Most years, pro days weren’t as vital in the evaluation process and were used as more of a referencing tool to make sure everything that you saw from the season, Senior Bowl, and NFL Scouting Combine all checked out. This year, however, the pro days will be a major factor in the evaluation process as this will be the first time NFL evaluators will be able to see these prospects in person due to the strict regulations of on-campus visits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of the Combine. The success players have had at their pro days has been awesome to see, and for evaluators, these great testing numbers, measurements, and on-field workouts should more or less validate what they saw on film back during the season.
On Wednesday, saw a number of talented prospects excel at their pro day and steal the headlines. LSU’s star receiver Ja’Marr Chase put on an absolute show at his pro day running a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash while also jumping 41 inches in the vertical jump. These testing numbers just validate Chase as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this class, as his tape from 2019 was some of the best film you could find from a wide receiver prospect. Another prospect who had an outstanding day Wednesday was Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, who tested like a freakshow. Davis measured in at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds and ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and jumped 42 inches in the vertical. That type of athleticism for a player his size is outstanding, and his play speed and explosiveness pops on tape. Davis is a perfect example of a player whose pro-day testing just validates what you see on film and he certainly helped his stock.
The big (literally and figuratively) story from Wednesday's pro days came from the University of Florida, where tight end Kyle Pitts stole the show. Pitts measured in at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds and had an insane wingspan of 83 ⅜ inches—the largest of any tight end in the past 20 years. Pitts then ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and he probably could have run faster had he ran in a straight line and not wavered. We knew Pitts was a physical freak and a rare athlete, but just seeing his numbers and realizing that they are indeed real and not manufactured from the school’s website is pretty unreal.
Pitts followed up his testing with an outstanding on-the-field workout where he showed off his incredible route-running for a bigger player and his outstanding hands. All Pitts did was confirm what most already knew at this point: Pitts is a top-three player in this year’s class.
The question now becomes, where does Pitts land in April’s NFL draft? The likeliest scenarios are the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4, the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 5, or the Miami Dolphins at No. 6. In a draft where we could have four quarterbacks come off the board within the first four picks, the fact that potentially the first non-quarterback selected would be a tight end just speaks to how rare Pitts is as a prospect.
Wherever Pitts lands next year one thing will be certain; opposing teams that have to defend him are in for some trouble. Pitts’ rare blend of size, athleticism, and natural receiving ability makes him virtually unguardable in man-to-man coverage. At Pitts' pro day, his former head coach Dan Mullen put it perfectly:
“He’s a unicorn, and the only way to defend a unicorn is with another unicorn.”
This got me thinking, who are the players, if any, that could potentially match up with Pitts at the next level? Here are five that I think would probably have the best shot.
Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James has been out of sight, out of mind really for the last two seasons as he dealt with a knee and a foot injury. However, when healthy, he is right up there as the best safety in football. In his rookie season, James proved to be an outstanding coverage defender against tight ends and receivers as he has outstanding size and length to compete physically but also the quickness and fluidity to run with receivers and break on the ball. James is one of the few players that has proven to be able to cover Travis Kelce in man coverage. While Pitts will undoubtedly be a challenge for James, it's one that I think he would be up for.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Los Angeles Rams
Jalen Ramsey will be the only corner to make my list as most corners in the league will be at a major size and strength disadvantage when facing Pitts. Ramsey is a big, long corner who plays very physical. He has the quickness and speed to mirror Pitts in coverage and the length and strength to play through him when making plays on the football. Ramsey’s competitiveness and swagger will be tough for Pitts to handle mentally—especially as a rookie, and I think this is a matchup Ramsey should win.
Jeremy Chinn, LB/S, Carolina Panthers
This would be a fun matchup. Jeremy Chinn was outstanding as a rookie for the Panthers, finishing near the top in voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Chinn lined up everywhere for the Panthers as he played in the back end, in the slot, and in the box. His playmaking ability and instincts were evident, as he scored multiple touchdowns as a defender. Chinn is a freak athlete, just like Pitts, and has the athleticism to match Pitts in coverage. Chinn ran 4.45 at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds back when he was a prospect, so physically Chinn shouldn’t be too overwhelmed by Pitts. This matchup could happen twice a year if Pitts does go to Atlanta. Get your popcorn ready.
Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers
While many in the football world knew Fred Warner was an outstanding player, I believe 2020 was the season that he firmly established himself as a household name. Warner is exactly what you want in a modern-day NFL linebacker as he excels against the run with physicality and instincts but is also outstanding in coverage with length and fluidity in space. Warner proved that he is the best or one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL and has covered receivers in the slot with a high percentage of success. Warner would be one of the few linebackers I think would have a chance at covering Pitts in man coverage, but Pitts’ quickness laterally would give Warner some issues.
Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Arizona Cardinals
The “unicorn” of the 2020 draft class, Isaiah Simmons is just as much of a physical freak as Pitts is. Last year, Simmons blew up the Combine by running a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds. Simmons also jumped 39 inches in the vertical and had an 11-foot broad jump. Simmons' athletic profile and his ability to be a versatile chess piece for a defense resulted in him being a top-10 pick in last year’s draft. While his rookie year wasn’t quite as impressive as we may have expected, he still showed that he is a very good coverage defender and his athleticism definitely still popped on tape. Simmons, from a purely physical and athletic standpoint, should be able to hold his own against Pitts in coverage, but Pitts is a much more fluid athlete and could still create separation coming in and out of breaks.