As fantasy playoff pictures take shape, a greater focus shifts to the draft for many of us. The tight end position once again proved to be one of the most difficult positions for fantasy players to consistently yield points from. Fortunately, we have a considerably better crop of rookie tight ends entering the league in 2021.
#1 – Kyle Pitts, Florida, Junior (6’6/246 lbs)
Currently the TE1 of this class, it hadn’t always looked that way for Kyle Pitts. Pitts attended Archbishop Wood high school in Pennsylvania prior to joining the Florida Gators. He was pegged by ESPN as a four-star recruit, and the #2 tight end overall in the 2018 recruiting class, trailing only Brevin Jordan.
Since joining the Gators, Pitts has posted the following receiving totals:
A quick glance at those numbers helps illustrate Pitts’ development as a receiver. Moreover, he’s shown himself to be one of, if not the most dominant red zone threat in college football. Evidenced by his 1.6 touchdowns per game this year, Pitts’ size, quickness and catch radius make him a matchup nightmare at the best of times.
Outside of his tremendous size and athleticism, Pitts does a number of other things very well. First, he’s shown plenty of versatility during his time at Florida, finding success flexed-out and all around the line of scrimmage. He displays very good route running ability with an understanding of how to effectively change speeds in order to create separation. Thrives against man coverage and knows how to find the soft spots against zone.
Second, Pitts makes things happen after the catch. Size and strength make him difficult to bring down while he simultaneously flashes the slipperiness of smaller players. Blessed with elite speed and explosiveness for his position, his presence becomes unnerving for defenses.
Finally, Pitts has outstanding ball skills and body control which he has a natural feel for. His uncanny ability to high point balls is part of what’s enabled him to find so much success in the red zone. This, in conjunction with his massive catch radius makes him such a friendly, familiar target for quarterbacks.
Pitts’ biggest knock to date has been his blocking. He’ll need to consistently work on improving his technique and play recognition as he transitions into the NFL. Additionally, Pitts will benefit from becoming stronger and more physical in this area. Fortunately, he shows a willingness to block and will conceivably improve in this area as he develops. On the other hand, blocking is not his “thing” and it’s not what he’s being drafted to do primarily in the modern NFL.
Pitts remains the TE1 of this rookie class and will bring some much needed excitement to a position that’s proven wildly inconsistent in recent years. His offensive prowess should be featured from the onset of his career, and he has the makings of a perennial Top 8 tight end with the ceiling for more.
There will also be no questions about Pitts’ level of competition as he’s reliably produced against stout SEC competition and ranked opponents.
If you have the time, make a point of watching one of his games down the stretch this year.
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State University, Junior (6’5/258 lbs)
After a highly decorated high school career at Brooks School in Massachusetts, Freiermuth finished as a four-star recruit and the 13th overall tight end by ESPN. The recruiting process ultimately led him to Penn State.
When you hear about Freiermuth, it’s almost a certainty you’ll hear terms like “polished”, “NFL-ready” and “complete.” It’s very difficult to dispute any of those claims with much substance.
Below are his receiving totals during his time at Penn State:
Right away, the touchdown numbers jump off the page at you. Freiermuth has somehow managed to score on 17.4% of his receptions during college. When you realize he’s earned the nickname “baby Gronk” it starts to make sense. In terms of receiving yards, Freiermuth has had some blowup games but was also held to 40 yards or less in 10 of 13 games during 2019. He’d gathered some positive momentum in 2020 but this week it was announced he’ll undergo season-ending surgery. His presence will be sorely missed by Penn State and college football fans.
Since receiving ability is paramount to fantasy success, let’s start there. Freiermuth is a meticulate route runner with a proven ability to set up defenders when working against man coverage. His footwork is very impressive for his size and he cuts sharper than most players in the 258 lb range. Furthermore, he’s shown himself savvy enough to find the soft spots against zone coverage. He may not be an “elite” athlete but is an extremely capable one, routinely destroying linebackers in man coverage. Strong hands allow him to thrive in traffic and maintain possession through contact.
As a blocker, Freiermuth is refined and continues to improve. This will help him see a healthy number of snaps as a rookie and that will ultimately lead to more opportunities offensively. His effort and work ethic have been lauded by coaches, teammates and scouts.
As a result of his polish, it’s hard to find any glaring holes in Freiermuth’s game. Just to be a dick, he could improve his ball skills and body control to reach his ceiling.
The battle between Freiermuth and Pitts to be the first tight end drafted in 2021 is not even close to being over yet. If Freiermuth is able to wow at the combine, his blocking ability could enable him to leapfrog Pitts and earn the highest draft capital among 2021 tight ends. Regardless, both should be Day 1 picks who present exponentially greater options at the position when compared with last year’s class. It’s hard to envision Freiermuth falling outside the Top 20 in dynasty rookie drafts this year.
Brevin Jordan, University of Miami, Junior (6’3/245 lbs)
Jordan has slipped to a rung below Freiermuth and Pitts after being named the top tight end in the 2018 class. He played out his legendary high school career at famed Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas where he made it to the state championship every year. His celebrated high school career culminated in a state championship in his senior season.
Jordan wound up committing to the University of Miami after receiving offers from just about every major program in the country. Here’s how he’s fared as a receiver during his time with the Hurricanes:
While the totals aren’t as eye-popping as those of Freiermuth or Pitts, the production is still quite solid on what was a disappointing Miami offense in 2018 and 2019. This season, Jordan missed a month with a shoulder injury and returned to action last week against Virginia Tech, logging 2 receptions for 22 yards.
One of Jordan’s greatest strengths is the remarkable athleticism he possesses for a tight end. It’s clear on tape that his size and explosiveness will create matchup nightmares for opponents. Tremendous after the catch as he effectively utilizes his speed and strength to pick up extra yards. Contact balance is deceptively good and that, coupled with his physicality make him difficult to bring down.
He’s shown enough versatility for NFL teams to be confident that he can play both in-line and flexed-out of the formation. Sticking with versatility, Jordan has displayed the ability to attack defenses successfully at all three levels. Route running certainly lacks some polish, but all the tools are there to improve upon it. Coaching will be a factor for him.
Blocking is certainly more raw than you would like it to be. Effort is there, technique is not. Poor use of hands typically renders Jordan a near zero in run blocking situations.
Outside of blocking, Jordan can benefit from an improvement in route running. Part of this can be attributed to how he’s been used at Miami however, he’s failed to consistently do the little things right.
While it’s highly unlikely Jordan goes as high as Freiermuth or Pitts, his ceiling as a receiving threat isn’t far off. With a good landing spot and the right coaching he could a steal as his stock slips into the third round of dynasty rookie drafts. He should find a home on Day 2.
If you’re interested in the 2021 Rookie Draft, my 2021 Mock Draft’s can be seen here https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/11/14/2021-rookie-mock-draft-part-1/ and https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/11/14/2021-rookie-mock-draft-part-2/
My piece on the second tier of 2021 Tight Ends can be read here https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/12/02/2021-rookie-tight-ends-the-second-tier/