One of the common things we hear about when we discuss the NFL draft and team building is the concept of positional value. We always hear that positions such as quarterback, offensive tackle, edge rusher, and cornerback are the highest valued positions and are the ones that should be drafted in the top 10. This is true, but only to an extent. While there is no doubt that the league values those positions more than they do others, we have free agency contracts as evidence to back this theory up, that does not mean that a player who doesn’t play one of these positions can’t be drafted at the top of the draft.
I recently put out my Mock Draft 5.0 on The Draft Network, and naturally, it was met with a certain amount of criticism. Of course, this is to be expected when putting content out on social media, you always expect some push back and negative comments, but I was surprised to see that one of the things that had folks mad in my mentions was the fact that I had Kyle Pitts going in the top five (fifth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals). This really shocked me, because Pitts is not only an elite talent, but frankly one of the safer players in the entire draft class.
The pushback I got for having Pitts go in my top five I believe stems from the fact that he is a tight end, and since that is not a highly valued position, there is no way he can be drafted that high. One of the things that's important to understand when it comes to scouting and evaluating prospects as a real NFL scout, is that when we sit down and watch tape and write up a player, we do not take into account what the positional value of the player is. For example, if I am watching a corner and I am going to write him up, I am not going to give him a boost just because he plays a highly sought-after position. We grade the players for who they are as a prospect, and the things they bring to the table as a player, rather than the position they play. That certainly does come in when we stack the big board, but in terms of assigning a player a grade, you do not factor in the position they play.
When I began to watch tape on this upcoming draft class it became evident to me that Pitts is not only a top-10 player in this class, but he is likely going to finish among my top five overall players—and when you take out the quarterbacks, he will be in my top three. While I do understand that in most circumstances if things were equal, you’d take a corner or an offensive tackle over a tight end in the top five or the top 10, in this case, things aren’t equal.
The word that just keeps coming to me when I watch and talk about Pitts is “special.” Just everything about this kid’s game is special. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, he has outstanding size for the position with rare length. The Gators used him all over the offense and had him play as a traditional “Y” in-line, had him detached off the line of scrimmage as a “F”, played him in the slot, and even lined him up as a traditional “X”. It truly didn’t matter where he lined up, he dominated everywhere.
Pitts is an extremely fluid and smooth athlete for a man his size and moves effortlessly into higher gears. He has exceptional bend and flexibility in both his hips and his ankles and can get in and out of breaks better than some receivers half his size. In the passing game, Pitts is a mismatch weapon who can win vertically down the seam or laterally across the middle of the field. He is very nuanced in his releases and makes it tough for defenders to put their hands on him at the line of scrimmage. He’s a build-to-speed runner who, once he opens his stride, can pull away from almost any linebacker or safety. He has an outstanding ability to sink his hips and change direction on pivot routes and explodes in and out of his cuts.
Again, he runs routes and moves better than most receivers, and has the size and length to win in any contested situation. Pitts has rare body control, ball skills, and outstanding hands. He is able to adjust and torque his body mid leap and locate the football in the air. Pitts didn’t have a single drop this past season. He is outstanding in the red zone due to his large catch radius and ball skills. Pitts is competitive after the catch and has the speed to run by defenders and always looks to fight off arm tackles.
The knock that many have on Pitts as a prospect is that he isn’t super effective in the running game as an in-line blocker. Now, to me, whichever team drafts him should know that he probably isn’t going to be used as a traditional “Y” often, so it’s more important to focus on what Pitts can do and what he's great at rather than focusing on his weaknesses. That being said, Pitts is still functional in the running game as a blocker. He is a willing blocker who has the ability to get position and seal the edge. When he engages, he shows a good ability to latch and sustain and drive his legs to finish. Is Pitts going to maul defenders off the line of scrimmage? No, but he plays with good effort, technique, and does just enough to not be a liability.
How successful Pitts is in the NFL will largely come down to which team drafts him and how creative the offensive coordinator is willing to get. He can win literally anywhere in the formation, and it would be in the offense’s best interest to move Pitts all over the field to find the best mismatches possible. The stress that Pitts’ versatility causes a defense is substantial, as you don’t want to get caught in poor personnel grouping and be forced to have to walk out a linebacker to cover Pitts outside as an “X” receiver. Using Pitts the way the Kansas City Chiefs use Travis Kelce or the Las Vegas Raiders use Darren Waller makes a ton of sense—and really just finding any way to scheme him the ball, because he will be extremely hard to cover even at the next level.
Understanding positional value and how teams use it to build their roster is very important for us in the media as well as fans at home. However, we shouldn’t be beholden to those higher valued positions when setting our draft board or evaluating players. Evaluate the player first, and the rest will fall into place. Pitts may be a tight end, and tight end isn’t a valued position, but it just doesn’t matter. Based on his tape, his physical tools and his potential to ascend, he clearly is a top-five player in this class.