George Kittle has evolved into one of the league's most dynamic playmakers in his short, three seasons in the NFL. The former fifth-round pick set the NFL record for the most receiving yards by a tight end in their first three NFL seasons (2,945 receiving yards) and also became the first tight end in franchise history to register back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Kittle has flourished into a cornerstone of the 49ers offense with his unprecedented production. Kittle has also registered seven 100-plus-yard games and since entering the league in 2017, Kittle ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards among all tight ends. Earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, he has proven his immense value to the 49ers. To revisit, let's take a look at some of Kittle's greatest plays (in no particular order) since being drafted by San Francisco in 2017.
Record-breaking Touchdown vs. Los Angeles Rams (2018)
Heading into the Week 17 matchup against the Rams, Kittle was just 99 yards shy of breaking Rob Gronkowski's single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, with 1,327 yards.
Earlier in the afternoon, Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce broke Gronk's record, capping off the 2018 season with 1,336 yards.
Needing just three yards to catch Kelce's record on the 49ers final drive of the game, Nick Mullens found Kittle in the left flat, where the tight end broke a tackle and picked up 43 yards for a touchdown and the record.
The touchdown reception capped off Kittle's night, posting nine receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown to give him a grand total of 88 catches, 1,377 yards and five touchdowns in 2018.
"It hasn't hit me yet, but it's definitely exciting," Kittle said postgame. "It wasn't just me. We had three quarterbacks throwing the ball. It's a credit to the whole team continuing to grind."
4th-and-2 Conversion against New Orleans Saints (2019)
While trailing 46-45 with under :40 left in the game, Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Kittle on 4th-and-2 from their own 33-yard line. Needing just a first down, Kittle notched a 39-yard catch-and-run to move San Francisco into Saints territory.
Regarded as one of the most memorable plays of the 2019 season, the tight end forced a missed tackle and carried three defenders with him while drawing multiple penalty flags. A tacked on 15 yards for a face mask penalty added on to Kittle's season-altering reception that set up kicker Robbie Gould's walk-off game-winning field goal. The victory extended the 49ers record to 11-2.
Historic First Half against Denver Broncos (2018)
In one of the most memorable games of Kittle's career, the tight end put up a monster performance in the first half of the Week 14 contest against the Broncos. Kittle erupted for 210 yards on just seven receptions in the first half alone, setting a franchise record for the most receiving yards in a single game by a tight end and the eighth-most among all players.
Kittle was just five yards shy of passing Shannon Sharpe's NFL single-game record for a tight end after being limited to zero catches in the second half.
Kittle became the first 49ers tight end to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark. He was the first member of the 49ers to register at least 1,000 receiving yards in a single season since Anquan Boldin registered 1,062 receiving yards in 2014. His 210 receiving yards against Denver were the third-most by a tight end in a single game since 1960.
"My tight ends coach always tells me that you have to make DBs catch you," Kittle said. "So on that first one, I wasn't just going to let him go for my legs. You have to make people tackle you. So yes, you definitely have to play angry and play with the mindset that I'm not going to be tackled by you unless you want to tackle me."
Kittle Blows Past the Chargers Defense with an 82-yard Touchdown (2018)
Late in the third quarter, C.J. Beathard connected with Kittle for an 82-yard touchdown reception as part of a 125-yard performance by the tight end. Beathard hit the tight end in stride as Kittle ran past the Chargers defense for the long touchdown in the 49ers narrow loss in Los Angeles.
"Shanahan told me, 'if you just run and you look out, you'll get dropped by the safety and you'll score a touchdown,' and I said 'OK'," Kittle said via NFL Film Session.
One-handed Catch in Traffic against Las Vegas Raiders (2018)
Up 17-3 coming out of the half, Mullens connected with Kittle on one of the most spectacular catches of his career. The quarterback thread the needle in between three defenders as Kittle hauled in the one-handed grab.
The tight end's remarkable catch went for 71-yards before being tackled by Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Mullens found Kittle again, this time, for a 5-yard touchdown to put San Francisco up 24-3.
"I closed my eyes. One-hundred percent," Kittle told reporters after the game. "I just kind of stuck an arm out there and (the ball) found my hand."
Kittle's 61-yard Touchdown Reception vs. Green Bay Packers (2019)
Just two plays after the Packers scored their first, and only touchdown of the game, Garoppolo faked a handoff and connected with a wide-open Kittle for a 61-yard touchdown, his longest score of the season. What's most impressive about the play is that Kittle was returning from a broken ankle suffered three games prior in the Halloween night matchup against the Cardinals. The 49ers went on to defeat Green Bay 37-8.
"We've been running that since Week 1, and I have to run it like two or three times a week," Kittle said postgame. "That's like a 50-yard route every single time. I'm just like, 'Hey Kyle (Shanahan), relax. I'm a tight end.' We finally got the call and ran it, so that was pretty fun. It's just a corner post. Perfect coverage to run it against. Jimmy gave me a perfect ball and I had to unhitch the trailer and out-run a couple guys. It was pretty fun."
Kittle's Fake "Fall" for a 25-yard Catch-and-Run vs. Los Angeles Rams (2018)
On the "tight end dive" play, Kittle made an intentional "fall" near the line of scrimmage only to deceive his defender, Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. He gets back up as Mullens connects with the tight end for a 25-yard catch and run. Kittle's fake set up an Alfred Morris rushing touchdown.
With the reception, Kittle caught his 83rd pass of the season, setting a new single-season franchise record for receptions by a 49ers tight end.
"(Coach Shanahan) was like, 'I want you to dive,' because we've done this before," Kittle said on NFL Film Session. "I was like, 'I trust you.' We did it one time, and it was fine, so I gave it a shot again. I knew there's a timer going on in my head for Nick. And I'm just watching the MIKE linebacker. The second he takes a step out, I know that I'm faster than him laterally. And that's yards."
Kittle Breaks Two Tackles With a Broken Foot for a Touchdown vs. Arizona Cardinals (2019)
Just two plays after Chandler Jones' helmet crashed into Kittle's knee forcing the tight end to sit out a play, Garoppolo connected with the tight end on a slant route as he bounced off two defenders en route to the end zone.
He finished the night with six catches for 79 receiving yards and a touchdown, his second of the season.
Wide Open Score Over the Middle vs. Cleveland Browns (2019)
On 2nd-and-9 from Cleveland's 22-yard line, Garoppolo connected with Kittle wide open over the middle for the easy score to put the game out of reach for the Browns. The 49ers went on to dominate the outing, 31-3.
"Oh, it was awesome," Kittle said. "We can do a lot out of our 22 personnel, which is great. That's a lot on Kyle Juszczyk and a lot on our other tight ends. When we get in that, when we are able to run the ball for 280 yards, you know like I said, it sets up our pass game. That last play was a pretty simple play. I just got a through route, which is the safeties if they are split, you go down the middle and it was pretty awesome. On the motion, both safeties looked the opposite direction and pretty sure I knew it was, I mean, I thought it was a touchdown before they even said hike. (Joe) Staley said that Shanahan, as soon as we said hike, he turned around and just called touchdown. So, that was pretty cool. You've got to ask him about that."
Kittle's First-career Touchdown to Force Overtime vs. Indianapolis Colts (2017)
On 4th-and-goal at the Colt's 5-yard line, Brian Hoyer made a quick pass to Kittle at the goal line as he extended the ball into the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. What makes his first touchdown so special is that he registered the score the day before his 24th birthday.
"I caught it and tried to find the goal line," he said postgame. "I knew that was going to hit me, so I tried to absorb it as much as I could and just tried to extend, make sure my knees didn't go down. I thought I got in right when they called it. I'm glad they called it a touchdown first before the review, so I could celebrate a little bit. That was fun."