the factors which have played a role in Kittle’s fall in value and analyze why Kittle’s fantasy future isn’t any more promising.
Injury History and Parallels with Another 2017 Star
Kittle has dealt with minor injuries throughout his career. He is also one of the toughest guys in the NFL and has likely played through some injuries that he would have been better off resting from. In 2016, his final collegiate season at Iowa, Kittle suffered a pedal foot sprain and missed two games. He was selected in the 5th round of the 2017 draft and promptly suffered a hamstring injury in camp but did not miss any regular season time from the injury. He did later miss week 10 of his rookie year with an ankle injury. In 2018, he again injured himself in the preseason but was back in time for the season opener – this time with an A/C joint separation in his right shoulder. He missed two games in 2019 with a knee sprain and rib injury.
Last season, Kittle and seemingly every other 49er missed significant time with injuries. Kittle again was injured in preseason, suffering a low grade hamstring strain. He would then suffer an MCL sprain in week 1 and miss the next two weeks. He would then break his foot in week 8 and miss six more weeks before returning to the final two weeks.
Kittle has appeared in 53 of a possible 64 regular season games in his four year career. What if I told you there was another NFL TE, also drafted in 2017, who is labeled “injury prone” who has appeared in just three less games? Evan Engram has played in 50 of a possible 64 regular season games for the Giants. He is currently the TE18 in KTC’s rankings and the 169th ranked player overall.
|PPR Finish (Points Per Game)||George Kittle||Evan Engram|
|2017||19 (7.1 ppg)||5 (11.6 ppg)|
|2018||3 (16.2 ppg)||13 (11.5 ppg)|
|2019||2 (15.9 ppg)||18 (13.7 ppg)|
|2020||19 (15.6 ppg)||15 (8.8 ppg)|
Sports Injury Predictor ranks Kittle as the most injury prone TE in the league, followed by Engram. Both are projected to miss over 3 games in the 2021 season. While Engram’s dip in production last year is concerning, it doesn’t explain the massive gap in perceived value by the general public. Kittle has only averaged an additional 2.3 points per game than Engram while playing an additional 3 games across 4 years. While the 49er’s offense is better, it is an offense who is only feeding Kittle 1.1 more targets per game (7.9 to 6.8). Maybe this article is tangentially suggesting buying Evan Engram if his perceived value is this low. I swear this wasn’t my original objective. And no, it’s not ghost written by Engram either. Even if “injury prone” isn’t a thing, the public certainly perceives it to be a thing. (Check out this fantastic article by Fantasypoints.com https://www.fantasypoints.com/nfl/articles/season/2021/injury-prone-is-a-lie-part-i) Kittle is one injury away from being labeled injury prone like his 2017 draft compatriot, Evan Engram. And for better or worse, public opinion is the number one driver of trade values.
2021 Season Predictions
Enough with the Engram talk. Kittle is a superior tight end. When I make my projections for the season I do not account for injuries and assume all players will start 17 games. Assuming this is the case, I have Kittle ranked as my redraft TE4 on the season. Behind Kelce, Waller, and T.J. Hockenson. This projection is also based on Jimmy G keeping his starting job all season. There are so many question marks surrounding the San Francisco offense that I do not feel confident in my projections at all. By the time training camp concludes we may have to throw my current projections out – especially if Kittle gets injured in camp for a fifth straight year.
Many factors could eat into my projection of Kittle finishing the year as the TE4. First, his injury history and projected 3 games of missed time. Second is the receiving weapons around him. Off the heels of a solid Super Bowl performance and good rookie season, Deebo Samuel was a popular break out pick heading into last season. He too spent the majority of the 2020 season injured. Assuming Samuel stays healthy, it is easy to see him taking a step forward in 2021. Enter 2020 first round pick, Brandon Aiyuk. While Kittle and Samuel missed chunks of last season, Aiyuk showed he could be the focal point of the offense. It is reasonable to assume both receivers take a step forward. Even if one receiver takes a step forward it will eat into Kittle’s target share. Last, the 49ers have the easiest strength of schedule in the league and because of that, I assume Jimmy G can hold onto his job. However, the 49ers took Trey Lance with the third overall pick this year and they traded away a massive package to move up to that pick. It is only a matter of time before Lance takes over the starting role. Lance is an elite QB prospect, but needs to learn the nuances of an NFL offense and doesn’t offer a great deal of collegiate experience. Early on, I expect Lance to win with his scrambling ability. This will both give Kittle more single coverage situations and decrease his targets.
Beyond the 2021 Season
In 2022, Kittle will be entering his year-28 season. By no means will he be too old to play TE and should have a number of good seasons left in the tank. However, creeping just behind him in the dynasty TE tiers are a number of young, potential star TEs like T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, and Kyle Pitts. It has been Pitts mania all off season and it won’t take much to have the public rank him above Kittle. It may happen on Pitts’ first preseason catch in about a week. This time next year, I firmly believe Pitts, Hockenson, and Andrews will all be ranked ahead of Kittle. Scenarios exist where Noah Fant, Dallas Goedert, Adam Trautman, and Irv Smith all play well this season and move up the rankings, although I wouldn’t bet on any of those four players doing enough to leapfrog Kittle. At best, this time next year, George Kittle will be perceived as the TE6, behind Waller, Kelce, Pitts, Hockenson, and Andrews. If he plays to expectations, Kittle will remain the TE3 in dynasty. There isn’t a scenario where he becomes the TE1 or TE2 in 2022. I don’t want to hold a player who can only decrease in value. If he misses a large chunk of time, Kittle easily drops below the TE6 rank, but I can’t see him falling down to Engram range at TE18. I can’t imagine Kittle would fall further than TE12 around players like Cole Kmet and Adam Trautman.
Advice for Contenders: See if you can flip for Waller or Hockenson plus a throw-in. If the team with Kelce is rebuilding, he is also an attractive target.
Advice in a Rebuild – Picks are king. A combination of picks and a young, proven TE like Mark Andrews or T.J. Hockenson would be ideal, but I would happily acquire Cole Kmet or Adam Trautman plus more picks/younger players.
Ride or Dynasty