By Dylan MacKinnon
Only 13 Tight Ends have been drafted in the top 10 since the NFL merger in 1970, and only the 4 since 1997. There is a fair chance those numbers change this year as Florida TE Kyle Pitts is poised to go off the board early. Once a 4 star recruit out of Archbishop Wood, now he is the one of the most highly touted prospects in the draft. But could he be the answer for the Eagles at 6th overall? And is a Tight End worth the Sixth overall pick?
A few weeks ago NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had the Eagles taking Kyle Pitts in his mock draft. Something that had some Eagles fans screaming you can’t take a Tight End that high. But if you ask people who have studied his tape at Florida, he is far more than just a Tight End. He has the size and strength to line up at TE. But also the speed and lateral quickness to line up on the outside. The buzzword most use to describe him is “Match-up Nightmare.” However, the term Florida head coach Dan Mullens used was ‘unicorn’
“He’s kind of a unicorn, right? So unless you have a unicorn on defense to match the unicorn on offense – you’ve got to have a guy that, there’s not a lot of them out there, they’re kind of very, very rare to ever see one – do you have a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker than can run with him?”- Dan Mullens
He has been matched up vs some of the best corners the SEC has to offer. He managed to beat them. He beat Patrick Surtain II on a slant route in the SEC Championship. He didn’t out physical him either. He shook Surtain with a move at the line, to create space and get open. Pitts also beat projected 2nd round pick Kelvin Joseph with his speed, and project first round pick Jaycee Horn for a contested catch deep down the right sideline.
In fact, Pitts leads all tight ends in contested catches since 2014.
Most contested catches by TEs since 2014:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 21, 2021
1. Kyle Pitts, Florida - 25
2. Colby Parkinson, Stanford - 23
3. Charlie Kolar, Iowa State - 22 pic.twitter.com/oGYQ2BIYk1
On top of that, he had zero drops this last year. So to summarize, great hands, deadly in traffic, and has the moves to separate from the draft’s best corners. How do you cover that?
Improving as a Blocker
The one knock on his game is that he still needs to be a better blocker. But there are signs of improvement. He has improved as a blocker every year in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus has taken note. In 2019 he had a 42.6 grade as a run blocker. But in 2020, that improved to 64.
Now I don’t like putting too much stock in PFF grades. But it is a sign of his will to improve at least. He has the strength and size to be a good blocker. He is 6 foot 6, and weighs 240. As for his strength, He can do six repetitions of 315 pounds on the bench press and deadlift 545 pounds. He is strong. It’s just an issue of technique. You can teach technique to a player willing to learn and improve. You can’t teach being 6 foot 6 240 pounds.
It’s also important to note that because he can line up at WR. A team that drafts him can move him around. He won’t need to stay inside on blocking plays all the time. They can have him out wide, Dallas Goedert is at TE 1, and even have a second TE like Richard Rogers in at TE 3. That’s a 6 foot 6, 6 foot 5, and a 6 foot 4 guy, all on the field at the same time, without sacrificing speed on the outside. Imagine that in the Red Zone.
In case you are dubious of his ability to play outside, here are his stats lining up at each position on the field.
2020 Kyle Pitts by where he lined up— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) February 25, 2021
(Rec-Rec yds-Rec TD):
TE right (12-211-3)
TE left (7-242-2)
Slot right (6-96-1)
Slot left (6-49-2)
Wide right (9-139-2)
Wide left (3-33-2)
At 6-6, 240. A unicorn. https://t.co/BPVW9n4Gmy
Productive in the SEC
Despite going up against SEC defenses, Pitts still caught 43 passes, for 770 yards, and a impressive 12 touchdowns. All in only 8 games. In the SEC championship Florida faced Alabama. Bama had the highest ranking defense in the SEC, giving up only 19.4 pts per game. Pitts put up 7 catches for 129 yards, plus a 22 yard TD that made it a one score game late. Florida still lost, but Pitts showed up. He showed up vs a top defense in the team’s biggest game of the year.
What the Experts Say
“Pitts’ physical traits undoubtedly garner the most attention, but lost in that excitement is how detailed Pitts is as well. His route running is crisp and smooth, and he understands how to use head fakes and abrupt motions to sell defenders on feigned advances. Pitts’ ability to get defensive backs off-balance, combined with his sheer length and dominance at the catch point, equates to a foolproof equation for offensive success.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked that Pitts is winning one-on-one matchups against boundary cornerbacks over whom he has a height advantage of five-to-seven inches. He projects as a nightmarish wide receiver-tight end combo.”
“Pitts stands out against the best competition at the collegiate level. In the LSU game last season, he beat one of the top cornerbacks (Derek Stingley Jr.) and one of the best safeties (Grant Delpit) in the country. I love his athleticism, but I was even more impressed with his instincts and savvy as a route runner. He understands how to work and settle in space versus zone coverage and he also has a good feel for attacking the leverage of his defender. That bodes well for his adjustment to the NFL game.”
“At 6-foot-6, he plays just as big as his size indicates. More in the role of a big receiver, Pitts can align outside, in the slot, or place his hand in the dirt in-line. As an F tight end, his combination of size, athleticism, and hands makes him a multi-level threat for creative offensive coordinators. As a run blocker, he’s sustainable and willing as a one-on-one blocker, but also isn’t afraid to get his face dirty in the box, either. Pitts will need to go to a team that can use him in creative ways with an outside-the-box thinker orchestrating the offense that allows his assets to shine.”
Any team writing off Pitts because it says TE next to his name is making a mistake. People who have watched him play say he is so much more than that. This is a guy who lined up against the likes of Patrick Surtain II, and won. He is a special talent that can line up inside vs a safety or linebacker, in the slot vs a nickel, and outside vs the top corner. He has a unique blend of size and speed that, as everyone is so fond of saying, make him a “matchup nightmare.”
People will say Eagles don’t need a Tight End. Well he’s not a tight end, he’s an offensive weapon. And he is someone who can make Jalen Hurts life much easier were he in midnight green.
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