Several of the San Francisco 49ers' second-year players have seemingly regressed this season. For some, like linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert, injuries have played a part. For others, the reasoning isn't entirely evident.

Two players who have avoided the sophomore slump plaguing the team are tight end George Kittle and running back Matt Breida. The 49ers made Kittle a fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa last year while Breida was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern.

49ers general manager John Lynch joined Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" and discussed the two second-year players who are setting an example for their teammates.

"I think a lot of the other players can emulate those two because it's so much more than their talent," Lynch told Maiocco. "It's the way they go about their jobs each and every day that's allowed them to continue to improve in year two."

Kittle is having a Pro-Bowl caliber season and is on pace to set a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end. His 775 yards receiving rank third in the NFL at his position but what really sets him apart from the rest are his yards after the catch. Kittle has added 535 yards after hauling in passes, which is tops in the league among tight ends by a significant margin.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who ranks at No. 2, has 440 yards after the catch but has played in one more game than Kittle. Only New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley has accumulated more yards after the catch (591) than the 49ers tight end.

"George, I think when you really study him, he's a very talented football player," Lynch said. "He's got a speed, he's got a twitch to him."

Kittle has developed a consistent routine, and Lynch believes that has benefited in his development.

"I know where he's going to be in our building because he's developed a routine that works for him," Lynch said.

Kittle is also significantly healthier than he was during his rookie campaign. He dealt with hamstring, calf, hip, chest, back, elbow, and ankle injuries in his first NFL season but still finished the year with 43 receptions for 515 yards with two touchdowns.

"I think the biggest development for George, he's learned maybe how to take care of his body a little bit better because year one, he had that talent," Lynch continued. "It wasn't always able to be shown on the field because he was compromised by injuries.

"He's really developed a work ethic and a routine that has allowed him to stay healthy and when you start to figure that out, he's way ahead of the curve because he's figuring it out as a second-year player and his talent is able to come to the forefront."

A season-ending injury to running back Jerick McKinnon thrust Breida into a more prominent role this year and the second-year player has responded. He is on pace to be the first 49ers running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season since Frank Gore did so in 2014. His 20 runs of 10-or-more yards rank No. 8 in the NFL.

"I think he's made of the right stuff," Lynch said. "We've known that about Matt since we brought him in here. Just kind of the will to succeed. I think the exciting thing about Matt, he's been compromised by an ankle that has really been an issue most of the year, so I'm excited to see this bye week hopefully allow him to heal a little bit.

"I think the biggest development for him, we saw a little bit last year, a special burst, and a guy who finds the right hole. You can teach it a little bit, and we have one of the best running back coaches that's ever been in Bobby Turner that has a great way and has been around the system for years, so can really work with these guys. But even Bobby will tell you that some of that is just innate.

"We saw early that Matt Breida has that innate ability to find the right hole. I think the biggest development is what he's doing after contact in year two. That's where he's developed as a football player, and that's exciting."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Lynch below.


Below are some of the key topics discussed during the conversation with Maiocco and where you can find them within the podcast.

  • George Kittle (4:18)
  • Matt Breida (5:55)
  • Solomon Thomas' contributions to the defense (7:23)
  • Reuben Foster's and Ahkello Witherspoon's regressions (9:25)
  • Mike McGlinchey's and Fred Warner's impressive rookie seasons (11:48)
  • The backup quarterback battle between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard (13:48)
  • Preparing for the offseason (15:51)