SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has coached against his share of elite tight ends in a professional career that began in 1975. But when Belichick looks at the San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle, he sees one who stands with -- or above -- the best of them.
"Kittle is a great player," Belichick said. "He does everything well. I'd put him right at the top of the league there, period. His ability to run, catch, get open, 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."
That's high praise from Belichick, who has been the head coach of the Patriots since 2000 and spent most of the rest of his career as either a defensive coordinator or a defensive position coach.
It's particularly notable since Belichick coached four-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski in New England from 2010 to 2018. Gronkowski is regarded by many as the elite tight end of his generation after earning five Pro Bowl berths and three Super Bowl rings and landing a spot on the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Speaking to Bay Area media on Monday in advance of the Patriots-49ers game set for Sunday, Belichick was effusive in his praise for Kittle, who owns the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in his first three NFL seasons (2,945) and the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (1,377).
"He's as good as anybody that I've coached or as good as anybody that we've played against." Patriots coach Bill Belichick on 49ers tight end George Kittle
But according to Belichick, it's Kittle's ability to do everything well, combined with coach Kyle Shanahan's ability to put him in position to succeed, that sets him apart.
"If you pay too much attention to him, he creates opportunities for some of their other outstanding players," Belichick said. "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. 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 he does. He just really doesn't have any weak points at all. Just outstanding at every phase of the game."
This season, Kittle has 30 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. He ranks second in receptions and yards among all tight ends despite missing two games with a sprained left knee.