Fantasy Football: Should George Kittle Go Earlier in Fantasy Drafts?

Annie Nader
Annie Nader@ANader33
Fantasy Football: Should George Kittle Go Earlier in Fantasy Drafts?

Fantasy football managers who drafted George Kittle in 2023 received a somewhat meh return on their investment.

Kittle held a 4.0 average draft position (ADP) at tight end, per FantasyPros), but finished 5th in half-PPR scoring, even with playing 16 games.

Mark Andrews held a 2.0 ADP at tight end and ranked 4th in half-PPR scoring per game, but injuries limited him to just 10 games. T.J. Hockenson, who owned a 3.3 ADP at tight end and finished 3rd in half-PPR scoring per game, missed the final two games of the season after sustaining a torn ACL and MCL.

What kind of production should we expect from Kittle this season, and where should he fall on your draft board?

George Kittle Fantasy Football Outlook

Kittle By the Years

Those who picked up Kittle in 2018, his sophomore season with the San Francisco 49ers, can look back upon that time with fondness.

Kittle was targeted 136 times for 1,377 yards, both of which still stand at career highs. He ranked third in half-PPR scoring at the position despite coming into the year with a 13.0 ADP among tight ends.

In 2019, he saw his stock rise to a second at tight end in ADP but made good on it with the second-most half-PPR points at the position.

The 2020 season brought a slew of injuries, forcing Kittle to sit out for half of the season. He returned in 2021 and 2022 to finish fourth and third, respectively, in half-PPR scoring.

Last year was the first time Kittle landed outside the top four in half-PPR scoring for TEs since his freshman campaign, save for that 2020 season. Last season was also the first time that he performed worse than his ADP in a healthy season.

The momentum has shifted for the soon-to-be 31-year-old. Ahead of the upcoming season, Kittle is typically being drafted 8th at the tight end position and 73rd overall, per FantasyPros' consensus half-PPR ADP.

Previously, he had ranked in the top four of tight end ADP for five straight years. Is the shift in Kittle's stock too harsh and something we can capitalize on, or is the public right on the money?

The CMC Effect and a Note On Regression

In 2022, 18.3% of Kittle's receptions ended in a touchdown dance.

There was never a doubt that he was going to get totally rocked by regression in 2023 given the unsustainable feat of pairing just 60 catches with 11 touchdowns, but the arrival of Christian McCaffrey was the biggest thorn in Kittle's side.

When CMC arrived in San Fran partway through 2022, he took on a sizable role of 14.4 carries per 11 games. But in his first full season with the Niners, McCaffery notched 17.0 carries per game.

The Niners ran the ball at a 47.92% rate last year (third-highest in the NFL). For comparison, they rushed on just 42.17% of plays (14th) in Kittle's 2018 breakout season, and that was back when running was more en vogue.

A run-heavy offense paired with a dual receiving threat in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk has left Kittle with a reduced role. In 2018, the former Hawkeye was sporting a 26.4% target share and a 26.0% red zone target share. He sustained a 26.4% red zone target share in 2022. But last season, that red zone share collapsed to 18.1%, resulting in a six-touchdown season -- quite a downfall from the previous 11-touchdown year.

But all is not lost for Kittle, and we could benefit from backing a player who is off the heels of a negative regression season.

Entering the 2022 season, Kittle sustained a career 4.3% touchdown rate (20 TDs via 463 targets). That is a super low clip, one that was begging for regression to rear its head.

Well, as mentioned, it did just that. Kittle went on to generate a 12.8% touchdown rate (11 TDs via 86 targets) in 2022. Last season, he fell back down to a 6.7% touchdown rate.

So long as CMC, Samuel, and Aiyuk are healthy, we'd be hard-pressed to see that 12.8% rate from Kittle again. Just because he was the victim of negative regression last year does not mean he will be a positive regression candidate this time around. However, that 6.7% rate could serve as a proper baseline for what we should be seeing from Kittle, and perhaps it should be even a tad higher.

With this in mind, I don't think Kittle deserves to have an ADP as low as eighth at the tight end position. Yes, CMC and Brock Purdy's offense have hurt his production, and Kittle isn't getting any younger. Notwithstanding, Kittle still managed to rank fifth in both total half-PPR points and half-PPR points per game last year.

Add in the prospect that regression seems more primed to serve him than hinder him in the upcoming season, and Kittle could be a bargain on draft boards.

George Kittle Fantasy Football Projection

numberFire's projections forecast Kittle to log 794.25 yards and 5.73 touchdowns via 89.11 targets this season, all of which are based on a full 17-game season.

These projections are good for the seventh-most fantasy points at the position, expecting him to slightly outdo and make good on being drafted eighth at tight end.

I should note that these projections are expecting a 6.4% touchdown rate from Kittle, a slight decrease from last season's 6.7% rate, so we aren't even benefitting from regression.

Yes, it's hard for him to find his place among a run-heavy offense that features CMC, but Kittle still had a respectable 18.8% target share, 18.2% red zone target share, 19.2% end zone target share, and 9.7-yard average depth of target last season.

While I'd also like to counter that a fully healthy McCaffery in what was a workhorse season for him might not be sustainable this go-around, a similar fate could strike anyone, so that conversation isn't particularly productive.

Either way, Kittle seems to be a value on the board. If you think his track record and regression history could put him above some of the other tight ends in the league, Kittle is a viable candidate to be drafted earlier than anticipated.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.