Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is a better overall prospect than LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase or Alabama wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, and he is a top-five talent in the 2021 NFL draft.
The NFL is a mismatch league. Position designations are archaic and outdated for evaluating those who can create an impact in the passing game. It shouldn't matter if a player is an outside wide receiver, slot receiver, in-line tight end, move tight end or running back. As long as the individual in question can create chunk plays, he's an offensive weapon opposing defenses must account for at all times.
Pitts will bring an unparalleled combination of size, length, skill and versatility to whatever franchise pulls the trigger on his immense talent.
"He's a guy that has the opportunity to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, a phenomenal athlete, the premier tight end, I think, in the country," Gators head coach Dan Mullen told reporters after Pitts declared for the draft following the SEC Championship Game. "I give him a lot of credit for working his tail off to try to get healthy enough to go play last night's game. Had a huge game. We talked that he's going to go prepare for that next step."
In his final collegiate game, the reigning John Mackey Award winner caught seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown against a dominant Alabama Crimson Tide squad that went undefeated and captured the national championship.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban echoed what his SEC counterpart stated ahead of the matchup:
"Kyle Pitts, he's a fantastic player. His size and speed and athleticism, all those things make it very difficult to guard the guy. He's a very versatile player. He can play tight end, he can play on the line, he can play off the ball, out as a receiver. They move him around a lot. Creates a lot of issues and problems for you, no doubt. Probably as well as anybody we played against for a long time."
The Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce is the standard-bearer at tight end after breaking the NFL record with 1,416 receiving yards last season. Kelce is the primary weapon in the Chiefs' explosive offense. As talented as the team's wide receivers are, the tight end is the most consistent playmaker of the lot. Kelce is a true No. 1 target.
Whichever franchise pulls the trigger on Pitts should view him in the same manner. He's not just a great tight end prospect; he's also capable of being the primary option in a passing game.
As a junior, Pitts led all tight ends with 770 receiving yards, tied for third overall with 12 touchdown receptions and averaged an impressive 17.9 yards per catch.
The numbers only tell part of the story because Pitts' value derives from his developing skill set. A cut-up of his touchdown receptions last year displays a diverse toolbox:
A touchdown-by-touchdown recap shows what the tight end can do as a pass-catcher:
- Pitts motions across the formation and uses his expansive catch radius and soft hands for an easy scamper into the end zone.
- Pitts lines up as the "nub" receiver on the back side of the formation, beats the jam off the line of scrimmage and displays excellent body control on the back-shoulder fade.
- As a wing option, Pitts widens off his release and then bends the route back to threaten the seam as a vertical option.
- The tight end, again lining up as a wing, works through traffic when bracketed by two defenders, fights through a defender and still secures the catch with his strong hands.
- Pitts sells the run for two counts and then leaks out to the back side for an easy score.
- Pitts fights through the jam by the defensive end and then the linebacker before making an excellent over-the-shoulder catch on a corner route.
- Pitts high-points the ball over two defenders despite knowing he's going to get hit.
- Pitts lines up as Florida's X-receiver and beats a cornerback—Georgia's Tyson Campbell, who's expected to be an early-round pick this April—down the sideline on a simple go route.
- Pitts sells the outside route before breaking inside and runs away from SEC defensive backs.
- Despite lining up outside as the lone receiver threat in a goal-line situation, the tight end stays compact in his release and easily gains inside leverage on a slant.
- The massive target runs a simple whip route near the goal line to create separation for an easy touchdown.
- Against Alabama, Pitts scores despite two defenders in coverage and a third over the top because of outstanding hand-eye coordination and body control.
Further emphasizing Pitts' success near or in the end zone, the two-time first-team All-SEC selection never dropped a pass when targeted (31 times) in the red zone, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn't record any drops in 2020.
The unanimous All-American isn't an oversized wide receiver at tight end either. He's 6'6" and 246 pounds with a pterodactyl-like wingspan and large, soft hands.
Yet Pitts experienced plenty of success working outside the numbers. As PFF's Anthony Treash noted, he ran 10 routes when designated as a wide receiver. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask targeted him five times for four receptions that included two touchdowns, two first downs and three explosive plays of 15 or more yards.
His overall grade was the highest recorded by a collegiate tight end on the site's scale and eclipsed all wide receivers this past season.
While an NFL team won't select Pitts with the intention of making him a permanent in-line option, the tight end's willingness and competitiveness at the point of attack shouldn't be overlooked. His value lies elsewhere, but he isn't a liability in this area.
To think, Pitts is this skilled but won't turn 21 until after the start of his rookie campaign. He's only going to grow when placed in an NFL program.
Factoring his size, ability and growth potential into the equation, multiple top-10 teams should be champing at the bit to select the class' top offensive threat.
Pitts should come into play starting with the second overall pick. Some may see that as a little rich. With Trevor Lawrence's expected selection with the No. 1 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the possibilities explode once the New York Jets are on the board.
New York is in desperate need of offensive weapons. A tight end of Pitts' caliber playing in a Kyle Shanahan-derivative scheme under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has the potential to be deadly, though the Jets may be searching for a new quarterback or trade out of the slot.
The Miami Dolphins come into play with the third overall selection. Chase and Smith are popular picks, and the Dolphins have Mike Gesicki as an excellent athlete at tight end. Again, the idea of not choosing Pitts because of an oversimplified position designation is a mistake. Gesicki and Pitts could easily play alongside one another after the Dolphins add another playmaker to help in Tua Tagovailoa's maturation.
Similar arguments can be made for the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals where other needs are more pressing, but the possibility of drafting a true blue-chip talent shouldn't be overlooked.
If a potential draft-day slide does occur, it shouldn't go any further than the Philadelphia Eagles with the sixth overall pick. Zach Ertz is on the trade block, according to Eagle Maven's Ed Kracz. Philadelphia, meanwhile, leans heavily on two-tight end sets. That shouldn't change greatly under new head coach Nick Sirianni, especially with the team's issues at wide receiver. Pitts can come in and immediately take over for Ertz, who worked heavily from the slot anyhow, as the top threat in the passing game.
Chase, Smith and Waddle are top-notch prospects. Each can contribute in his own way, and they should be successful at the next level. At the same time, Pitts is a difference-maker.
Opposing defensive coordinators will stay up at night trying to figure out how to stop Pitts the second he enters the league. The same can't be said of any other receiving threat in the upcoming draft class.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.