Considering he coached Rob Gronkowski for almost a decade, Bill Belichick knows what an elite tight end looks like. Plus, the six-time Super Bowl champion also got a first-hand glimpse at greatness during his time with the New York Giants in the form of two-time All-Pro Mark Bavaro.
This week, the New England Patriots head coach will have to figure out a way to stop the NFL’s top tight end: George Kittle. And based on his powerful statement about the San Francisco 49ers star, expect the Patriots to devote extra attention to stopping the two-time Pro Bowler.
George Kittle has developed into the NFL’s top tight end
Despite showcasing elite athleticism at the scouting combine, George Kittle had to wait until the fifth round to hear his name called. Ultimately, the former Iowa tight end proved NFL teams made a massive mistake by letting him slip till the final day of the draft.
In his rookie season, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder racked up 43 catches for 515 yards and two touchdowns. However, Kittle’s second NFL season saw him emerge as one of the league’s rising stars.
Despite playing the tight end position, he led the 49ers in targets (136), catches (88), receiving yards (1,377), and tied for the team-lead with five TD receptions. That breakout campaign helped Kittle earn his first Pro Bowl berth.
He followed up with another monster season in 2019. Though he missed two games due to injury, Kittle still finished the season with a rock-solid line of 85/1,053/5. Plus, he continued to punish linebackers and defensive backs as a blocker.
In August, the 49ers rewarded the All-Pro with a five-year, $75 million contract extension. The deal included an $18 million signing bonus and made Kittle the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.
Bill Belichick delivers a powerful statement about the 49ers’ $75 million star
In the midst of another All-Pro-caliber campaign, George Kittle will look to add to his impressive receiving numbers this week against the Patriots. Despite missing two games, the 27-year-old still leads the 49ers in catches (30) and receiving yards (380).
As the most well-rounded tight end in the NFL, Kittle’s impressive early-career production has caught the attention of Bill Belichick. In fact, in speaking with the Bay Area media on Monday, the Patriots head coach delivered a powerful statement about the 49ers’ $75 million star.
“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,” Belichick said. “He’s as good as anybody that I’ve coached or as good as anybody that we’ve played against.”
Of course, the 68-year-old has been around the NFL for decades and seen plenty of elite tight ends. Clearly, he holds Kittle in a different category than his contemporaries.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that does everything overall as well as he does,” Belichick said. “He just really doesn’t have any weak points at all. Just outstanding at every phase of the game.”
Can the Patriots contain Kittle on Sunday?
On Sunday, George Kittle will have a chance to show why Bill Belichick just heaped such public praise upon him. The 49ers will travel to Foxborough to take on a 2-3 Patriots team coming off a disappointing showing against the Denver Broncos.
However, while New England’s offense has struggled to find any consistency, the defense has performed well. Even with veterans Dont’a Hightower and Pat Chung not playing this season, the Patriots still rank 11th in points allowed. Chase Winovich (2.4 sacks, six quarterback hits) and Lawrence Guy (14 tackles, three QBH) anchor a front seven that looks much different than a year ago.
The pressure falls on the Patriots’ star-studded secondary to step up against Kittle and Co. Typically, Chung covered tight ends. But with the veteran safety opting-out, New England has mostly relied upon 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams and rookie Kyle Dugger to do that job.
Williams acquitted himself well in a tough matchup against Darren Waller. The Patriots limited the 2019 breakout star to just two catches for nine yards.
New England also did a decent job holding Travis Kelce in check. Kansas City’s star tight end caught just three of seven targets for 70 yards in the Chiefs’ 26-10 victory.
Given their combination of size and speed, expect the Patriots to utilize both Williams (6-foot-4, 211 pounds) and Dugger (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) to try and slow down Kittle. If New England can hold San Francisco’s biggest weapon in check, then Bill Belichick’s team should have an excellent shot at moving to 3-3. If not, the 49ers will leave Gillette Stadium with their fourth win of the season.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.