Kyle Pitts Could Be NFL's Highest-Drafted TE Ever; How High Could He Go?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2021

FILE - Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) tires to get past Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine (16) after a reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., in this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, file photo. The Southeastern Conference championship game features two of the nation’s top playmakers, and neither is a quarterback. Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts are the real stars of the league’s most potent offenses. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts didn't carry many question marks heading into his pro day. The 6'6", 246-pound pass-catcher racked up 43 receptions, 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games this past season.

Pitts did suffer a head injury that required nose surgery, but that isn't the type of injury that should raise serious red flags ahead of the draft. The injury was the result of a hard—and illegal—hit and not a lingering issue like, say, the back problems that caused Rob Gronkowski to slide in the 2010 draft.

Pitts appears to be the sort of durable, versatile mismatch tight end that NFL teams fall in love with. NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote the following of the Gators standout:

"Pitts may have the traits and talent to create mismatches similar to those created by Calvin Johnson and Tyreek Hill. His rare blend of size, athleticism and ball skills are reminiscent of Megatron's. His ability as a pass-catching tight end could force defenses in his division to alter the way they construct their roster. He's a tough matchup for most linebackers and too big for most cornerbacks."

If teams did have any doubts about Pitts' status as a truly special prospect, those concerns were likely silenced at Florida's pro day.

There, Pitts ran a ridiculous 4.46-second 40-yard dash:

Field Yates @FieldYates

Florida TE Kyle Pitts running a 4.46 40 (per the caption from @level40 on Instagram) is just the latest example of how different this dude is. https://t.co/GM60Iyr1I5

To put it into context, Pitts' 40 time was just .08 seconds slower than Johnson's time at the 2007 scouting combine. Johnson was the second overall pick in the draft and recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If scouts really do view him as a prospect similar to Johnson, Pitts could do something no tight end has ever done. He could be a top-five draft pick.

Vernon Davis was drafted sixth overall in the 2006 NFL draft. Kellen Winslow Jr. was taken in the same slot two years earlier. One could argue Pitts is a better prospect than either of them.


Pitts Really Is a Rare Prospect

While Pitts' 40 time was a tad slower than Davis' at the 2006 combine—he ran a 4.39—he has an advantage in the height department. Davis measured in at roughly 6'3" and 254 pounds. Pitts is a longer, leaner pass-catcher with the skill set of a No. 1 wide receiver. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus elaborated on that:

"Pitts possesses effortless body control to get his hands on passes that are very awkward catches for other receivers. ... There's an impressive fluidity of motion to his movements and adjustments. I don't know that I've ever seen somebody able to automatically adjust and haul in passes that are slightly off-target without any fuss as well as Pitts does."

Indeed, Pitts can make circus catches seem routine, and his length and immense catch radius make him a lethal red-zone target.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pitts was the highest-graded receiver in the red zone this past season:

PFF Draft @PFF_College

Only players with a 90+ receiving grade in the red zone this season: 🐊Kyle Pitts - 91.3 🐘DeVonta Smith - 91.2 https://t.co/GrHvK6wCjU

With an elite combination of size, speed, body control and reliable hands, Pitts can attack any area of the field on any given play. He can split wide and go deep, or he can hug the sideline and move the chains. Whichever team drafts Pitts will have nearly limitless options with him as a pass-catcher. 

Oh, yeah. Pitts can block, too. While teams will probably care more about his receiving potential, Pitts is a serviceable in-line blocker, which will add even more options for his future offensive coordinator.

"I don't think he's a complete liability as a blocker, particularly in pass protection," Monson wrote. "You can see several plays where he gets himself in good position and then releases his man to leak out into a pass pattern."

Pitts isn't going to make his living in the NFL trenches, but he isn't likely to get his quarterback blown up on max-protect or play-action plays, either. This is important, as it should get Pitts onto the field often early in his career.

There are no glaring flaws in Pitts' game, and he plays a position that has become increasingly important in the NFL.


The Value of an Elite Tight End in the Modern NFL

Steve Luciano/Associated Press

Every NFL team wants to have a No. 1 receiving target, and that No. 1 target is being found more and more at the tight end position. The ability to create size-speed mismatches against linebackers and defensive backs is part of the equation, but schematic versatility might be an even bigger factor.

Tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle are valuable because they can fill multiple offensive roles and swap effortlessly between them from play to play. They can also dictate what opposing defenses try to do by lining up at various spots in the offense.

This is a topic into which ESPN's Dan Orlovsky dove in December on The Dan Patrick Show (comments start at the 2:38 mark):

"Kelce's the best player in football that's not a quarterback. ... Just because he brings so much offense to [the Kansas City Chiefs'] offense before the ball ever gets snapped. I mean, the amount of times they place him in specific positions to get the coverage [they want]. It's such an advantage because it doesn't just affect the outcome of the play after the snap."

Pitts may not be as strong or as polished of a blocker as Kelce, but he can command defensive attention in a similar manner. He can pull linebackers out of the box, force safeties deep or pull cornerbacks away from perimeter receivers.

Of course, tight ends are also playmakers in modern NFL offenses. Kelce and Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller each topped 1,000 yards and ranked in the top five in receptions this past season. Kittle battled injury in 2020 but had back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns the two previous seasons.

As we've already discussed, Pitts has the goods to be a similar playmaking pass-catcher at the next level.

This means that teams looking to draft a new No. 1 receiver early next month will have to consider Pitts alongside wideout prospects like LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Alabama's DeVonta Smith. And make no mistake, at least one pass-catcher is likely to go in the top five.


Examining Pitts' Draft Range

Steve Helber/Associated Press

Pitts was ranked as the No. 3 overall draft prospect by Bleacher Report's scouting department—the highest rank of any non-quarterback.

It's not outlandish to think Pitts could wind up being drafted third overall. The Miami Dolphins own that pick and still don't have a dominant No. 1 target on their roster. They have some very good receivers in DeVante Parker and Will Fuller, and a solid tight end in Mike Gesicki. However, they don't have a true game-changer in the mold of Pitts.

Pitts could even find himself going as high as No. 2, if the New York Jets decide to stick with quarterback Sam Darnold and not trade out of that draft slot. The Jets have some fine complementary receivers (Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims) but no true No. 1. Their tight end room is headlined by the likes of Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft. Those three combined for just 492 yards in 2020.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will almost certainly take a quarterback at No. 1, but the Atlanta Falcons cannot be ruled out for Pitts at No. 4. While the Falcons are loaded with receiving talent—they have an enviable trio in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and tight end Hayden Hurst—Pitts is simply too special of a talent to ignore.

"Imagine the 6'6" Pitts—a touchdown-scoring machine at Florida—in Arthur Smith's offense with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst. Remember, Pitts is not your average tight end," Matthew Tabeek of the Falcons' official website wrote.

The Cincinnati Bengals could also make sense at No. 5. An offensive lineman might be more advisable—Joe Burrow was sacked 32 times in 10 games last season—but the Bengals lost wideout A.J. Green in free agency and don't have a premier tight end on their roster.

Drew Sample led all Cincinnati tight ends with 349 receiving yards in 2020.

The floor for Pitts might be at No. 6 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia lacks a No. 1 receiver and is trying to move tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles could consider a quarterback to compete with Jalen Hurts, but if they're sticking with Hurts, Pitts could be the perfect fit.

"Positional value be damned—you won't find another Pitts in this draft or any other draft anytime soon," Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus wrote. "The Eagles can find a receiver later or even use Pitts as such if they want. The Florida tight end ranked third among all college football players last year in yards per route run against man coverage."

The Eagles or any other team sold on Pitts could easily consider moving into the top five to secure him.

Even with the Jaguars likely locked in on a quarterback—presumably Clemson's Trevor Lawrence—there's a real chance Pitts will be taken in the top five, higher than any tight end drafted before him.