Kyle Pitts: Breaking the Mould
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
When it comes to a team’s first-round pick in the NFL draft, General Managers have an array of factors and facets to consider. Do you draft to fill a need on your team? Do you draft the best player available? Do you trade your pick to accrue draft capital? Or do you place a heavy emphasis on positional value? If you choose the latter, drafting a tight-end in the first round becomes incredibly unlikely. However, this year that argument could be redundant. Introducing Florida tight-end, Kyle Pitts.
Declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft, Kyle Pitts spent the 2020 season as an NFL talent in a college uniform. A 1st Team All-American, Pitts has already broken new ground by finishing in the top 10 of Heisman Trophy voting. But the 6”6, near-250 pound Philadelphia native is only just getting started. Finishing the 2020 season as the third best receiver in college when it came to touchdowns, Pitts averaged over 90 yards a game. Furthermore, if we look at statistics, Pitts’ 2020 season isn’t great – its historic.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades from 2014 show just how dominant Pitts has been in comparison to other top college tight ends:
Kyle Pitts 95.9
George Kittle 93.8
Harrison Bryant 92.5
David Morgan 92.5
Hunter Henry 92.4
Looking at that second name on the list, George Kittle is arguably the best tight-end in professional football right now – although Travis Kelce can argue that - and Pitts trumps his college production. Furthermore, take into account that during his 2015 season in which he received the 93.8 efficiency grade, Kittle had 25 targets – a small fraction of the 53 targets Pitts has had this season. The more targets, the higher the likelihood of dropped balls and incompletions; Pitts breaks the mould.
That said, Pitts breaks the mould again when you consider how he plays on the field. Realistically it seems fairer to compare the Florida tight-end to the best wide receivers in college instead. So, let’s do that.
Since 2014 the PFF’s best receiving grades are as follows:
Kyle Pitts 95.9
Devonta Smith 95.8
Andy Isabella 93.8
Josh Doctson 93
Amari Cooper 92.8
Again, the second on the list is a perennial talent. Devonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy this year and seems destined for a long and illustrious NFL career… yet Pitts has a higher receiving grade. To put it simply, Kyle Pitts is an anomaly – and not just on paper.
Earlier this season, esteemed ESPN analyst Todd McShay said “50-50 balls are like 80-20 when you’re throwing to Kyle Pitts”. Former Florida Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow said “he’s the biggest mismatch in college football right now… where do you put him that you feel like you don’t have an advantage?” Kyle Pitts is not only opening eyes, he’s changing the game for college tight-ends.
However, positional value means there is a vast amount of uncertainty when it comes to the first day of the 2021 NFL Draft and Kyle Pitts. Since 2014, only two tight-ends have been drafted in the first half of the first round – TJ Hockenson and Eric Ebron – whilst last season saw one tight-end selected in the first 90 picks – Cole Kmet. The likes of Ebron and Hockenson, as well as fellow first rounders Noah Fant, Hayden Hurst, OJ Howard, David Njoku and Evan Engram, have failed to live up to the expectation of their draft position, raising eyebrows when it comes to Kyle Pitts this season. In fact, the best tight-ends during the past NFL season highlight the uncertainty of the draft.
Robert Tonyan scored 11 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers and he went undrafted in 2017. George Kittle averaged the second-most yards per game amongst tight-ends and he was taken in the fifth round of the same year – 8 tight-ends were selected ahead of him. Chiefs superstar Travis Kelce had a stellar season and shone as an outside bet for the MVP award. Kelce was selected in the third round of the 2013 draft.
Evidently, collegiate production and reputation does not necessarily translate to the professional level, and whilst scouts do their due diligence to review prospects, it is never a sure-fire thing. So, why is Kyle Pitts different?
With freakish athleticism, speed and power, as well as an exemplary catching and route running skillset, Pitts fits the mould of the ‘new’ NFL. Teams are passing more, scoring more, altogether playing a more liberated and free style of football. In the same way that the ‘positionless’, elite defensive skillset of Isaiah Simmons saw him drafted with the number eight pick last season, Pitts uniqueness is his biggest asset.
There will be a high demand for quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, whilst the draft class itself is offensively stacked. That said, don’t be surprised to see Kyle Pitts drafted early and immediately become productive in the league; Kyle Pitts is just different.