‘Nuclear’ 49ers All-Pro Among Reasons Team Has Top Playmakers: Insider


Getty George Kittle celebrates a touchdown on January 8, 2023 in Santa Clara.

A ballistic George Kittle on the football field is a good thing for the San Francisco 49ers — as one NFL insider reminded on Monday, June 26.

Bill Barnwell of ESPN crowned the 49ers as having the top playmakers ahead of the 2023 season. He particularly zeroed in on the physical versatility of the four-time Pro Bowl tight end — more so identifying his strong finish in 2022.

“He went nuclear over the final month of the season, racking up 265 receiving yards and seven touchdowns from Week 14 on,” Barnwell wrote of Kittle in his column. “The bruising tight end missed the first two games of the season and then subsequently stayed healthy, an exciting development for a player who hasn’t played a full season since that breakout campaign in 2018.”

Barnwell included how Kittle reinforced one idea involving him among NFL fans.

“Kittle is not going to average 3.0 yards per route run again like he did that season, but he has reinforced his standing as one of the best receiving tight ends in football to go with all he does as a blocker,” Barnwell said.

Insider Details What Separates the 49ers Playmakers From Others

Barnwell later hopped on Sportscenter with Scott Van Pelt to further detail why its the 49ers who separate themselves as the team with the best playmakers.

“It’s because they are so good with the ball in their hands after the catch,” Barnwell told Scott Van Pelt. “And we saw this. This isn’t some hypothetical thing. We saw this last year during the second half of the season when [QB] Brock Purdy was their starting quarterback.”

“It was [running back] Christian McCaffrey making linebackers miss,” Barnwell continued. “It was George Kittle running people over into the end zone for a hot second half. It’s [wide receiver] Deebo Samuel running away from defenders in the postseason. They have so many pieces that, individually, one on one, or taking advantage of mismatches, can absolutely pick apart opposing defenses.”

Barnwell additionally added how he believes the 49ers, under head coach Kyle Shanahan, would thrive regardless of who gets placed in at quarterback — including the QB representatives of the last AFC title game.

“Kyle Shanahan helps. Brock Purdy is a little better than I think we gave him credit for, but at the end of the day, you put the Niners with [Kansas City Chiefs QB] Patrick Mahomes, you put the Niners with [Cincinnati Bengals QB] Joe Burrow, I think you put the Niners with anybody else, they would look more impressive than any other playmaking group in football.”

Barnwell Believes 1 More 49ers Playmaker Will Redeem Himself

This upcoming season also presents this stirring duo for a full season: McCaffrey and Samuel.

Finally, the 49ers have help for the “wide back” Samuel for a full year. And per Barnwell, McCaffrey had a similar stat comparable to one breakout NFL wide receiver in 2022.

“McCaffrey averaged just under 2.0 yards per route run with a 26.6% target rate after joining the 49ers, which is right about what Garrett Wilson did over the same time frame as a receiver for the Jets,” Barnwell wrote. “McCaffrey threw in 159 carries for 746 yards as a bonus.”

Even in a “down year” for Samuel, Barnwell still saw how productive he was.

“Samuel attributed the decline to being out of shape, which is scary when you consider he still finished second in yards after catch over expectation per target,” Barnwell wrote. “He’s clearly the best yards-after-catch receiver in the league.”

Barnwell believes all of the starting skill position guys can be stars elsewhere but the 49ers get to be the ones blessed to have all of them.

“If they continue to make Purdy (or Sam Darnold or even Trey Lance) look like a franchise quarterback in 2023, it’ll be hard to argue against the 49ers having the best playmakers in football,” Barnwell said.

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