George Kittle put together one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history, but it didn’t garner him a first-team All-Pro nod.
Still, Kittle was named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press on Friday after breaking the season record for tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards. The second-year pro was a rare bright spot in an otherwise down season for the 4-12 49ers.
Chiefs star Travis Kelce, who finished second behind Kittle with 1,336 yards - his third straight 1,000-yard campaign - was named to the first team. Kelce and Kittle broke Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 season record, 1,327 yards, in Week 17. Kelce had 10 touchdowns and Kittle five.
Kittle overtook Kelce with a 43-yard touchdown late in the loss to the Rams on Sunday. The 49ers are optimistic about his trajectory after he fell to the fifth round in the 2017 draft.
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“There’s things that he can develop in his game that can make him an even stronger player,” general manager John Lynch said. “That has George excited. It has us very excited. But, I think the biggest lesson for our team, you watch that guy, that guy outworks people by the way he comes, and it starts not only out on the field, but the way he prepares his body. He’s learned that in short order and that makes you really proud.”
Kittle is also regarded as one of the league’s premier blocking tight ends, though he thinks he can improve, particularly after struggling against one of the best in the NFL during the Dec. 23 loss to the Chicago Bears.
“Definitely, I got left alone on Khalil Mack a couple of times I didn’t do very well at,” Kittle said. “So hopefully, I get another opportunity at that and I can do better. ... The next step for me is just to continue to train, whatever I can do to keep my body healthy for 16-plus weeks, and just keep grinding.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Kittle led the NFL with 873 yards after the catch, ahead of running backs Christian McCaffrey (862) and Saquon Barkley (787). Kittle had six receptions for more than 40 yards and 10 receptions for more than 30 yards.
“That’s a fun one definitely,” Kittle said. “Running after you catch the ball is the best part about football. Just seeing green grass and making guys miss and stuff like that, it’s how you can kind of show off if you’re an athlete, or what you can do with the ball. It’s just really fun.”
Kittle is the first 49er to receive All-Pro recognition since linebacker NaVorro Bowman was named to the first team in 2015. Kittle was also named to his first Pro Bowl, where he’ll join fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was named an alternate.