Something that becomes more apparent with each passing year is the inability for the tight end position to seamlessly translate to the NFL level. Although fantasy football relevance is hardly a great overall barometer for level of play, especially for a position with different responsibilities like a TE, it is an easy measure for their impact as a weapon through the air. This 2021 TE group will most likely be much of the same, but the trio of Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, Florida’s Kyle Pitts, and Miami’s Brevin Jordan is certainly exciting enough for a team to accidentally draft them too high.
With the evolution of offense at the NFL level, tight ends can and are used in a multitude of ways. The fullback is darned near-extinct, so we’re seeing more often the tight end used in the backfield in that role. They’re used detached as H-backs, in traditional in-line roles, split out in the slot, and split out wide against linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. So not only is the talent level of the individual important but so is the type of player they are stylistically.
Hopefully, after reading this piece, you’ll have a good idea which of these three young men best fits your tight end starved NFL team, and when your team should begin to consider them come April 2021.
Where the 2021 tight end group came from
Listed measurables: 6-foot-5, 259 pounds
Freiermuth hails from North Andover, Massachusetts where he attended the Brooks School. The Brooks School is a small private institution geared toward advanced placement course work. The small campus has eight computer labs, two theaters, and even a robotics lab. The tuition is listed as $64,950 with boarding. He’s studying in the Division of Undergrad Studies at Penn State.
Freiermuth ranked as a top-300 recruit according to ESPN overall. He was a four-star prospect who ranked as the eighth-best tight end in the country, and the best player from the state of Massachusetts in 2018. His reported testing on the ESPN recruiting page has him down running a 4.95 40-yard dash, a 4.44 20-yard shuttle, and a 28.3-inch vertical jump.
Listed Measurables: 6-foot-6, 239 pounds
“Archbishop Wood High School provides a comprehensive, college-preparatory curriculum enhanced by spiritual, service, and extra-curricular experiences that will enable all students to be productive, responsible Christians in a technologically-complex, rapidly changing world.”
Like Freiermuth, Pitts attended a private college preparatory school. While there, Pitts helped lead the football team to a state title. In that game, he had four tackles, two interceptions, and a receiving touchdown at defensive end.
The lanky tight end prospect reportedly ran a 4.70 during the recruiting process and an overall SPARQ rating of 108.24. Pitts had offers from a CVS list of schools throughout the country but chose Florida in the end.
Listed measurables: 6-foot-3, 235 pounds
Come and knock on our door, we’ll be waiting for you. There’s a lovely space that needs your face, three’s company too. As was the case with the prior two tight end prospects, Jordan also attended a private school during his high school years. Jordan made national powerhouse Bishop Gorman home during his time in high school. The list of accolades listed for the Las Vegas area high school reads about as long as a thesaurus.
There wasn’t a year he played in high school they did not win the Nevada State Championship, and in 2015 and 2016 they were dubbed national champions. Jordan was the top-ranked TE according to ESPN and the 20th overall recruit in the nation. He ran a reported 4.79 40-yard dash and a blistering 4.21 20-yard shuttle. And his NFL pedigree couldn’t hurt either. His father, Darrell, was drafted in the ninth round of the 1990 NFL Draft.
Breaking down each TE’s receiving ability
Man, this kid has got some absolute vice grips for hands. The ball disappears when it hits his hands, as he secures it out from his frame and quickly hides it from defenders looking to dislodge it. He’s able to create separation downfield on hard-breaking routes by working his stem opposite of his break to out-leverage off defenders.
He’s nuanced off the snap when he has his hand in the dirt and doesn’t allow defenders to crowd him throughout the contact window and won’t just blast into the chest of off defenders as other young tight ends do too often. But my favorite thing about his tape is his ability to find space in zone coverage. He’s particularly good in third-and-short and medium situations. It appears as if they give him the freedom to run option routes in these situations, breaking either in, out, or simply button hooking back to Sean Clifford depending on defender’s leverage.
Freiermuth isn’t the most sudden athlete for the position, but his athletic ability will be too much for most linebackers and his physicality will be too much for most safeties. His height/weight/speed combo creates mismatches when split out wide.
Fun. While watching his tape as a receiver a few names came to mind. Examples include Darren Waller, Evan Engram, and Stephen Sullivan. Based on those names one would be correct to assume Pitts is more receiver than traditional tight end and that assumption would be correct.
As a route runner, he lacks a bit of nuance. There are times he will refuse to angle his stem away from defenders and allow them to cleanly contact him (the thing Freiermuth does well to avoid.) But there are other flashes of complete brilliance that could excite even the sternest critic of the player. His LSU game was the full roller coaster that is Kyle Pitts as a receiver, but the peaks were that of Kingda Da.
Part of that is his athleticism. It wouldn’t surprise me if he runs a 40 time similar to Evan Engram. This young man stood toe to toe with phenom Derek Stingley Jr. on multiple occasions, and won! On one particular rep, he was able to stem vertically on an angle toward the sideline, and because of his long speed, he was able to get Stingley to commit his hips to the sideline. When that happened, Pitts planted toward the inside on a skinny post and made a nice intermediate catch.
And although he makes some very nice catches in contested situations, one will not confuse him for Randy Moss. There are multiple reps of Pitts letting passes slip through his fingers that aren’t necessarily considered drops, but that realistically should be caught by an athlete of his caliber.
I’m convinced that someone at Miami doesn’t like Jordan, because he simply does not see the field enough. The Hurricanes have a rotation of tight ends they play, and it’s confusing as to why. Jordan actually has a higher catch-per-game rate than that of Freiermuth and just a bit lower than Pitts, but it seems he’s less a part of the offense than them.
When we talk about creating mismatches, Jordan might be the poster child for that in this class. He has a stacked together frame with good lower body thickness that allows him to be a threat after the catch, something that left me wanting much more with Freiermuth. Jordan is the quintessential modern tight end. He possesses good overall athleticism and a bit of suddenness that reminds of former Crimson Tide tight end Irv Smith Jr. He must improve as a route runner, but he has all the tools to be the most coveted player in this TE class.
This was actually a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that Freiermuth is a bad blocker, because he certainly isn’t. I just expected more with the nickname “Baby Gronk.” He is neither a dog nor a killer in the run game. His ability to be in the correct positional leverage to seal rush lanes is fine, but he is the very definition of a catcher.
That’s not inherently bad, because it keeps him framed with defenders well and mitigates whiffs, but he rarely moves guys with authority. Hopefully, in 2020 we get to see a bit of fire from the young man and he puts a few defenders on their keister.
Where Freirmuth was a bit disappointing here, Pitts was a pleasant surprise. While he’s certainly not a killer, simply due to the fact he doesn’t possess the mass or strength in his frame to ground dudes, he is a dog. A dog is someone who is going to play outside of his physical ability simply due to the fact he wants it more.
Pitts isn’t always in the best position because he has to work so hard to maintain his ground and can get over his skis a bit, but he brings pop to his pads that you miss with most college tight ends. We shouldn’t mistake him for a plus blocker because there are times he can whiff and will be overpowered, but with a bit more mass on his lean frame, he could turn into a sufficient blocker at the next level.
Right off the bat, his stance physically pained me to watch when in a three-point stance. His rear end points nearly straight to the ground, and it disallows him from firing out of said stance and bringing the natural strength he possesses to the point of attack.
His technique as a blocker is a complete mess. His strikes are poor and he struggles to maintain blocks and to initiate contact with the correct positional leverage to seal rush lanes. He also stays too far on his toes instead of the instep, which hurts his ability to get a push even when he does have an otherwise good rep. He just can’t use the ground well enough to create forward force.
If he can fix the technical side of things, there’s no doubt he has the body for a versatile in-line tight end or H-back, but until then, let’s decide to just let him eat in the slot or out wide.