It might only be the first week of August, but there will be a season-long debate on who will be the top tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft. Many already have and will continue to list Pat Friermuth from Penn State at the top of the tight end list. That’s fine, as this tight end class is a really interesting one with names such as Brevin Jordan and Tony Poljan. However, it’s all about the name at the top of the list, and without question, the name on mine is Kyle Pitts from Florida.
He has the “IT” factor when looking at the prototypical tight end for today’s NFL.
In today’s game, you need a versatile tight end that can play in a variety of spots. From playing in the slot to aligning off the hip of an offensive tackle, you have to be able to move. When it comes to Pitts, his versatility began before his time at Florida.
At Albington Senior High School, his coach insisted that he play quarterback, and while it only lasted one season, he wasn’t fond of the position. As a result, he transferred to Archbishop Wood and started playing tight end. In the summer of his junior season, he hadn’t played a snap at his new position, but he went to a camp at Temple and the Owls offered him a scholarship on the spot.
Shortly afterward, he had earned offers from schools such as Maryland and Penn State. This led to more offers from schools like Ohio State, Alabama and others. Once he got the offer and got to visit Florida, it was a match made in heaven for him. Now he’s coming off of his best college season with the Gators and is ready to prove that he has “it” to be the top tight end for the 2021 NFL Draft. Let’s jump into some film to see why Pitts has “it!”
Fluid Athlete with In- and Out-Breaking Routes
Aside from having the versatility to move all over the offense, tight ends have to be fluid athletes. The linebackers today are much more athletic and fluid than in the past. Meanwhile, we see plenty of defenses bring their safeties and nickel backs into the box to try and cover tight ends. Against Kyle Pitts, I’ll wish them the best off luck, as he’s as fluid as they come with his in- and out-breaking routes.
On the play above, you can see the Gators aligned in a trips right formation. Aligned as the ‘Y’, you can see Pitts running a slant route. While breaking in towards the middle of the field, you can see how fluid everything looks with him. There’s no real wasted motion, and despite having a 7-yard cushion from the defensive back, he does a great job executing the route and securing the catch.
Rather than breaking in towards the middle of the field, Pitts runs the out route on the play above. He gives a slight stutter step as he runs vertical up the field, and when he gets about five or six yards into his route, he breaks out toward the sideline. With enough separation, the quarterback delivers the pass and Pitts secures the pass for positive yardage.
One of my favorite plays from Pitts during the 2019 season is on the play above. He’s aligned off the hip of the right tackle, and as he starts to run up the field, he does a great job running the slant route. Before he gets to his break on the slant route, he throttles down and shows the fluidity needed to be beyond the first down marker.
Despite the linebacker giving a slight nudge before attacking the drag route run by Van Jefferson (WR 12), I don’t think that linebacker would have been able to cover Pitts in the middle of the field. Pitts does a great job adjusting to the pass and had to slow down his route to make the catch.
High-Pointing the Football Over the Middle
Listed at 6’6″ and 239 pounds, it’s clear that he has no issues high-pointing the football. He’ll be able to match or beat any defender that matches up against him with his length and athletic ability. This all helped him secure 54 receptions for 649 yards and five touchdowns last season. Let’s take a look at how he attacks the middle of the field and brings down a pass that’s a bit of a reach for an average tight end.
According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), Pitts had 14 targets when running the post route last season. He secured 8 receptions on this route for 145 yards and two touchdowns. On the play above, you can see the Gators’ offense aligned in a twins right formation out of ’11’ personnel. Running the post route, you can see Pitts breaking towards the middle of the field. As he uses his inside hand to club at the linebacker’s left arm, he creates enough separation for him to break free in the middle of the field. The ball is delivered higher than intended, so Pitts does a nice job attacking the ball by high-pointing it and plucking it out of the sky before running into the end zone for a touchdown.
Winning in Contested Catch Situations
Whenever you watch the Florida offense and see Pitts involved in the action, there’s a chance that there will be some contested catch situations for him. In fact, you saw some pretty tight coverage on a play earlier and you’ll see it again in the play below. Before we get into the example, I do want to point out that he’ll be running the out route. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he had 9 targets on that route with 6 receptions for 46 yards.
During the 2019 season, Pitts had 35 first downs on his 54 receptions (per Sports Info Solutions). On the play above, you can see him running the out route with the safety covering him. As he breaks towards the sideline, the safety does a great job closing on the ball and barely creating any room for the talented tight end to breathe. However, Pitts does a great job worrying about the ball and not the defender and this allows him to naturally secure the pass and the first down.
One-Handed Catch on the Drag Route
Lastly, I want to cover what Pitts can provide in the quick passing games for an offense. So many different offenses utilize their tight ends so well in the NFL. Look at the Eagles, who use them everywhere in the offense to attack defenses anywhere on the field. One of the most common areas you’ll find a tight end is across the middle on a crosser or running a drag route.
On the play above, Pitts is aligned on the line using a three-point stance. Once the ball is snapped, he runs underneath the linebackers on the drag route. As most of the defense bites on the fake exchange between the running back and quarterback, this leaves Pitts wide open. When running, watch how fluid he is with his strides. Everything looks natural for him in the open field. Meanwhile, he catches the ball with one hand, and this leaves him an opening to gain some additional yardage after the catch.
One of my favorite film studies so far this summer has been of Kyle Pitts. He’s a great athlete with natural strides within his route running and after the catch. He does a nice job at the catch point and can win in contested catch situations. Most importantly, his versatility will be what separates him from everyone else. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he had 105 snaps out wide and 156 snaps from the slot. Teams love versatility, and knowing that you can play him anywhere on the field and get maximum effort will be huge going into the 2020 season and the 2021 NFL Draft.
He’ll have to get better as an in-line blocker, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t try. He gives a modest effort when blocking, and with some NFL coaching he could vastly improve. But teams are drafting him for what he can do as a receiver. Again, he had 54 receptions on 80 targets in 2019, and only 66 of those passes were catchable. Unfortunately, six of those passes were dropped (per SIS) by Pitts. His hands don’t truly seem to be an issue, though. He should be fine as a receiver, and as long as he continues to get stronger and fixes his positioning on his blocks, he will quickly develop into one of the young premier tight ends in football.
At only 19 years of age, there’s a lot to work with when talking about Pitts. Despite having a flaw here or there, he’s still got that “it” factor. We’ve seen T.J. Hockenson and Eric Ebron drafted in the top-10 of recent NFL Drafts, and we very well could see the same thing happen with Kyle Pitts out of Florida by the time we get to the 2021 iteration.