With tight end David Njoku requesting a trade from the Cleveland Browns, TE could very well be a need in the 2021 NFL Draft. Trading the 24-year-old isn’t a good idea, but if it does happen, here are five potential 2021 David Njoku draft replacements for Browns fans to watch during the 2020 college football season.
5 2021 NFL Draft tight ends to replace Browns David Njoku
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Receiving tight ends have never been in higher demand, and that’s exactly what Pitts is. Listed at 6’6″ 239 pounds, he has a large frame which gives him a really nice catch radius. He’s extremely athletic, looking more like a wide receiver than a TE. In 2019, Pitts caught 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns. With Kyle Trask entrenched as the Gators’ starter for 2020, Pitts has a chance to put up some great numbers.
Pitts is a willing blocker, but at 239 pounds, the functional strength to succeed in this area just isn’t there. However, with an NFL training regimen and good coaching, he can improve by leaps and bounds here. The important thing is he gives effort.
There can’t really be a consensus TE1 at this point in the draft cycle, but Pitts seems to be the favorite so far. It’s unlikely the Browns will want to spend a first-rounder on a tight end after inking Austin Hooper to a record-setting deal this past offseason, but Pitts is a player to keep an eye on regardless.
Brevin Jordan, Miami
Injuries have limited Jordan to only nine games in each of his two seasons at “The U”, but the talent he possesses is impossible to ignore. As a true freshman in 2018, Jordan hauled in 32 passes for 287 yards and four scores. in 2019, he turned 35 grabs into 495 yards and two TDs.
At 6’3″ 239 pounds, Jordan is a bit more solid than Pitts, and although he doesn’t appear to be quite as athletic as Pitts, he’s still likely elite for the position. Jordan is also a superior blocker, although he’s not fantastic in that regard.
Jordan is expected to be an even bigger part of the Hurricanes’ offense this season, and if he can continue his upward trend (and add some more TDs while he’s at it), Jordan may potentially be able to challenge for TE1.
Braden Galloway, Clemson
Galloway has played in four total games during his collegiate career. He also averaged 30 yards per reception in 2019 (he caught both of his passes in the National Championship Game against LSU), and that doesn’t even include this great catch-and-run that was called back due to a penalty:
Braden Galloway is an early favorite of mine. Look how well he moves at 6'4" 240lbs. pic.twitter.com/QroepPVrG1
— Sam Penix (@Sam_Penix) May 29, 2020
With Tee Higgins in the NFL, Justyn Ross out for the year, and Trevor Lawrence trying to cement his status as this class’s top quarterback, Galloway could break out in a huge way. He is every bit as athletic as Pitts or Jordan, and is listed at 6’4″ 244 pounds. It’s sort of difficult to be a deep sleeper as a starter for one of the most successful programs in the country, but that’s where Galloway is right now.
He was suspended for a calendar year after failing a drug test, testing positive for ostarine, which aids in building muscle. Dexter Lawrence, the 17th overall pick in 2019, also tested positive for the same substance, and the pair, along with an offensive lineman, were ineligible for last year’s College Football Playoff. Galloway maintains that he never knowingly took any illegal substances, but it’s still something he’ll have to answer for.
If the Browns are comfortable with Galloway the person, and he’s on the board in the second round, they would do well to add a truly dynamic receiving threat. It would not be surprising in the slightest to see him have a big junior year and end up a first-round pick.
Hunter Long, Boston College
PFN Browns’ own Cory Kinnan is a big fan of Long, and it’s easy to see why. Long isn’t a top-tier athlete, but he should meet all the thresholds, and he is a well-built 6’5″ 255 pounds. He may not dominate in any singular area, but Long is a solid all-around player who checks all the boxes for what teams want in a tight end. He has extremely reliable hands, blocks well, and runs solid routes. He’s basically what the Browns want Harrison Bryant to be, once he (ideally) packs on 10-15 pounds of muscle.
Playing at Boston College, Long has an uphill battle to beat out the prospects from bigger schools, but he was able to produce at a good level in 2019, finishing with 28 grabs for 509 yards and two scores. Given how good his hands are, it’s really encouraging to see that 18.2 yards per catch average. Long will most likely end up as a Day 2 prospect, and would be a very nice fit in Kevin Stefanski’s offense.
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Penn State is a TE factory, and Freiermuth is the latest model. Over the past two seasons, Freiermuth has caught 69 passes for 875 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has prototypical size at 6’5″ 256 pounds, and uses it well when he’s blocking in-line. Freiermuth is a good route runner and a devastating red zone weapon.
Had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, he would have almost certainly been the first TE selected. Now, he’ll have more competition for that honor, but it would still be a surprise to see him fall out of the first round. The comparisons he’s receiving to Rob Gronkowski are probably a bit much, but Freiermuth is in that mold. Think a better Mark Andrews, who Baker Mayfield absolutely loved to throw to in college.
2021 TE Outlook
It’s not good that Njoku has requested a trade, and it’s not in the team’s best interest to trade him. But, if he is moved, there is the silver lining that this year’s TE class is shaping up to be very good. In fact, players like Pitts and Galloway present athletic upgrades over Njoku as far as agility. Njoku is very explosive, but he does the majority of his damage in the red zone and down the seam. Route running and beating quick players 1-on-1 is not his thing. Having a player who can block in-line even at a decent level while also being capable of effectively running a broad route tree would do wonders for Mayfield.
Kevin Stefanski loves to use his tight ends, and having three good ones would open up many possibilities. That situation can be created right now with Njoku on the team, but if he ends up being dealt, there are plenty of great options to replace him in 2021.