2021 NFL Draft: Who's Best Tight End Prospect Behind Kyle Pitts?

Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what team, no matter what record they finished 2020 with, no matter how active they were in free agency or where they are in their rebuild or your winning window, there is one thing every NFL organization has in common when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft.

They all want tight end Kyle Pitts.

Pitts is pretty much unanimously viewed as the top non-quarterback prospect in this draft class—some might even tell you Pitts is the top player in this draft class, period. His unique combination of size, speed, and overall pass-catching ability seems unmatched, not just in this class, but for almost anyone playing under the tight end label. Draft media and NFL teams alike seem to view him as a true offensive chess piece that can manipulate almost any defense. With Pitts’ ability to line up in-line, in the slot, as an X receiver, and basically any other position you can think of, it’s easy to see why he’s so coveted.

But there’s only one Kyle Pitts, and though every team would love a game-changing tight end (or just one that can elevate their personnel), what about the other team that won’t have their chance to select him in the draft? What’s the backup plan for a team trying to prioritize Pitts?

The short answer is there is none. There isn’t a comparable prospect in this year's class who comes close to the tight end value Pitts can give a team; there aren’t many already in the NFL who can do that. But there are some situational tight ends who might still be able to add value to an offense.

The first name that comes to mind is Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State. Freiermuth is the only other tight end who would be considered in the top 50 and brings a team that all-around game. Now, it’s not close to the ceiling Pitts would bring, but Freiermuth is still an athletic, big-bodied receiver who has the frame to hold up as an in-line tight end. He has plenty of experience playing on the line of scrimmage, right behind in a wingback alignment and then also in the slot. If teams want a potential TE1, Freiermuth is the next best bet after Pitts. A team could probably get Freiermuth somewhere early on Day 2 of the draft.

If teams are looking to swing for the fences after Pitts and Freiermuth, Tommy Tremble, out of Notre Dame, is the player to aim for. He is very inexperienced as a pass catcher. Most of his time at Notre Dame was spent in a wingback alignment as a lead blocker—and he certainly checks that blocking box. He delivers some of the biggest impact blocks of any player in this class, offensive linemen included. He doesn’t have stones for hands, he just isn’t nuanced when it comes to receiver work. He could get there, but it’s a projection to his game. He does give teams that higher ceiling though.

As for the other tight ends in the class, there are a handful of scheme fit players who could boost a tight end room—though this now completely gets away from the question of what does a team do if it misses Pitts. Brevin Jordan, out of Miami, can be a nice “F” tight end who plays more as a slot receiver than an in-line tight end. Hunter Long gives Kyle Rudolph vibes as a mainly blocking tight end who can also be reliable in some short passing and red zone situations. Kenny Yeboah, of Ole Miss, can get vertical for you, but he’ll be a depth guy in his early years. As for wide receiver, there are good flavors of pass catchers in this class, none really give teams a similar profile to that of Pitts, at least not at the top. The closest might be Nico Collins from Michigan. And honestly, if teams are looking for a tall, contested-catch player, Sage Surratt, who is likely to be selected in the mid-rounds, could be a good backup plan.

Again: There’s only one Kyle Pitts. If teams miss on him, chances are they’ll have to combine their tight end room to achieve what Pitts can bring as a singular prospect.