Selected 31 picks apart in the fifth round, George Kittle and Trent Taylor were the 49ers’ first forays into drafting receiving talent of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era. Both are enormously exciting prospects for the 49ers and it is fairly simple to establish the reasons for their respective draft day slides. In the case of Taylor, it is fundamentally his size, at only 5”8 and 181lbs he is undersized and will likely exclusively play in the slot for the 49ers. In the case of Kittle, his time in the Iowa scheme left him under-utilised as a receiver, resulting in his blocking being notably better than his receiving abilities at this stage.
Nevertheless, it is precisely these supposed limitations which made both players incredibly attractive propositions to the 49ers. We had heard during the pre-draft build up that Kyle Shanahan and his fellow coaches met with John Lynch and his team and outlined the specific kinds of player that they desired at each position. Both Kittle and Taylor appear to possess incredibly desirable traits and abilities for the roles that they will be asked to perform in the NFL.
It is highly likely that Kittle’s (6”4, 247lbs) blocking abilities were what endeared him so much to the 49ers. His experience in Iowa’s pro-style offense will massively help his own transition into Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, where he will be asked to play as an in-line blocker, as a H-back and split out wide – all roles that he has had considerably experience in whilst in college.
Moreover, his technique as a blocker is incredibly polished, with Kittle able to dominate defensive backs as well as utilising his athleticism to get to the second level and block linebackers. He is also comfortably capable of helping tackles double team pass rushers and at the college level demonstrated the ability to block them at the back side of rushing plays in particular. This polished blocking ability will allow Kittle to see the field early and often under Shanahan, even though there are question marks about his size.
Similarly, his role as a receiver in college likely has a lot of similarities with how he will be used under Shanahan. Due to his ability as a blocker and the resultant versatility with where he can line up, Kittle ran routes from a number of spots, and looked most effective on routes where he shaped to block before beginning his route or by crossing the formation during play action. He was often expected to be a blocker and linebackers would react too late to his changing role, which then allowed his athleticism to shine through. This athleticism (4.52 40 yard dash) allowed him to turn small defensive lapses into major gains for the offense, and also allowed him to uncover against linebackers and even some safeties. Nevertheless his receiving ability could use some polish, as he currently lacks the route running precision to free himself of coverage which could cause him issues in the NFL.
Trent Taylor’s college usage is also directly translatable to how he will likely be asked to play in the NFL when he sees the film. Almost exclusively a slot receiver (95% of his snaps per PFF), he led the NCAA with 136 receptions, 1803 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also had a staggeringly low drop rate (2.84% overall per PFF) and was widely considered to have had some of the best hands in the draft class.
He is an incredibly shifty mover (tied 3rd in short shuttle, tied 2nd in longer shuttle and tied 6th in 3 cone) both when running routes and with ball in hand. This ability saw him capable of attacking intermediate and even deep areas (though this was partly a product of the wide open Louisiana Tech offense) and he was a legitimate RAC threat as well. He runs aggressively and larger than his build as well as being highly confident seeing the ball into has hands and turning up field almost instantaneously. The speed at which he adjusts to the more advanced nature of Kyle Shanahan’s offense will determine the future of Bruce Ellington and, if he adjusts quickly, could see Jeremy Kerley finding himself lower down the pecking order than he expects.
Both Taylor and Kittle have the potential to play significant roles as rookies, despite both being fifth round picks. This is indicative of good drafting by Lynch and his team, but also of solid identification of desirable traits by Shanahan and his coaches. Kittle and Taylor both have traits that mean they are NFL ready, notably Kittle’s combination of blocking and athleticism and his resultant versatility as a receiver and Taylor’s electric abilities out of the slot. Both could be solid rotational pieces as rookies, with the potential to be extremely productive when allowed to play to their strengths within Kyle Shanahan’s system.