Iowa fans might’ve had a similar reaction watching Day 3 of the NFL draft.
“Why hasn’t anyone picked George Kittle yet?”
The former Hawkeye tight end was eventually drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round. Six weeks after the 49ers picked Kittle, it’s already looking like they got a steal.
After he got several snaps with the No. 1 unit, Kittle closed out the 49ers offseason workout program in impressive fashion. He caught two touchdown passes on Wednesday, which was after he hauled in a 60-yard touchdown catch on Tuesday.
“George is coming, really battling,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said via NBC Sports. “He’s competed in the run and the pass game. George is a guy you can tell he is going for it, because of the way he competes on the field.
“Mainly, what he does off the field, too. He’s really trying to learn it and that’s given him a chance to show up a little bit.”
Kittle, who racked up 10 touchdown catches in his final two years at Iowa, had limited opportunities to thrive in Iowa’s passing game. He and his cousin Henry Krieger-Coble shared the duties at tight end in 2015, and a leg injury limited him in the second half of 2016. The former two-star recruit finished his Iowa career with 49 catches for 737 yards.
Former Michigan State and current 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer knows Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz from their time together in New England. Hoyer thought of his old friend when he saw Kittle shine in 49ers practice.
“I said, ‘I’m going to text (Ferentz) and tell him that they were using you the wrong way.’ Hoyer said via NBC Sports. “You think of Iowa, you think of these big, blocking tight ends.
“He has a really good football awareness — a feel for where to break, how to break, read zones. I’ve been surprised and, obviously, it’s a good thing for us to have a guy who has that football awareness and some feel of the game to it.”
Kittle made a solid early impression outside of the locker room, too. NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco called Kittle “the team’s top rookie” during the offseason program and that he “set himself up to compete for the starting job.”
There seems to be growing buzz that Kittle could pass up veterans Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek on the depth chart. Here’s what Bleacher Report NFL draft scout Matt Miller wrote about Kittle on Thursday:
This is my thought and not based on any inside info, but George Kittle has a very good chance to start at tight end for the 49ers this year. Kittle is very similar to Jordan Reed in terms of athleticism but is a better blocker. Kyle Shanahan will love that versatility and athleticism at tight end.
Kittle’s injury might’ve prevented him from being selected in the first three rounds of the draft, but that hasn’t held him back during the pre-draft or post-draft process.
Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before C.J. Beathard and Kittle are connecting for touchdowns on Sundays.