NFL Draft

Top 10 tight-ends in the 2021 NFL Draft:

We are pretty much exactly two weeks away from this year’s NFL Draft kicking off and the end of my positional breakdowns is in sight, with tight-ends and safety this week, before we finish up with the quarterbacks and then I present my overall big board.

I think it’s kind of funny that in a year, where we have one of the most special talents at the tight-end position in a long time, the class as a whole is as weak as we have seen for a pretty much equal stretch. Obviously, there is number one and then everybody else in this class, but I think there is clear-cut second choice and then there’s three more names that I think deserve day two consideration. After that, it’s very slim pickings, and almost everybody else comes in with serious question marks.

Make sure to check back tomorrow on my Youtube channel or Friday here on this page for my breakdown of this safety class, which offers a lot more depth.

Here is the list:

1. Kyle Pitts, Florida

6’5”, 240 pounds; JR

A top-200 overall recruit in 2018, Pitts caught only three passes his freshman season, before taking over as the starter for the Gators, catching 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns, earning himself first-team All-SEC accolades. He of course repeated those last season, when in just eight games, he exploded for 43 catches worth 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging a crazy 17.9 yards per grab, despite the higher target share, with the top three Gator receivers having gone to the NFL. He also received the John Mackey award for the best tight-end in the country and now heads to the pros at only 20 years old.

This guy is a unicorn athletically, running an unofficial 4.44 at his pro day (despite not staying in a straight line) and having the longest wingspan of any receiver or tight-end in the NFL over the last 20 years at 83 3/8 inches. Pitts was moved around a lot by the Gator coaches and proved to be a mismatch on pretty much anybody with his combination of size and speed. He went off in the 2020 season-opener versus Ole Miss, with eight grabs for 170 yards and four(!) touchdowns. And that red-hot short expanded over the full season, catching 43 of 65 total targets, with ten of them 20+ yards deep and not a single drop, for passer rating of about 130. What stands out about Pitts as a route-runner, outside of the speed he is moving at for that size, is how naturally he drops his hips to get in and out of breaks. You saw that at the Florida pro day as well, where he made it look much easier than the receivers there. Pitts presents a well-rounded release package and uses his hands very well to not allow defenders to get into his frame and slow him down, routinely defeating man-coverage against some of the top corners in the SEC. He slow-plays some of his stems and is really good at using the arm-over to get underneath the defender on in-breaking routes. He’s made a lot of corners look bad when lined up out wide and shaking them with V-releases on slants. But also on deeper-developing routes, Pitts can kind of throw by defenders as he works against their leverage, displayed on several occasions to the corner in the red-zone. He displays tremendous flexibility to bend down for the ball or has no issues reaching behind on badly placed throws on in-breaking routes, without really losing any speed. And he can pull away from safeties after the catch.

Pitts is a man at the point of the catch and skies over people routinely, with great body control and concentration, to go along with getting in front of defenders that originally were in-between him and the ball. Not even Georgia could keep him out of the end-zone, as he scored of a fade route against one of their corners, even though the Bulldogs hadn’t allowed a single TD to a tight-end through their first five games. He leads all draft-eligible players with 24 contested catches over these last two years. To create a mismatch with Pitts, all you really have to do is put him on the field, because the players, who can cover him one-on-one for any extended stretches plays, you can probably count on one hand. And with him, the overall picture changes, because you may want to put your top corner on him when detached from the line and move everybody else down one spot, plus Pitts can really single position along the formation. Some people want to label Pitts a big slot receiver, but while he can be a nightmare there, he did spend over 60 percent of snaps in-line in each of the last two seasons, from where he consistently gets clean releases. Even though his future team would be foolish to deploy his that way to a large extent, Pitts has quality reps of pass-pro on tape, keeping a solid base and actively shuffling his feet to mirror rushers or guide them around the arc. In the run game, he won’t blow defenders off the ball necessarily, but he does a good job establishing position with pro-active footwork and displays great effort. In particular, he excels at pinning edge defenders inside, to get the ball-carrier out to the edge.

As far as negatives go, Pitts lacks some play strength to be an asset as a full-time in-line blocker and tries to compensate by extending too far over his toes at times, which makes him slip off defenders on multiple occasions per game. He wasn’t asked to do a whole lot in terms of different schemes and his future team may want to limit him to being just playing detached year one. And when he’s further away from the action, he doesn’t bring the same competitiveness in terms of walling off defensive backs. For as fast as Pitts ran the 40, you don’t see him just blow by guys with pure speed as much as you would think. And if you draft this guy, you have to be committed to formulating a plan for how to use him to the best of his abilities

Looking at Pitts as a traditional tight-end is simply wrong. You have to consider how he can influence the versatility of your offense and how he forces opposing defenses into certain personnel packages, In terms of a pass-catching weapons, you can argue that he is the top guy available and will be right there with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase on my big board, which will come out next week. I just don’t see any way he makes it out of the top ten and he could go as high as four to Atlanta, if they don’t find a partner to trade out with. Guys like this just don’t come around too often.

2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State

6’5”, 250 pounds; JR

When Mike Gesicki entered the NFL draft in April of 2018, the Nittany Lions lost a ton of production – over 1200 yards and 14 TDs over his final two years – but once they saw this kid hit the field, they knew the tight-end position was in good hands. A former top-ten recruit at the position nationally, Freiermuth caught 26 passes for 368 yards and eight touchdowns as freshman. While the volume wasn’t quite there yet, you saw the incredible potential manifesting itself in 43 catches for 507 yards and seven scores in year two, making him a second-team All-Big Ten selection. He had to have season-ending shoulder surgery four games into last year, but not before catching 23 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown, which in the Big Ten’s shortened season was good enough for first-team all-conference.

This guy’s body was ready for the NFL the first time I saw him play. Freiermuth has all the size and athleticism you want to see for a traditional tight-end. After spending 60 percent of snaps in-line in 2019, he was used detached from the line for 54.6 percent last season, as the Nittany Lions moved him around a little more and targeted him heavily (27.8 percent of team’s targets when he was available). Freiermuth uses some hesitation releases or almost hop steps to set up routes. He doesn’t allow off-coverage defenders to read his hips that way and has good burst out of his breaks. You see that a lot on short out-routes, where he comes off the ball at about 70 percent and then creates separation as he plants that inside foot into the ground. Yet, at the same time, he has the acceleration, to get defenders in trail positions on vertical patterns, while keeping that guy at his hip-pocket and not allowing him to get a hand on the ball. Freiermuth flashes head-fakes and jab steps that can absolutely leave safeties behind in the dust and he is graceful when going up in the air for the ball, with an immense catch radius and consistently attacks the ball at its highest point, leading to eight contested catches on 12 opportunities last season. However, he also shows toughness going over the middle and taking hits, as well as strong hands, when he has a defender climbing over his back and trying to swipe the ball out. You see him pick up chunk plays on seam routes routinely, but also breaking to the corner or post. And he also quickly sits down when he becomes the hot receiver, when his man blitzes.

Freiermuth is violent when he has the ball in his hands and a defender is in his way. He has the lower body strength to break tackles and gain those extra couple of yards falling forward, runs with power and some aggression, as you see defenders bounce off him almost in a Rob Gronkowski-type of way. A couple of the things he has done to guys at the sideline, in the Maryland and Memphis games in particular, were straight up disrespectful. However, the Penn State TE got the “Baby Gronk” label not only for what he does with the ball in his hands, but also in terms of somebody, who can move people in the run game as an in-line blocker. Freiermuth was used a lot as an H-back, motioning across the formation for different blocking duties, especially securing the backside edge with sift blocks, but also leading up in the hole, where he can move second-level defenders backwards and keeps working up to the safeties without slowing down, if there’s nobody in his way. He does a good job of walling of opponents away from the point of attack and shows relentless leg-drive when the ball is coming his way, plus he can legitimately combo on down-linemen with the tackle and then peel off to the backer effectively on counter-type runs. Freiermuth also does a good job of squaring up defenders on screen passes. He averaged nearly five yards per route run against man-coverage in 2020 – about two yards more than any other tight-end. And that’s despite running a bunch of quick flat routes from a wing alignment, to defeat leverage against the closest linebacker. And he had to deal with some really bad quarterback play, to where you see some frustration at times, when he is wide open curling up over the middle and the pass is way off.

With that being said, Freiermuth doesn’t have the type of wide receiver-like hands as you see with Florida State’s Kyle Pitts for example, as he had eight drops on 100 career catchable passes. He’s not a super-dynamic separator out of his breaks, often times rounding off his cuts, and I don’t quite see the speed to stack defenders in the slot on vertical routes at the next level. Plus, he has to be a little more aware for when to sit down his routes against zone coverage. Freiermuth is still learning how to stay under better balance and find the right aiming points as a blocker, getting his weight out in front too much at this point. He also has to come down the line on flatter angles on sift blocks and aim at the near-shoulder, to not allow edge defenders to take the inside lane.

As strongly as I feel about Kyle Pitts as this unique matchup piece, that is worthy of a top-ten selection, I might be even more convinced that Freiermuth is the number two tight-end in this class. He can operate out of the slot or split out wide in goal-line situations, to make use of his jump-ball capabilities, but he is easily the top true Y in this class. He probably won’t nearly be as productive year one as a pass-catcher, because guys at that position usually aren’t, but he should be a week one starter, who turns into a locomotive with the ball in his hands and displays great effort as blocker, to give the offense a boost.

3. Brevin Jordan, Miami

6’2” ½, 245 pounds; JR

A top-50 overall recruit back in 2018, Jordan immediately became an impact player for the Hurricanes, starting all but one game as a freshman and producing at a solid rate. Then, he earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2019, catching 35 passes for just under 500 yards, but only two touchdowns. Last season, he went to second-team all-conference, despite improving to 43 grabs for 576 yards and seven scores.

Jordan was the most versatile weapon in the passing game for the Hurricanes these, lining up all over the field. I’d say H-back or wing was his most common alignment for the entirety of his career, even though last season he spent 57 percent of snaps in the slot. He does a great job of crossing the face of second-level defenders and pinning them inside, in order to get out to the edge on jet sweeps and stuff like that. He is at his best a blocker however, when he can put hands on people in space in the screen game and other areas from the slot, breaking down in space and keeping his hands and base ready to re-position, in order to stay in front of those guy. However, Jordan also doesn’t mind mixing it up with big defensive end and outside backers as a blocker, when he is lined up at Y or kicking them out on split zone runs. He does a very good job of establishing position and getting his feet moving to either seal defenders on the backside or caving them in on an angle. Yet, what will get Jordan drafted somewhere on day two most likely is the versatility he presents as a pass-catcher, where he brought in 105 of 149 career targets and had the ball in his hands on bubble screens and jet sweeps even.

This guy has some serious burst off the snap and he is a threat to attack down the hashes. Jordan does a nice job of bending his seam routes and quickly giving the quarterback a sign when he’s running free over the middle, while truly splitting the safeties in two-high shells. He was open on shallow post and dig routes a lot and often times didn’t get the ball. Against man-coverage, I like how Jordan can nod one way and force defenders to open up their hips, before breaking the other direction. He shows urgency to push vertically from the slot position and then creates separation by snapping off for curl or hook routes. Last season, he averaged 2.93 yards per route run versus man-coverage and a passer rating of just under 140 when targeted overall. Jordan plucks the ball away from his frame consistently and then is a threat to quickly pick up yards after the catch, especially catching the ball in the flats, as he instantly gets vertical and shows good awareness for defenders around him. He’s pretty shifty with making guys miss, even when corralled by multiple defenders, and doesn’t mind lowering the shoulder on an awaiting defender, constantly falling forward for a couple of extra yards. In 2019, 13 of his 35 receptions (37 percent) included at least 10 yards of additional yardage after the catch, Overall, he broke 21 tackles on 105 catches in career. On a day where Miami got embarrassed at home by North Carolina late last season, he was the only one producing for the Canes, catching six balls for 140 yards and a score.

With that being said, Jordan slips off too many blocks, due to some issues with weight-transition and hand-placement that gets too wide. He doesn’t mind running into bigger defenders, but often is the one bouncing off them or they can pull him to the side because he leans so much into those guys.. You see his pads get rocked by physical edge-setters on several occasions. Therefore, I don’t see him as a true number one in-line tight-end necessarily, but then running a 4.7 at the Miami pro day doesn’t scream big slot / flex option either. Jordan hasn’t consistently won in contested catch situations yet, hauling in only a third of his 33 chances he has received, where a 31-inch vertical won’t help him overcome being below-average in height for the position. And while he’s added good mass throughout his career with the Hurricanes, I would think his frame is close to maxed out. So some teams may have a tough time finding a spot for him.

When I watched Jordan throughout his time in Miami, I always thought he reminded me a lot of now-Patriots versatile weapon Jonnu Smith. And just like Smith, I imagine this guy’s talent could be maximized in a similar role. That is being an H-back first and foremost, moving him around to present matchup problems and pairing him with more of a prototype Y, to where he does more sift-blocking and then slipping into the flats off bootlegs and you find other ways to put the ball in his hands, because he will make something happen with it, I think there is certainly a drop-off from those first two names, but Jordan is worth a mid day-two pick for a team that knows how to use him.

4. Hunter Long, Boston College

6’5”, 255 pounds; RS JR

Only a three-star recruit, Long redshirted his first year on campus and then only caught four passes in his debut season. As a sophomore, he caught 28 passes for just over 500 yards and two TDs in 11 games, averaging a crazy 18.2 yards per grab, even though BC used three different TEs at a high rate. Last season, he became more a featured piece for the Eagles, catching 57 passes for 685 yards and five scores, earning first-team All-ACC accolades in the process.

Long presents a massive frame with a 83-inch wingspan. He spent 77.7 percent of career snaps in-line and he was one of the key cogs for that BC offense, playing just over 70 snaps per game on average last season. In 2019, I thought he already showed some intriguing traits for a Y tight-end and produced well, but I think he took a big step in 2020. Long is certainly in the discussion for the best in-line blocker at the position in this draft class. He won’t shy away from locking horns with defensive linemen close to the 300-pound mark and consistently moves linebackers off the spot. He does a great job of squeezing defenders inside and opening up cutback lanes on the backside, where he rolls his hips through contact and keeps his legs churning. At the same time, he effectively keeps moving his feet on reach-blocks or gets out in space on outside touches. He plays under great balance and with his feet underneath him at all times in that regard. And what I really appreciate is the intelligence to understand, when he has to let go or not put his hands on the backs of defenders to avoid flags, actually throwing his hands up to signal to the refs that he’s not at fault on a few occasions. Long was also kept in protection quite a bit off those split zone run fakes, where he was asked to come underneath the formation and pick up edge defenders at full charge from the backside, but showed the ability to slow those guys down or ride them past the quarterback. And he was asked to help his tackles with a lot of chips and then released into flat routes.

Long looked so slow and lumber off the snap in 2019, but showed more dynamic ability as a receiver this past year. He can now actually threaten down the seams and clear the second of the defense. He shows an understanding and some light-footedness to get to the appropriate landmarks effectively on vertical routes. At his best however, Long is running away from defenders on crossing routes, especially off play-action, where he would have had separation much more often than the amount of chances he got would indicate. When he faces press-coverage or has somebody engage with him downfield, Long displays strong hands to knock down the reach of his opponents and open throwing windows. He displays strong hands and always seems to catch the ball at full extension, while showing no issues bringing in high or low passes. Yet, then he quickly pulls it in and gets North. He made a tremendous diving grab down the seams versus Clemson last year. Long uses his frame very well to shield defenders from the ball and hauls in passes through contact to great effect, at times with a safety coming over the top of him, which you could classify as hospital passes. Overall, he came up with 11 contested catches last season. And when one of his teammates catches the ball underneath, Long is looking for work and at times drives guys out of the screen.

On the flipside, there’s just not a single athletic trait that really stands out when you watch Long in the pass game. His burst off the ball is still nothing to get overly excited about and there is some slowing down and chopping his feet when he has to make sharper cuts. He also hasn’t had to deal with a ton of press and needs to became more effective with not allowing defenders to stay over the top of him and influence his route stems, but actually get to their edges. And while he puts in good work in the run game, when he is on the backside of run plays, Long needs to be more active with taking that vertical step to seal guys off and not allow them to crash through the C-gap at times.

Long surprised me with a 4.63 in the 40 and a 10’2” broad jump at BC’s pro day. So by that, you are getting an above-average athlete for the position, who averaged right around ten yards per target for his career, has shown improvement every year in college and can win in tight quarters, as a run-blocker as well as with the ball in the air. That type of old-school player to me is worth a late day two pick and you don’t have to worry about where you put him, because while he might not be a really impressive weapon in the pass game, he will play with his hand in the dirt for the most part and then can detach as the number three in trips sets on passing downs.

5. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

6’4”, 250 pounds; RS SO

Right around the top-500 recruits in the nation, Tremble didn’t play in any games of his first season. Over the following two years, he combined for 35 catches worth 401 yards and four touchdowns, being named an honorable mention All-ACC selection. Despite his limited production, his athleticism – which was recently illustrated by an outstanding pro day performance – and work as a blocker, now intrigues NFL scouts.

This young man enjoys the physical part of the game and gets after it in the run game. You see him constantly try to re-fit his hands and keep his legs driving, to create big holes to blast through. Tremble Routinely caves in defensive ends to create a lane off-tackle or to cut backside, as well as allowing pullers to wrap around and lead the way on outside stuffs. The Fighting Irish actually put him in as a true fullback and had him execute ISO blocks or lead up into the hole as a wing on counter plays, where he becomes a battering ram at the second level. When linebackers try to crash into Tremble, at best they can create stalemates, but usually they will move backwards, and if those guys wait for him, they will get popped straight up. Plus, when he catches somebody trying to shoot downhill from the side, he can use their momentum against them and take those guys for a ride. Tremble can create some torque, to get defenders to the outside on running blocks and create lanes to cut upfield for the ball-carrier, which makes speed sweeps his way highly effective. Defensive backs don’t want to see him get to the edge, because they know they might end up in the stands. No matter the assignment in the run game, Tremble never seems uncomfortable executing it and gives you 100 percent.

While the production as a receiver wasn’t really there, Tremble was only targeted 52 times in his career (35 catches) and made most of them, averaging 7.7 yards ever time quarterback Ian Book went his way. He did most of his work in the passing game off play-action, where he finds ways to get clean releases and has some elusive ability to get around second-level defenders as a route-runner overall. When he operates from the slot, Tremble shows explosiveness off the line and the ankle flexibility to plant and make hard cuts off one foot, to where defenders can’t undercut the throw. The former Irish all-rounder was highly underutilized in the pass game overall, because they wanted to use him as the add-on to the line or behind it, but you routinely see him free in space on hook routes over the middle or with great yards-after-catch opportunities on slide routes into the flats, where the quarterback looked elsewhere. And when he does get the ball in space, he can eat up ground with those strides, runs into awaiting defenders without hesitation. and had a couple of impressive in-game hurdles. Tremble also keeps working his way free when plays are extended and he shows good awareness for the sideline, including an outstanding toe-tape grab in the ACC Championship game against Clemson at the end of last season.

With that in mind, the production is still highly underwhelming for a potential top-100 overall pick, barely cracking the 400-yard mark and labelled as the TE2 or TE3 in his two years of play. Tremble received 31 fewer targets than Notre Dame’s freshman tight-end Michael Meyer, who was more of the designated receiver, detached from the line, and doubled his output. As more of the blocking option, with a lot of underneath routes, Tremble had only one grab of 20+ air yards. There’s a couple of double-catches on tape and he dropped five of 40 catchable passes in his career with the Irish. As a blocker he is very aggressive, but also takes his eyes down quite a bit and could be side-stepped by more savvy NFL linebackers, who know how to use their hands to “make him miss”.

The joy Tremble has burying defenders into the ground and the versatility he brings as a blocker, in tight areas as well as on the move, is highly appealing to me. Just watch the Boston College tape from last season, where he didn’t catch a single pass, but was putting defenders on skates all the game long and lead the way for a 274-yard rushing day. Now, the lack of receiving production makes me hesitate from putting him even higher, but he just ran an unofficial 4.59 at the Irish pro day, there is no stiffness to speak of as a route-runner and I think he will be a specialist off play-action, sneaking out into the flats or running crossers and being able to turn them into chunk plays potentially.

6. John Bates, Boise State

6’5” ½, 260 pounds; RS SR

A former three-star recruit in 2016, Bates redshirted his first year on campus and was a backup for all but two of the 14 games his freshman season. He took over as a starter midway through the following year and has been since then, but never was much involved in the pass game. Over the 30 games these last three seasons, he has caught only 44 passes for 545 yards and two touchdowns. But once more, he has risen up draft board with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, where he was actually a late add.

Bates presents pretty much ideal measurements for a true Y tight-end and spent 85 percent of snaps these last three years in-line, with a lot of those as an offset wing. Overall as a blocker, he initiates with low hands and rolls his hips through contact, with a non-stop leg drive to actually finish guys. Bates routinely creates vertical movement on edge defenders, but he also does a great job of bringing his hips around, to execute reach-blocks at the point of attack of wide zone runs. You see him create some lateral push against interior defensive linemen and more so defensive ends lined up just inside him, when coming in on an angle, getting underneath the near arm-pit and digging guys out of the gap. At the same time, he is comfortable working up to the second level when his gap is unoccupied and puts his wide frame in front of them, while being able to move them backwards when he catches them in unfavorable situations. When he’s asked to lead up into the hole, Bates brings some thump at first contact and he gets chippy with those guys, pushing defenders around until the whistle. Bates also to a high success rate performing cut-blocks with proper technique, working across the legs of defenders, to actually sweep them off their feet. When he is detached from the line and has DBs lined up over him, he can overwhelm those guys and take them for a ride in the run game, but he also excels at neutralizing people when getting out to the edges, as he leads the way on end-arounds and sweeps.

Bates was a late add for the Senior Bowl, who I didn’t have on my original list, but he made me look him up, because of the way he was moving and the target he presented as a big body. He had several nice catches outside his frame, showing strong hands to hold onto the ball through contact a few times. Bates effectively gets to his landmarks on vertical routes and doesn’t look back to the quarterback until he’s entered the appropriate throwing window, often times knocking away the hands of underneath defenders trying to slow him down, and then presents an attractive target down the seams. He doesn’t give away his breaks prematurely with his eyes or hips and then can bend off either foot pretty well for those 90-degree cuts. He successfully uses hand-swipes and lowers his pads to get off press-coverage as a slot receiver and coming from an offense that utilizes plenty of bootlegs, he has a good feel for peeling off and making himself available in the flats. He displays an understanding for pacing and setting up routes, as he releases at lower speed and then bursts into open space. In totality, Bates had five drops on 52 catchable targets in his career, but none came in last year’s short season. He has gotten much better with not allowing the ball to get into his body and putting it away as defenders come up on him, or using his body as a shield on hook routes. He turns upfield instantly after securing the catch and consistently falls forward after getting hit from the side

Be that as it may, Bates is certainly more effective at getting off the line than he is explosive and he doesn’t make the sharpest cuts as a route-runner. A 4.8 in the 40 at his size (about 260 at the Broncos’ pro day) isn’t too bad, but it’s nothing special either. Last season, he wasn’t really a threat down the field, with only two receptions on passes of 10+ yards across the line of scrimmage and he has never scared defenses a whole lot with the ball in his hands, breaking just four tackles on 47 career catches. As a blocker, he can get overly aggressive at times, charging at off-ball defenders and not being able to redirect anymore, as well as in tight quarters, when defenders are more technically versed at using their hands to pull him off themselves.

John Bates to me is basically a slightly lesser version of Boston College’s Hunter Long. The effort and work he puts in as a run-blocker are excellent, he presents a big target down the seams and is a no-nonsense player after the catch. The big difference is that Long ran the 40 in 0.17 seconds faster and has done it against a higher level of competition already. Still, Bates to me is my favorite day three target in terms of a traditional Y tight-end, who can be a quality starter in the right situation, likely with more of a dynamic receiving option to pair up with. And you see him move defenders on kick return teams as well, which adds value.

7. Tre McKitty, Georgia

6’5”, 245 pounds; SR

A top-500 overall recruit, McKitty spent the first three years of his collegiate career at Florida State, where – like so many other plays – he never got to live up to his potential, catching 50 passes for 520 yards and two touchdowns in 35 total games. He decided to transfer to Georgia for his senior season, but unfortunately picked a school that never actually seems to throw to their tight-ends to great effect, which left him with only six catches for 108 yards and one score in seven games. However, with the work he put in during Senior Bowl week, he has reminded people of the talent within him.

McKitty was more of a big slot receiver for Florida State and then spent 71 percent of snaps in-line last season for the Bulldogs, but only put those six catches on film. So you have to go back to the 2018 and ’19 tapes with the Seminoles to analyze him as a receiver, but even more so it was about what he did down in Mobile against top-tier competition. He looked so natural moving in space and catching the ball, creating separation late on several occasions, securing passes through contact and making a couple one-handed grabs downfield. McKitty really drops his hips and snaps his head around on stick and short out routes. He can reduce the near shoulder to avoid getting hung up with contact and then uses his frame well himself at the top of the route, to not allow defenders to create an angle to the pass. He showed some wiggle at the Senior Bowl and half (so three) of those passes he caught last season for UGA were big ones down the seams. McKitty catches the ball away from body and he has those massive 11 ½-inch hands, to really swallow it with those big paws and with a strong catch-radius, he has a couple of inches on where defenders can get, when they are in his hip-pocket. He displays quick, fluid turns upfield after catching the ball in the flats and rumbling ahead, to go with some suddenness to get around defenders, who get too aggressive in their pursuit angles. And while the production was obviously very underwhelming last season, you see McKitty create leverage on defenders in man-coverage breaking in or out, as well as well have space sitting down versus zone.

While McKitty didn’t get many chances to show his skills as a pass-catcher, he damn sure was able to get accustomed to some of the physicality he will face at the next level when going up against SEC defenders as a blocker. Florida State used him as an H-back or offset wing and had him take on different assignments from that spot, but I thought he really improved his attitude in that area and the way he initiates contact, especially from in-line sets, during his one year at Georgia. McKitty does a great job of riding blocks on wide zone runs, continuing to bring that back-foot across and making defenders work to get to the edge. He creates big cutback lanes on sift blocks and he can effectively cut off or seal edge defenders on the backside of run plays. He has no issues working up to the second level or leading acting as a lead-blocker and he does a great job of walling defenders off, in order to get the ball to the edge or get out in front himself on toss plays. McKitty only ran 82 total routes last season, in part because they wanted to keep him in protection, not because he wouldn’t be an asset as a receiver, but because they needed time to set up more downfield concepts. In that regard, he is very good at countering the hands of defenders rushing off the edge, displays active footwork and forces guys to go through him.

While it has improved significantly, McKitty’s hands still tend to get too high and wide as a blocker and he dips his head into contact a lot of times. You see him allow defenders to slant into the C-gap on the backside, because he will step laterally and just try to just mash the guy into the pile, rather than establishing inside position first. However, what is much more prevalent, I can’t remember a time, where I evaluated a player largely on what I saw at an all-star game and there is something to be said about never establishing himself as a main contributor through the air or even the clear-cut TE1 at times. McKitty isn’t super explosive off the line or a dynamic separator out of his breaks. Even during Senior Bowl week, it took a while for him to actually break free. But above all, it’s just a tough task to clearly say what he can and can not do in the passing game, because there is so little tape on it with the frame he presents now.

This was one of the most fascinating evaluations of this entire draft, simply because the sample size is so limited as this two-faceted player. In the end however, I believe having played these two very different roles and putting his name on the map fairly late in the process will help him. We have seen him be able to be a big-bodied receiving option in the slot at Florida State, but then be a high-quality blocker in the box at Georgia. What we haven’t seen yet is him putting it all together, but from what he showed during Senior Bowl week and how weak this tight-end class is overall. I feel comfortable with adding him as a TE2 in the fifth round or so.

8. Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss

6’4”, 245 pounds; RS SR

Just a two-star recruit back in 2016, Yeboah spent the first four years of his career at Temple, where he only caught one pass as a freshman, before transitioning from wide receiver to tight-end. While his numbers slightly increased all three seasons, he barely cracked 500 combined yards and six touchdowns (with five coming in his last year there). Yeboah transferred ahead of the 2020 season, originally committing to Baylor, to reunite with the coach, who once recruited him in Matt Rhule, but then changing his choice to Ole Miss, when Rhule decided to coach the Carolina Panthers instead. His one year with the Rebels however, he set career-highs with 27 catches for 524 yards and six scores, averaging 19.4 yards per grab, in only eight games.

Yeboah actually spent the majority of snaps with Temple in-line, before he was in the slot almost half the time last season with the Rebels. However, he was heavily utilized from an H-back alignment from a blocking perspective, executing sift blocks on split zone runs, doing these wrap-around pulls and even on counter, where he took his steps as if he were the tailback. He initiates first contact with a wide base and keeps working his feet, while bringing some umph when coming in with charge. Yeboah shows a competitive nature and solid hand-placement to take care of defenders in open space and get screen plays going, as well as open up yards-after-catch opportunities for his teammates. He also displays good effort and active feet in pass-pro, guiding edge rushers further upfield, to allow his quarterback to step up. The Rebels’ coaches showed their trust in him, when they asked him to take care of some of the top edge rushers in the SEC for a few snaps every game, despite being on the slighter side. And off that, he is elusive with slipping underneath edge blockers, to get into the flats off different run-fakes.

As a receiver, Yeboah turns his head right away when he clears the linebackers on seam routes and slows down, to not run into the deep safety coverage, while forcing trailing defenders to grab cloth as he works down the middle. When he has inside leverage against man-coverage on shallow crossers, the guy responsible for him will have a tough time sticking with him and will have to hope he is able to chase him down at the opposite sideline. Yeboah shows a natural ability to adjust to passes behind him, without having to stop his feet too much, and he has his mind set on getting upfield immediately after. There is some make-you-miss ability and he can pull away from second-level defenders after the catch. Yeboah set Ole Miss single-game record against Alabama with seven catches for 181 yards and two scores, where the Crimson Tide’s linebackers and safeties had a tough time sticking with him, but he also had a couple of long plays down the middle off play-action, with the latter one finishing in the end-zone. What he did last season is even more impressive considering Yeboah was only targeted 33 times (and caught 27 of those). He recorded five catches of 20+ air yards and averaged 9.0 yards after the grab, giving QB Matt Corral a passer rating North of 140 when going his way. Yeboah does a nice job creating those natural rubs on mesh concepts, to get one of his fellow receivers open, even if it means he will have somebody run into him at full speed.

However, Yeboah certainly won’t impose his will on front-seven members as an in-line blocker at the next level. He has more of an oversized wide receiver build and doesn’t have a ton of functional strength. He is too passive as an open-field blocker and allows defender to beat him to the spot at times. As a receiver, he had 13 drops on 87 catchable passes in his career (three last season), as a bit of a body-catcher. Just over a third of his production last season came in that Alabama game and he averaged under 30 yards over the final three contests he was available for. And a large part of his production was thanks to the wide-open space in Lane Kiffin’s spread offense, without many deeper-breaking routes, which he chopped his feet on when he ran those during Senior Bowl week. Unfortunately, Yeboah only did the jumps at Ole Miss’ pro day, so we don’t know how fast he really is as a full-time option in the slot potentially.

Yeboah isn’t the type of guy you want to put his hand in the dirt and move edge defenders off the ball in the run game, but he shows the willingness to put hands on people and create lanes for his teammates. The drops and the one-year wonder thing in a wide-open offense is somewhat concerning, but I like Yeboah as that H-back and big slot option some time early on day three. To me he’s a lesser, not as physical version of Miami’s Brevin Jordan.

9. Briley Moore, Kansas State

6’4”, 250 pounds; RS SR

A former no-star recruit, Moore spent the first four years of his collegiate career at Northern Iowa, where he saw limited action as a freshman and then over the next two seasons caught 77 passes for 1030 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered a season-ending injury in the 2019 opener, but used his redshirt to add one more year at Kansas State as a grad transfer, where he caught 22 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in nine games, earning second-time All-Big-12 accolades.

Moore presents good thickness throughout his frame and built almost like a taller fullback. This guy gets after it in the run game and you see him pancake guys 20-30 pounds above his weight-class. The never-stopping leg-drive and the finishing mindset are absolutely beautiful to watch. Whether it’s widening the edge on the front-side of zone un plays as a Y or wrapping around from backside as an H-back, he is going to move somebody backwards – if not into the team area. He displays great torque in his upper body, to create leverage advantages and actively re-fits those hands. Moore also shows no strength issues dealing with defensive ends in pass-pro and the Wildcats coaches asked him to take on a bunch of those tough assignments without much help. When he’s lined up as the number three in trips, Moore can plow through some safeties and he seems comfortable putting hands on people in space overall, by pacing his steps and engaging with a wide base and good flexion in his knees. Transitioning over to what he does as a pass-catcher, Moore does a nice job of selling second-level blocks on play-action and then getting behind those guys, or sneaking into the flats.

After watching a bunch of slow tight-ends, that kind of all melted into one, it was refreshing to see Moore’s burst off the line, to actually threaten secondaries as a slot receiver, while having a good feel for reducing the surface area for defenders as he releases from in-line alignments. He can drop his hips and create separation at the top of routes on breaks back to the quarterback or across the field, but also smoothly bend out to the sideline, without losing time. You saw him really work the middle of the field, where he understands when to make those body catches and swallow the ball, with defenders around him. Moore shows a good understanding for how to set up routes with different speeds and even showed it on some flat-to-wheel patterns, while his eyes go back to the quarterback as soon as he enters the throwing window. He also quickly snaps his head around when he becomes the hot receiver and keeps his feet bouncing as he settles down. Moore never seems to fight the ball, with only one drop last season, and once he tucks it away, he gets vertical and really rumbles ahead, shoving off tackles, keeping his legs churning and gaining yards through contact. Early on against West Virginia, you saw him drag three defenders for a couple of extra yards.

The biggest shortcoming – quite literally – for Moore is his very limited catch radius, due to arms just short of 31 inches, which is in the two-percentile for the position. He won’t provide much in contested-catch situations, where you put the ball up in the air and ask him to come down with it. And we haven’t seen him run a lot of deeper-developing routes, with only one catch of 20+ air yards last season for the Wildcats. Moore’s speed after the catch doesn’t quite match what you see off the snap, as you see him get from behind quite a bit in games (versus Texas Tech and Baylor in particular) and his receiving production in a wide-open Big-12 is pretty underwhelming in general.

Moore put up some really good testing numbers at the K-State pro day, with a 4.64 in the 40, a 38-inch vert, 10’1” broad jump and 26 reps on the bench press. I really don’t think there are many targets that deserve consideration for a selection over the first half of day three, but Moore is a guy, who got me excited when I got around to his tape. He has that maniacal attitude as a blocker, he has the burst to threaten vertically and can create separation out of his breaks, he doesn’t drop the ball and he turns into a bowling ball after the catch. I like him best as an H-back and fullback option, in combination with more of a traditional in-line guy maybe.

10. Matt Bushman, BYU

6’5”, 245 pounds; SR

One of the top 1000 overall recruit in 2017, Bushman went for a little over 500 yards in each of first two seasons, but in 2018, he did it in two less games and on 20(!) fewer catches, which gave him an average of 17.6 yards per grab, after he was a Freshman All-American the year prior. As a junior, he put up career-highs with 47 catches for 688 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he ruptured his Achilles in practice before this past season in September and his name has been lost in the draft process.

Everybody thinks of BYU as this high-flying offensive attack, because of the season quarterback Zach Wilson just had for them, but they seem to forget that this has been a downhill run team traditionally and Bushman was asked to do a lot of different things as a blocker. You see him line up at Y, as an H-back and detached from the line, while having worked in several pro-style run schemes for the Cougars. In terms of the angles he uses, how he engages with hands inside the frame of defenders and how he keeps working to sustain blocks, he is a quality asset in that regard. Bushman is very light on his feet, to get himself into position for second- and third-level blocks. You see him get out in front and clear the way on speed sweeps and end-arounds a lot. And I really like the way he transitions into being a blocker, when a teammate catches the ball underneath or his quarterback takes off, getting in the face of guys in space routinely. He delivers a strong blow on chips, before releasing into his routes and he’s pretty sneaky leaking out in a delayed fashion off play-action or on trick-play type of stuff, with good burst once he’s sold the initial look.

Bushman displays really soft hands, extends for and adjusts to the ball extremely well. He only dropped one pass and caught eight passes of 20+ air yards (on twice as many targets) in 2019, with a passer rating of around 100 when targeted at all three levels. The Cougars even put him at X receiver and let him run slant routes a few times. While his speed won’t blow you away, Bushman shows some acceleration out of his stance and is a threat down the seams, as well as creating some chunk plays on post and deep over routes. Quarterback Zach Wilson targeted his big tight-end quite a bit on slot fade routes, where he showed fluid turns to the back-shoulder and routinely defeated defenders right in his hip-pocket that way. He has no issues with defenders crowing the catch point and shows tremendous focusing of hauling in passes through contact. Furthermore, Bushman has a talent for finding open space on secondary routes and scramble drills, helping out his quarterback by presenting a target routinely. When he catches the ball stick or out routes, he instantly turns upfield and gets what is there, to where his hips are already facing North at times, while the ball is just arriving there. Bushman shows good shiftiness and balance after the catch, while getting physical when he has to engage contact, which led to 15 broken tackles on 125 career catches

While he has plenty of experience working in-line, Bushman has some issues as a blocker, in terms of sinking his hips naturally and creating momentum as a drive-blocker. You see him slip off defenders late, because he leans into them, or fail to get his body in position to cut off guys on the backside of run plays. Against defensive ends or outside backers, stalemates are usually the best you get. As a route-runner, he is pretty upright and lacks explosiveness coming out of his breaks, as more of a JAG, when you watch him move. However, the biggest concern here for Bushman is that ruptured Achilles, which he will barely be a year away from when the 2021 NFL season kicks off, So he will likely not be able to take part in all offseason activities (depending on how much there will be actually be this year) and he is already 25 years old

Obviously, my ranking of a player like this coming off a major injury has to depend on what his medical says. Without any additional information on how his recovery will continue to go and me solely evaluating what I see on film, Bushman deserved to be mentioned here in this very weak tight-end class, once you approach the double-digits. He has a natural feel for the position, puts in great effort as a blocker and catches pretty much everything thrown his way. If healthy, he at least should be a high-quality number two. And was he coming off that 2019 season, he would have probably been a day-two pick, just because of how effective he was at BYU.

The next names up:

Nick Eubanks (Michigan), Pro Wells (TCU), Cary Angeline (N.C. State), Quintin Morris (Bowling Green), Zach Davidson (Central Missouri) & Jacob Harris (UCF)


2 thoughts on “Top 10 tight-ends in the 2021 NFL Draft:

  1. Pingback: Top 10 safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

  2. Pingback: Top 10 safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft: | Defy Life

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