Pro Football Focus agrees, as the analysis network has been releasing their Top 50 players of the NFL, with three 49ers making this list as corner Richard Sherman and defensive end Nick Bosa join Kittle in the rankings, but more on them later.
Here’s what the network had to say about Kittle being the highest-ranked tight end and the fifth-highest ranked player after his 1,053 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019.
Over the past decade, five of the top seven single-season PFF grades at tight end belong to Rob Gronkowski, but the grade George Kittle racked up last season tops any of them. Kittle, like Gronk, is an elite receiver at the position while also a rare blocker who becomes a matchup problem because he can dominate smaller players in that facet just as easily as he can win in the passing game. Last season was his first truly dominant year, but it was so good that it’s tough not to rank him this highly based on what the future could hold.
PFF’s comments are interesting, especially about how last season was his first truly dominant year, which syncs up with their grades for Kittle, who was given the network’s Dwight Stephenson Award after he record the highest-graded season by a tight end in PFF’s history.
Kittle’s overall grade of 95.0 wasn’t just the best grade of any tight end in the game this season (by some distance), but was the best grade of any player at any position league-wide. A lot of players in the NFL had phenomenal seasons, but at the end of watching and grading every player on every play of the NFL season, George Kittle graded out as the best in football, and he rightfully deserves the Dwight Stephenson Award for his efforts.
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No. 14: Richard Sherman
You don’t have to go back especially far to find the next 49er on the list, as Sherman comes in at 14. The network didn’t hesitate to say that one of the only reasons Sherman wasn’t higher up the list was because of his age.
Only age keeps Richard Sherman this low — the best cornerback of the past decade will enter this season at 32 years old coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Sherman was a huge reason the 49ers were so successful last season and showed that he could get back to his best play another year removed from his Achilles injury. He allowed a passer rating of just 45.3 when targeted including the playoffs, and that was the first season of his career since 2014 where that figure dropped below 50.0. Sherman has always been criticized for being just a zone corner, but he has been so much more than that — and even if he wasn’t, he has been so good at it that it’s not a valid criticism.
Not many fans outside of the 49ers community expected Sherman’s resurgence last year, as he racked up 61 total tackles, three interceptions, 11 passes defended and a touchdown in the regular season.
However, the NFL is aware that Sherman is playing some of the best football of his career, and will be respected as such next season.
No. 41: Nick Bosa
It takes a really impressive season to make PFF’s Top 50, but when you win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award, it only makes sense for Bosa to be in their rankings.
Recording nine sacks, a pick and 46 total tackles, Bosa wasted no time becoming a star for the 49ers.
Few players have had the kind of immediate impact at the position that Nick Bosa had as a rookie. He broke the PFF record for total pressures from a rookie that had stood since Aldon Smith’s 60 back in 2011, and Bosa even continued his dominance into the playoffs and the Super Bowl. It’s just one year of play, but considering how good he was in college and the fact that his one season in the NFL was a record-breaking one, there is reason to believe that he is already one of the best pass-rushers in the game — and that he could get even better.
Bosa’s performance was so good they ranked him above his brother Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, so that may tell you all you need to know.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, MT. Follow and reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier.