George Kittle should be in Orlando in late January. The selection to his first career Pro Bowl should be nothing more than a formality at this point.
The second-year tight end's seven-catch, 210-yard and one-touchdown outburst in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos only reaffirmed what we've seen all season long. The San Francisco 49ers have found something special in Kittle, who became the first tight end in franchise history to eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season during Sunday's 20-14 win.
Kittle is now sitting at 69 receptions for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns on the year.
"He deserves everything he's getting," Richard Sherman said postgame. "He deserves to be a Pro Bowler this year. He's been arguably the best tight end this year, no disrespect to (Travis) Kelce or (Rob) Gronk(owski) or those other guys who are playing good football, but to be a second-year player playing the way he is -- he makes an impact in every game. He's our No. 1 receiver."
Joe Staley took his praise of Kittle one step further. Staley spent nine seasons with Vernon Davis, the greatest tight end in franchise history and the man who owns every notable record at the position. Davis was regarded as an athletic specimen rarely seen in the NFL. That's why San Francisco used the sixth-overall pick on Davis back in 2006 -- an anomaly in terms of where even the top tight ends are taken in the NFL Draft.
And yet, Staley sees comparable traits in Kittle.
"He has every bit of the athleticism that Vernon has," Staley said.
Sherman agreed: "He's a dynamic player. I don't think he gets enough credit for how athletic he is. It's very similar to (Travis) Kelce out in Kansas City with how slippery he is. His lateral movement is deceptive, and he has a ton of speed."
Kittle's day was highlighted by an 85-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Nick Mullens found Kittle wide open on a crossing route, and the tight end did the rest, beating the entire Broncos defense in a sprint to the end zone.
Kyle Shanahan said that Kittle's ability to gain yards after the catch is better than any tight end he's ever been around.
"When the ball is in the air, the play is just starting," Shanahan said. "He runs angry, he runs confidently and he looks to score on every catch."
The excitement over Kittle's monster performance is dampened somewhat by what could have been. Kittle did all of his damage in the first half and didn't catch a single pass over the final two quarters. He ended the game just four yards shy of Shannon Sharpe's NFL record for single-game receiving yards by a tight end (214).
Shanahan was the first to lament over that missed opportunity.
"I'm like a fan," the 49ers head coach said. "I wanted it to happen."
Shanahan said he apologized to Kittle postgame about not getting him the record. Kittle, the ultimate team-first guy, had no problem having some fun at his coach's expense.
"Coach Shanahan has already apologized twice to me for not getting me the ball, so I'll just put the blame on him," the tight end joked. "It's OK. The fact that we got the win is all I care about."
Kittle should be a lock for the Pro Bowl, but he still has three games left to make his case for an All-Pro selection. It's crazy to think that this is only the beginning. Kittle is just getting started.