With only two weeks left for this year’s NFL Draft, let's have a look at the ten best tight-ends in this draft class in our latest series of positional breakdowns.
It's rather surprising that while most of the special talents in the 2021 NFL draft class appear to be in the tight-end position, this draft class overall is considered to be a bit weak.
Obviously, there is a top tight-end and a clear second choice. Three more names could go on day two of the 2021 NFL draft. After that, almost everybody else comes in with one question mark or the other.
Nevertheless, without further ado, let's have a look at the top ten tight-ends in the 2021 NFL draft. Let's get started.
#1 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Kyle Pitts (Florida)
6' 5", 240 pounds; JR
A top-200 overall recruit in 2018, Kyle Pitts caught only three passes in his freshman season before taking over as the starter for the Gators, catching 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns, earning first-team All-SEC accolades.
He repeated those exploits last season; in just eight games, he exploded for 43 catches worth 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging a crazy 17.9 yards per grab. He also received the John Mackey Award for the best tight-end in the country and is now NFL-bound at the age of only 20.
Pitts is a unicorn athletically, running an unofficial 4.44 on his pro day (despite not staying in a straight line). He has the longest wingspan (83 3/8") of any receiver or tight-end in the NFL in the last 20 years. He was moved around a lot by the Gator coaches and proved to be a mismatch on pretty much anybody with his combination of size and speed.
He went off in the 2020 season-opener against Ole Miss, with eight grabs for 170 yards and four touchdowns. That red-hot form spilled over to the full season, where he caught 43 of 65 total targets, with ten of them 20+ yards deep and not a single drop, for a passer rating of about 130.
What stands out about Pitts as a route-runner, outside of the speed he is moving at for his size, is how naturally he drops his hips to get in and out of breaks. On his Florida pro day as well, he made that look easier than the receivers.
Pitts presents a well-rounded release package and uses his hands very well to not allow defenders to get into his frame and slow him down, routinely defeating man-coverage against some of the top corners in the SEC. He slow-plays some of his stems and is good in using his arm-over to get underneath defenders on in-breaking routes.
He has made a lot of corners look bad when lined up out wide and shaking them with V-releases on slants. But also on deeper-developing routes, Pitts can throw by defenders as he works against their leverage, which he displayed on several occasions in the corner in the red zone.
He displays tremendous flexibility to bend down for the ball and has no issues reaching behind on poorly placed throws on in-breaking routes, doing so without losing his speed. He can pull away from safeties after the catch too.
Pitts is a man at the point of the catch and skies over people routinely, thanks to his great body control and concentration to go with his ability to get in front of defenders between him and the ball. Not even Georgia could keep him out of the end-zone, against whom he scored of a fade route against one of their corners, even though the Bulldogs hadn’t allowed a single TD to a tight-end through their first five games.
He leads all NFL draft-eligible players with 24 contested catches in the last two years. To create a mismatch with Pitts, all one really has to do is put him on the field because there aren't many players who can cover him one-on-one for any extended stretch plays.
With him, the overall picture changes because you may want to put your top corner on him when detached from the line and move everybody else down one spot, as Pitts can single out positions along with the formation. Some people want to label Pitts a big slot receiver, but while he can be a nightmare there, he did spend over 60% of snaps in-line in each of his last two seasons, consistently getting clean releases.
Even though his future NFL team would be foolish to deploy him that way to a large extent, Pitts has quality reps of pass-pro on tape, keeping a solid base and actively shuffling his feet to mirror rushers or guide them around the arc.
In the run game, the 2021 NFL draft prospect doesn't blow defenders off the ball necessarily, but he does a good job establishing position with proactive footwork and displays great effort. In particular, he excels in pinning edge defenders inside to get the ball carrier out to the edge.
As far as negatives go, Pitts lacks play strength to be an asset as a full-time in-line blocker in the NFL. He tries to compensate that by extending too far over his toes at times, which makes him slip off defenders on multiple occasions per game.
He wasn’t asked to do a whole lot in terms of different schemes. and his future NFL team may want to limit him to being just playing detached during year one. When he’s further away from the action, he doesn’t bring the same competitiveness in terms of walling off defensive backs.
Regardless of how fast Pitts ran the 40, he doesn't blow by guys with pure speed. If he gets drafted, NFL teams would have to be committed in formulating a plan to use him to the best of his abilities.
Looking at Pitts as a traditional tight-end is simply wrong. NFL teams will have to consider how he could influence the versatility of their offense and how he forces opposing defenses into certain personnel packages.
In terms of pass-catching options, one can argue that Pitts is a top guy available and will be right there with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. I just don’t see any way he makes it out of the top ten; he could go as high as four to Atlanta if they don’t find a partner to trade out with. Guys like Kyle Pitts just don’t come around too often.
Also check out: Complete 2021 NFL Draft Order by Round