The 49ers drafted George Kittle in the fifth round in 2017, and traded with New England for QB Jimmy Garoppolo later that October, creating a pitch-and-catch pairing that’s been as successful as any over the last two seasons. Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press


Bill Belichick gave a lengthy toast of sorts Monday for one 49er, but it was not for Jimmy Garoppolo, his former quarterback, nor Kyle Shanahan, his Super Bowl LI opponent.

What Belichick gushed about George Kittle might make the tight end blush.

Knowing Kittle’s regard for the NFL and its history, he will cherish the compliments that flowed Monday from the often tight-lipped coach, whose Patriots (2-3) host the 49ers (3-3) on Sunday.

“Yeah, Kittle is a great player. He does everything well,” Belichick began in his conference call. “He’s probably, you know, I put him right at the top of the league there, period. Ability to run, catch, get open, after the catch, block. I mean, he does everything at a high level.

“He’s as good as anybody that I’ve coached or as good as anybody we’ve played against. He’s got a great skill set and the 49ers put him in position that really stress a defense.”

Remember that Belichick’s Patriots won three Super Bowls with four-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and that they just faced the Kansas City Chiefs and Travis Kelce on Oct. 5. He’s seen plenty of stellar tight-end play.

Kittle on Sunday night recorded his 10th career 100-yard game, a 49ers record for tight ends.

“They also use him as somewhat of a decoy to open things up for other guys. If you pay too much attention to him, it creates opportunities for some of their other outstanding players,” Belichick said. “If you don’t pay enough attention to him, then, you know, he can kill ya.”

Kittle, a fourth-year veteran and three-time captain, has yet to face the Patriots, who won the last meeting with the 49ers 30-17 at Levi’s Stadium in 2016.

“He’s in a great system. He’s a great player,” Belichick continued. “I don’t think there’s a tight end in the league – and we’ve seen lot of good ones and had a lot of good ones – I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that does everything overall as well as he does.
“He doesn’t really have any weak points at all. He’s outstanding at every phase of the game.”

Kittle had seven receptions for 109 yards in Sunday night’s 24-16 win over the Rams, and his 44-yard touchdown catch on Garoppolo’s fourth-and-2 pass pushed the lead to 14-0.

“That was perfect coverage. They zero-blitzed it. No one in the middle of the field. Had the right call on, so shout out to Coach Shanahan for that,” Kittle said during his postgame press conference. “At the end of the day, Jimmy and I just have to play pitch and catch.”

The 49ers drafted Kittle in the fifth round in 2017, and they traded for Garoppolo from New England later that October, creating a pitch-and-catch pairing that’s been as successful as any over the last two seasons.

This year, the Patriots drafted a pair of tight ends in the third round, Devin Asiasi (De La Salle High-Concord) and Dalton Keene, and neither has made a catch yet. Ryan Izzo, a 2018 seventh-round pick, accounts for all their tight end production with just 6 catches on 11 targets for 82 yards and no touchdowns.

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