I’ve done these types of articles so far with Tyler LockettTyreek Hill, and T.Y. Hilton, so today here is another one. When discussing the best tight end in the NFL, the majority would say one of two answers: Travis Kelce or George Kittle. This article will discuss the latter.

Kittle is an absolute beast but if you look at his college statistics, you might have thought he would not have had a huge impact in the NFL. Kittle’s best season came in 2016 with Iowa….where he had only 22 catches for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Not a stat line you would expect from the two-time Pro Bowler.

Credit: Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

The San Francisco 49ers ended up drafting Kittle in the FIFTH ROUND (146th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. While his rookie season was solid for a fifth-round rookie (515 yards and two touchdowns), he blew up his sophomore season, recording 1,377 yards and five touchdowns, with the yards being a single-season record for a tight end. While his yards were down a bit in 2019, 1,053 yards is still a solid season. In three seasons, Kittle has been named to the Pro Bowl twice as well as being named to the All-Pro team twice (First-team in 2019 and Second-team in 2018) in his young career.

Kittle is a star and will no doubt be one for years to come but who were the tight ends selected before him? Let’s take a look at the eight tight ends drafted before George Kittle back in the 2017 NFL Draft.

O.J. Howard

Credit: Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports
  • Drafted: 19th (1st Round)
  • Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Career Stats: 94 receptions, 1,456 yards, 12 touchdowns, 38 games (36 starts)

Howard was a beast at Alabama and every draft expert ranked him as the top tight end heading into the 2017 Draft. Tampa Bay selected him as the first tight end in hopes to be a reliable target for then QB Jamies Winston.

So far in three seasons, Howard has had his moments but there is a lot of inconsistencies and injuries. His best season came in 2018, where he had 565 yards and five touchdowns. A guy where you always assume he’ll break out the following season but has failed to live up to his first-round selection. Maybe a change at the QB spot with Tom Brady throwing him may change things. No doubt that Kittle has had a better career here.

Evan Engram

Credit: Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press
  • Drafted: 23rd (1st Round)
  • Team: New York Giants
  • Career Stats: 153 receptions, 1,766 yards, 12 touchdowns, 34 games (25 starts)

Engram had a successful tenure for Ole Miss where he was a tight end but in their offense, played in the slot as times. After a 926 yard and eight touchdown senior season, the Giants drafted him 23rd overall.

He had a solid rookie season, recording six touchdowns on 722 yards, being named the tight end in the 2017 All-Rookie Team. His production dropped the following two seasons and had had trouble staying on the field due to injuries.

Much like Howard, Engram has shown flashes of potential but the same goes here, Kittle has had the better career.

David Njoku

Credit: Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports
  • Drafted: 29th (1st Round)
  • Team: Cleveland Browns
  • Career Stats: 93 receptions, 1,066 yards, nine touchdowns, 36 games (20 starts)

After two seasons at the University of Miami, Njoku was drafted by Cleveland with the 29th overall pick.

His rookie season was not spectacular, only recording 386 yards with four touchdowns. He improved his yards in year two with 639 but injuries in 2019 hurt his chances to improve in his third season. With Cleveland’s addition of Austin Hooper, it looks that Njoku’s time in Cleveland might be up (or his snaps will decrease depending on if the team does keep him). Imagine Kittle in Cleveland’s offense with the likes of Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry?

Gerald Everett

Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
  • Drafted: 44th (2nd Round)
  • Team: Los Angeles Rams
  • Career Stats: 86 receptions, 972 yards, seven touchdowns, 45 games (four starts)

Despite coming from a small school in South Alabama, Everett was selected by Los Angeles in the early part of the second round in hopes to fill the team’s need at the time.

The Rams offense consists of not a lot of tight end play and when they do, Tyler Higbee has seemingly gotten more snaps during that time. His best season came in 2019 where he had 408 yards and two touchdowns. Kittle on the Rams offense (mainly during that 2018 Super Bowl Run) would have been fun to watch.

Adam Shaheen

Credit: Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports
  • Drafted: 45th (2nd Round)
  • Team: Chicago Bears
  • Career Stats: 26 receptions, 249 yards, four touchdowns, 27 games (13 starts)

Heading into the draft, Shaheen was ranked the 12th best tight end on CBS Sports. Coming from a Division II school in Ashland, his stock rose when he performed well at the NFL Combine.

He was mainly used as a blocking tight end in the Bears offense and has suffered multiple injuries throughout his career. No doubt here Kittle has had a better career thus far.

Jonnu Smith

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports
  • Drafted: 100th (3rd Round)
  • Team: Tennessee Titans
  • Career Stats: 73 receptions, 854 yards, eight touchdowns, 42 games (36 starts)

Smith had a solid four-year career at Florida International, eclipsing 2,001 yards and 18 touchdowns during that time.

He was the backup tight end during his first two seasons with Delanie Walker being the starter. A season-ending injury to Walker eventually earned him the starting tight end position in 2019 and while he had only 439 yards, he looks to a solid starter for the Titans for the next few seasons. That being said, it is safe to say Kittle has had the better career.

Michael Roberts

Credit: Mark Brown/Getty Images
  • Drafted: 127th (4th Round)
  • Team: Detroit Lions
  • Career Stats: 13 receptions, 146 yards, three touchdowns, 23 games (five starts)

Roberts played college ball at Toledo, earning First-team All-American honors (from Football Writers Association of America) in 2016.

His tenure in The Motor City was short, as he was cut after a failed trade the New England Patriots in 2019. During his with Detroit, Roberts struggled with injuries and only had 146 yards in three seasons. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 offseason but was waived after a failed physical. He recently signed with the Miami Dolphins, in hopes to compete for a roster spot come 2020. Clearly, Kittle has had the better career.

Jake Butt

Credit: Jack Dempsey/AP
  • Drafted: 145th (5th Round)
  • Team: Denver Broncos
  • Career Stats: eight receptions, 85 yards, three games (three starts)

If not for the injuries, Butt was projected to be a top tight end in the 2017 Draft. Butt, unfortunately, tore his ACL in his final college game (2016 Orange Bowl) and that hurt his draft stock significantly. Still, the two-time Kwalick-Clark Award Winner (best college tight end) was selected in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos.

Butt ended up not playing in 2017 due to recovering from his ACL. In his second season, Butt tore his ACL again during a non-contact drill and missed the rest of the season after playing in three games. Complications from his ACL injury forced him to miss the 2019 season as well. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game and hopefully, Butt can recover in time for 2020.

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