Prospect Preview: Kyle Pitts

Position: TEWeight: 246
College: FloridaAge: 20
Height: 6′ 6″247 Rating: 4 Stars (0.9334)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

There wasn’t much question who the 2020 John Mackey Award (awarded to the nation’s best tight end) would go to this year, Kyle Pitts ran away with the award. He now joins a pretty successful list of tight ends including, T.J. Hockenson ($4,955,306), Mark Andrews ($863,290), Hunter Henry ($10,607,000), and Tyler Eifert ($4,750,000). While the award does not guarantee success at the next level (ask Jake Butt ($675,235), Nick O’Leary ($1,047,500), and Austin Seferian-Jenkins) it adds to an already impressive resume that will assuredly make Pitts one of the top dynasty tight ends as soon as he finds a new home on April 29th.

College Production:

In 2019, with Kyle Trask the full starter for the first time, Pitts caught 54 balls for 649 yards and 5 touchdowns. These numbers, while not gaudy, put him near the top of the 2021 draft-eligible tight ends. Coming into 2020 it looked like a tight competition for TE1 in the draft class, but Pitts quickly made some headway to become the consensus leader of his position group. This past season Pitts caught less passes (43) but up his average to 17.9 yards per catch for a total of 770 receiving yards. This was to go with his 12 touchdown receptions, showing he was an all-around threat in the passing game, not just down the field but also in the red zone. After a successful college career Pitts is entering the NFL as an early declare and will only be 20 years old when the 2021 NFL season kicks off.

Strengths:

  • Seam-buster
    • Remember Vernon Davis and his 4.38 40-Yard Dash? Yeah, Kyle Pitts is fast but he ain’t that fast, and that’s okay. He’s still likely to be in the Top 5 at his position for most measurables and it shows on tape. Pitts is able to quickly move past linebackers and get into the middle of the field where he has space to catch the ball and run. A lot of times for tight ends to get open it doesn’t take much more than just running fast up the middle, Pitts offers that ability and more. A tight end with a strong arm should be able to take advantage of Pitts’ quick release and rack up 15-20 yard gains.
  • Soft Hands
    • The NFL has seen plenty of athletic tight ends come in and out of the league but Pitts has the hands of a big outside receiver to go along with his athleticism. His soft hands allow him to catch plenty of passes outside of his frame and bring them in while on the run. Trask may have been a Heisman finalist but he made Pitts work for a number of his catches.
  • Back Shoulders & Fades
    • At 6’ 6” and 243 pounds, Pitts has a great frame to be physical and consistently outplay defenders. This physicality, and a frame that isn’t all too different from Mike Evans ($16,500,000), allows him to be a weapon outside the numbers. Near the sideline matched up 1v1 against a cornerback, Pitts’ is able to dominate these smaller defenders with his size and speed combination, making him the perfect redzone threat. HIs ability to elevate and box out defenders let’s him move around and be used in many different ways to attack defenses. Some offensive coordinators out there is gonna be very happy to have Pitts in his repertoire.
Full video recap of article with Nate

Weaknesses:

  • Inconsistent Blocker
    • The will and determination is there, but the technique is a bit raw. Pitts is no slouch but he’s not going to be confused for Nick Boyle ($6,000,000) when it comes to blocking. He has a tendency to release his defender too early allowing opponents to get back into play. While he’s not likely to be asked to block very often, this is a small section of his game that could use some improvement to help him get on the field more.
  • Play Strength
    • While I wouldn’t consider this a “weakness” per-say, I’d say it’s just an area that he’s not prolific at and could build upon. Pitts doesn’t have much trouble when lined up against cornerbacks, but when facing a linebacker, he can get caught up off the line if the defender gets inside of him. Pitts will need to work on his initial punch at the line of scrimmage as well as working through contact in his routes. The middle of the field can be full of traffic, Pitts needs to make sure that the shoulder rubs don’t knock him off of his routes.
  • Lateral Ability in the Open Field
    • I’ve mentioned Pitts’ athleticism as a big plus for his prospect profile, but his lateral ability and agility in the open field isn’t going to create a ton of highlights. He’s more of a straight-line speedster than a shifty “make you miss” kind of guy. His burst is great and he’s strong enough to break multiple arm tackles, but in the open field he’s not going to break many tackles with his hips. Once again, it’s hard to find a true weakness in Pitts’ skillset.

Things to Watch:

Pitts is not a player I would say is landing spot dependent, I believe he can be a top weapon in just about any scheme and offense, but at the same time his Day 1 fantasy success will be quite landing spot dependent. As he gets into the draft process, I expect him to run and jump very well, but with a draft process that’s still very much up in the air I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitts skip a lot of the testing. Pitts is the bonafide TE1 in this class and there’s not much he could do to look any better. There’s a sizable gap between him and the next tight end in this class so I expect Pitts to go about the offseason conservatively, prioritizing health and interviews over measurables.

Projected Round/Contract:  

Last year was the first year since 2016 that we didn’t see a tight end drafted in the first round. This year will assuredly feature at least one tight end on Day 1, Pitts. He’s been mocked as high as Top-5 and has only “dropped’ in early mocks into the late teens. NFL teams know that elite tight ends can be a game changer for an offense and a safety blanket for any young quarterbacks. Also, there is a lack of high quality tight end play around the league and outside of five or so tight ends, a lot of teams could use an upgrade.

With a projected draft slot around the start of the double digits, Pitts’ rookie contract will likely look similar to T.J. Hockenson’s ($4,955,306), who signed a 4-year deal worth $19,821,225 after being selected 8th overall by the Detroit Lions in 2019.

Team Fits:  

As stated earlier, just about any team could use Pitts on their roster. There are a couple teams however that are more likely to prioritize the position and be willing to spend a first round pick on the Florida prospect. Many people have tried to push Pitts to the New England Patriots at 15 but I don’t believe that landing spot makes too much sense. Bill Belichick just spent two 3rd round picks on the tight end position in the 2020 NFL Draft and going forward has too many holes to fill to afford such a luxury pick. So let’s go ahead and fade the noise there.

One of my favorite landing spots for Kyle Pitts is with the Los Angeles Chargers at the 13th overall pick. Hunter Henry is a UFA this year and has already played a season on the franchise tag. With a young stud like Justin Herbert ($6,644,689) leading the offense it makes too much sense to pair him up with a weapon like Pitts and locking up a dangerous combo for at least the next four years. If Pitts’ lands with the Chargers he likely becomes a top-5 dynasty TE from the get go and a near lock for a top-12 finish his rookie year.

If the Carolina Panthers decide against selecting a quarterback at the 8th overall pick, then there’s a chance they might look Pitts’ way. Ian Thomas ($801,999) was invisible for the 2020 season, and whether that is due to a lack of talent or the offensive scheme, the position could certainly use an upgrade. Fans are already drooling at the idea of Pitts and Joe Brady teaming up in Carolina, and I don’t blame them. While I think this landing spot is a bit more far-fetched than the Chargers, Pitts’ could be an extraordinary weapon in a creative offense like Brady’s.

One last possible landing spot for Pitt’s would be a little “sneaky”, and a bit of a fall from his usual projection, the Tennessee Titans. Going into the 2020 offseason Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firsker, MyCole Pruitt, Geoff Swaim, and Kalif Raymond will all be free agents. This means that the Titans will be looking to retool their passing offense, and tight end will be a priority. Pitts’ would be a great replacement for Smith, and would continue the Titans’ current model of athletic pass catchers who can create big plays after the catch. Certainly one to keep in mind come draft day.

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Prospect Preview: Ja’Marr Chase

Position: WRWeight: 200
College: LSUAge: 20
Height: 6′ 1″247 Rating: 4 Stars (0.9589)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

After a record season as Joe Burrow’s ($9,047,534) favorite target in 2019, Ja’Marr Chase decided to opt-out of the 2020 college football season to start his preparation for the NFL Draft. Some mysteries linger about his game after only a single breakout year, but the tape doesn’t lie, and Chase is arguably the best receiver in a talented and deep draft class.

College Production:

2019 was an incredible one year showing for Chase as a true sophomore. Next to future-first rounder Justin Jefferson ($$3,280,701) and another intriguing 2021 receiving prospect, Terrence Marshall Jr, Chase put up some absurd numbers. He caught 84 passes for 1780 yards, an impressive 21.2 yards per reception, and found the endzone 20 times! His statistics and impact for the LSU offense earned him the 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award (awarded to the best receiver in the nation) as well as a consensus spot on the All-American team.

Strengths:

  • Strong Hands
    • When Chase gets his hands on the ball it is not often that it gets knocked out or dropped. A player who attacks the ball in the air, he’s constantly working back to the ball and not waiting for it to hit his chest before securing it. He’s adept at the back shoulder catch, reaching outside of his body, and bringing it in over his shoulder while running down the sideline. 
  • Consistently Wins 50/50 Balls
    • Perhaps the thing that sets Chase apart from most of the other receiver prospects in this class is his ability to consistently win down the field. When he gets moving down the field, he’s able to leverage his defender and get into position to have the first crack at the football. His vertical jump projects to measure at the top of the class and its obvious when you see him work above his defender and snatch the ball out of the air.
  • Physical at the Point of Attack
    • When facing press coverage Chase is not scared to attack the cornerback and push him back like a defensive lineman before disengaging and getting into his route. This makes him difficult to slow down and neutralize. Of course, NFL defenders are a bit stronger, but the SEC is full of NFL talent, and Chase showed us in 2019 that he was nearly unstoppable when full of confidence.

Weaknesses:

  • Not a Burner
    • Do not get me wrong, Chase can get down the field and make you pay, but he’s no Tyreek Hill ($18,000,000). His burst is solid coming out of the gate and his speed is enough to keep defenses honest, but in the NFL, he’s not going to be able to win consistently on Go routes on his own athleticism. To keep the defense guessing Chase will have to efficiently utilize more intermediate routes, such as Curls and Outs.
  • Inconsistent Route Running
    • The last point brings up the biggest question mark surrounding Chase, the consistency (and variety) of his route running. With the 2019 LSU team, Chase spent most of his time running down the field looking for the deep ball, but in the NFL, he will need to utilize the whole route tree to be a top wideout. I also noticed that sometimes you could tell when Chase was not one of the first reads on a play, he would come out of the gate without much determination, effectively taking himself out of the play.
  • One-Year of Production
    • As impressive as 2019 was for Chase it was still only one season. Many analysts would have liked to see him comeback and show another season of production and improvement, but the 2020 LSU team was a ghost of the 2019 champions and the choice to opt-out was likely the best decision for Chase, who has been a locked in first rounder for over a year now. As long as Chase has been working hard in training while missing the CFB season, there shouldn’t be too much worry about this issue though.

Things to Watch:

With Chase sitting out the entirety of the 2020 CFB season, it will be interesting to see how he starts marketing himself when draft season starts to kick into gear. In today’s age, a player’s media value can be a factor in their value to a franchise and Chase and his agent know that. The hype around Chase has certainly died down a bit since last year when he was an integral part of the National Champions, but with a couple workout videos and well-edited cuts to epic music, Chase can be back in the national spotlight.

The combine will be his big chance to show that he was making the most of his opt-out and he will be expected to come into the weekend at peak physical condition. On tape I see a 4.5 40-Yard Dash, so if he can get down into the 4.4’s that would be a sign of his hard work over the past year. His height will also be something to keep an eye on as he could measure anywhere from 5’ 11” to 6’ 1”, and he should weigh in somewhere between 200-210 pounds.

Projected Round/Contract:  

At this point we can project that Chase is nearly a lock to be a Top-20 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, pending an injury or a meltdown at the NFL Combine. Financially that means his rookie contract could look similar to Jerry Jeudy’s ($3,798,244). Jeudy signed a 4-year deal worth $15,192,974 after being selected 15th overall by the Denver Broncos. Also, as with all first-round picks, Chase’s contract will include a 5th-year club option for whatever team drafts him.

Team Fits:  

At the end of the day Chase is a player that could fit in any team’s offense and make an impact. At only six-foot he may seem a little small to be a prototypical X-receiver, but he plays bigger than his frame and can be a chain-mover for any team willing to throw the ball down the field. With his projected draft slot being early-mid 1st round, we can narrow down his landing spot to a couple different teams that will be looking for a new playmaker out wide.

One popular landing spot for Chase is the Miami Dolphins (who have two first rounders this year). Pairing Chase with Devante Parker ($7,625,000) and Preston Williams ($588,333) would give Tua Tagovailoa ($7,568,860) plenty of talent to help push the ball down the field.

Another popular team fit is the Detroit Lions who currently only have Quintez Cephus ($899,822) under contract for 2021. Kenny Golladay ($799,081) is set to become a free agent and with a new front office coming in, nobody knows what to expect. Chase could be given the chance to slot into a high-volume role if he finds himself in Detroit.

One more landing spot I’ll mention is the New England Patriots, a team that has a lot of questions moving forward. The quarterback situation is certainly a mystery, but if Bill Belichick looks to bring in a veteran such as Andy Dalton ($3,000,000) or even Sam Darnold ($7,561,929), grabbing a receiver with their first-round pick could be a great move to get them back in the playoff hunt. The Patriots offense has been hurting for a young weapon for a while and Chase would help any quarterback that ends up taking the snaps in Foxboro.

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