The New England Patriots’ 2020 schedule is loaded with matchups against top-tier tight ends.
The one they’ll face this weekend — George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers — might be the best of them all.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Kittle during a Monday afternoon conference call with Bay Area reporters, saying the 27-year-old All-Pro is as talented as any tight end he’s ever coached or coached against.
That list, of course, includes surefire Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski.
“Kittle is a great player,” Belichick said, via ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “He does everything well. I’d put him right at the top of the league there, period. His ability to run, catch, get open, (run) after the catch, block — he does everything at a high level. He’s as good as anybody that I’ve coached or as good as anybody that we’ve played against.”
Kittle’s 2,810 receiving yards since the start of the 2018 season rank sixth among all NFL pass-catchers and second among tight ends behind Kansas City’s Travis Kelce. He’s a mauler in the run game and a pain to bring down after the catch.
Belichick said Kittle’s big-play potential also benefits the Niners’ other offensive weapons, like promising young receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
“He’s got a good skill set,” Belichick told reporters, “and the 49ers put him in positions that really stress the defense and make it hard. But then they also use him somewhat as a decoy to open up things for other guys, too. If you pay too much attention to him, he creates opportunities for some of their other outstanding players. And if you don’t pay enough attention to him, then he can kill you. So he’s in a great system. He’s a great player.”
Kittle missed two games with an injury earlier this season but still ranks in the top 20 in the league in catches (30, third among tight ends behind Kelce and Darren Waller) and receiving yards (380, second among tight ends behind Kelce).
Exactly half of Kittle’s 2020 receptions came in a dominant Week 4 performance against Philadelphia, during which he caught 15 passes on 15 targets for 183 yards with one touchdown.
The Patriots already have faced two elite tight ends this season in Waller (two catches, 9 yards in Week 3) and Kelce (three catches, 70 yards in Week 4) and will see another in Baltimore’s Mark Andrews next month.
In Belichick’s eyes, though, Kittle is in a class of his own.
“I don’t think there’s a tight end in the league — and we’ve seen a lot of good ones and had a lot of good ones — but I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that does everything overall as well as (Kittle) does,” Belichick told reporters. “He just really doesn’t have any weak points at all. Just outstanding at every phase of the game.”
The Patriots enter Sunday’s matchup at 2-3 following back-to-back losses to the Chiefs and Denver Broncos. The 3-3 Niners were blown out by the Miami Dolphins last weekend but rebounded with a 24-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.
Kittle led all receivers with seven catches on 10 targets for 109 yards in that victory, including a 44-yard touchdown.