The San Francisco 49ers offense is one of the more complicated to understand this season. We still don’t officially know if Trey Lance or Brock Purdy will be the starting quarterback. Additionally, they have arguably the most elite offensive players of any team in the NFL.
So who is going to be the most fantasy relevant?
Current consensus suggests it will be Christian McCaffrey, whose average draft position (ADP) is 2.3, according to FantasyPros. But what about George Kittle? Arguably the best all-around tight end in the league, Kittle has been a frustrating fantasy player, seemingly missing in the 2022 season until the fantasy playoffs, when it was likely too late for your team.
To understand Kittle’s 2022 season, let’s look back at his splits with the other elite 49ers on the field.
George Kittle 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
Who is taking away Kittle’s opportunities?
This is the grand question of the 49ers offense. Who takes away from who when they’re on the field? I’ve discussed ad nauseam how Elijah Mitchell getting touches reduces Christian McCaffrey’s output, but who has the biggest impact on George Kittle?
Let’s start with the quarterback. It’s easy to look back at 2022 and see that Brock Purdy being on the field helped Kittle. From weeks 13 to 17, Kittle was the TE2 overall, which would have placed him as the WR12 during that span. The complicating factor here is that he scored a ridiculous amount of touchdowns during that time, averaging one per game, which is unlikely to sustain.
So maybe Purdy is the guy for Kittle. The issue is we actually haven’t seen Trey Lance and Kittle play together. They only got one start together in Lance’s rookie season because Kittle was out the first two weeks of 2022 when Lance got his starts.
Okay, so now, looking at the receiving corps. There’s actually a fascinating pattern between Brandon Aiyuk and Kittle, where they have ceiling performances at the same time. Looking back at 2022, they both had games with over 15 fantasy points in Weeks 6, 7, 16, and 17. Their fantasy performances have signs of a positive correlation.
However, that story changes when we look at Deebo Samuel. With Samuel, we have a more clear sample to pull from. Samuel missed four games where Kittle played. During those games, Kittle caught 17 passes on 26 targets for 275 yards and six touchdowns. That is a bonkers production level for a tight end (yes, that’s a technical term). Putting it into fantasy terms, Kittle averaged 20 points per game with Deebo out of the lineup.
So what does this mean for my draft?
Ah, yes, good point. That’s more helpful information for week-to-week start/sit decisions. But as of this writing, all the 49ers’ elite offensive pass-catchers are healthy.
This is one of those moments where I tell people to look inside themselves and decide what type of fantasy player they want to be. Are you someone who wants to start players you can count on week in and week out? Or do you prefer to chase upside and start players who can score you 30 points, even if it means they could also score three?
Yes, I’m calling George Kittle volatile. Don’t get me wrong, from an NFL perspective, I’d pick him on my team more times than not. But for fantasy, you’re going to be along for the ride if you’re drafting Kittle.
What concerns me most about drafting him is that last season, he had his most receiving snaps since 2018, yet he put up his fewest amount of yards since 2020 when he missed half the season due to injury. Yea, you read that right. Kittle had more pass snaps but did less with it in 2022. Yikes.
It depends on the league.
So let’s break this down by format because Kittle is one of those players who should be valued differently depending on the league settings.
In redraft, it will all depend on how far he falls in drafts. The tight end position is already a wasteland, and once you get past Kittle, everyone is a volatile player. So I’m not taking Kittle ahead of the likes of Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, and Kyle Pitts.
But when it’s the fourth and fifth rounds, and Kittle is there, I’m making a choice as to whether I’m taking Kittle or full-on punting the tight end position. Essentially, my redraft argument is: if I’m already praying for a touchdown, why not do so with an elite tight end?
In Best Ball, I think the prospects are much better because you don’t need Kittle to lead your team every week. I like taking him in three tight end builds where I’m betting on the upside of multiple players. He should continue being drafted at ADP.
And in dynasty, no one wants Kittle. I traded him away earlier this season to get Trey Lance, and let’s just say I had to give up more than I wanted to make it happen. Like, two second-round picks more than I wanted. It was gross.
And in other leagues where I’ve tried offloading him, hoping others would be intrigued by his end-of-year performance, nothing. No interest. Nada. Even in tight end premium leagues.
So in dynasty, my best advice is to ride this ship out and hope for the best.
Perhaps Kittle gets back to his 2018 numbers, where he caught over 1,300 yards. But if the past few seasons tell us anything, there’s too much competition for Kittle to hit those elite numbers, barring extenuating circumstances. My heart wants to pull for him, but my brain says there’s a lot of danger here. My heart is currently winning out, but I’ve been warned.
A Look Inside the San Francisco 49ers
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Austin focused on George Kittle in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant 49ers written by Ryan Weisse.
Look, the 49ers want Purdy to be their guy, and that tells me that Trey Lance is not the guy. Purdy really only played six regular season games last year but averaged over 18 fantasy points per game and was the QB9 from Week 13 on. He also had one monster playoff game and one dud. If Purdy is healthy, he probably falls into the QB12-15 range, and this offense could be very interesting.
CMC finally played 17 games and finished as a top-2 RB in fantasy, regardless of scoring. That’s right, McCaffrey was the RB2 in non-PPR scoring too. He was the only back in the NFL with over 1000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. CMC is good at football. He’ll split time with a healthy Elijah Mitchell, but that will only add to his efficiency. He was already at 4.7 yards per carry and 8.7 yards per catch. We could be looking at 5 and 10 in 2023. When he’s on the field, he’s the RB1. Draft accordingly.
Speaking of efficiency. Mitchell averaged over six yards per carry last year and played his best games after the team traded for McCaffrey. As long as the 49ers are committed to the run, there are plenty of carries to go around. Mitchell may never catch another pass, but 10 carries per game is firmly on the table. That’s 170 carries and 935 yards based on his career YPC. That alone makes him a top-50 fantasy RB, and I’m guessing he’ll find the endzone a few times. Not bad for a backup RB
Aiyuk stepped into an Alpha role last year and led the team in targets, yards, and touchdowns. He also caught over 68% of his passes for over 13 yards per catch. Interestingly, his numbers were better by almost four fantasy points per game when Deebo was on the field. The only question here is volume. If Samuel is healthy, can Aiyuk command 114 targets again? If you believe the answer is yes, you can land a top-15 WR for a WR33 price tag. That’s a gamble I’ll take in just about every draft this season.
Putting it bluntly: I have no idea what kind of season Deebo will have, but I’m not paying a WR16 price tag to find out. Especially when I get Brandon Aiyuk 3-4 rounds later. Samuel was the WR28 on a PPG basis last year and the WR37 overall because of four missed games. He’s likely to improve in 2023, but he won’t approach his 2021 numbers. That’s a gamble I’ll avoid in every draft this season.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.