The 2021 NFL Draft tight end class looks to be a dominant group of prospects. The 2020 class has some solid depth but lacks any real elite talent. The way things are looking, I wouldn’t be surprised if zero tight ends were selected within the first 50 picks. However, in the 2021 draft, the tight ends might be the top positional group behind wide receivers. There are three guys whom I project to receive first-round grades, all with different skill sets. Teams that are in need of a top tight end should look to add players at other positions in this coming draft and wait until 2021 to select their franchise tight end. Any of these three guys could become one of the top tight ends in the entire NFL.
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Pat Freiermuth is the most “basic” tight end of the bunch. He’s the only player that weighs in above 250 on this list, and he’s comfortably the best blocker of the trio. He’s also the most difficult to tackle head-on; the nickname “Baby Gronk” isn’t given to just anyone. Freiermuth is the most well-rounded tight end in the 2021 class, and he’ll look to dominate next season as the Nittany Lions’ #1 target.
Freiermuth has the easiest translation to the NFL of this group. His size lets him work as an in-line blocker, big slot, or even a boundary receiver. His blocking makes him an asset in the run game, and his athletic ability makes him a mismatch on passing opportunities. His size and strength is also evident on his yards after catch, when it takes what feels like three defenders to take him down.
Best Team Fit: Washington Redskins
The Redskins are in desperate need of tight end help, and without their second-round pick, it’s unlikely they’ll get their top choice at the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. I’ve recently linked former Panthers TE Greg Olsen to Washington, and I think they could also pursue a player like Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron. However, if they don’t address the need further than adding a player like Olsen, I’d expect the position to top their list of needs in 2021.
New offensive coordinator Scott Turner has expressed a love for multiple tight ends. He’s also explained the impact the position has on his offense. He likes to line his tight ends up both on the line and in the backfield. For that reason, Freiermuth would be the most logical team fit in the class. His monstrous blocking ability would be perfect in a run-first offense that thrives on play action.
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Many believe Kyle Pitts is the favorite to be the top tight end prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was one of the best tight ends in the country this year, and his projection to the NFL is obvious. He’s an elite athlete that creates a major mismatch on all levels of the field. At 6’6″, 239 pounds, Pitts operates as a big receiver. He creates separation on linebackers that can’t hope to keep up with him, and he physically dominates defensive backs that couldn’t hope to match up with his size.
Expect Pitts to dominate the 2021 NFL Combine, as he’s a physical specimen uncommonly seen. If Pitts can dominate the combine on a level similar to Evan Engram or Noah Fant, expect him to be a top 20 selection. With his size and speed, Pitts would become an immediate threat in the NFL. He’s also a surprising blocker.
Best Team Fit: Houston Texans
The Texans aren’t lacking in weapons overall, as they have one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the NFL. However, they also haven’t had a tight end produce 600 or more yards since Owen Daniels posted 716 in 2012. They lack a mismatch in the middle of the field and have nowhere to go on third down, as teams have started committing multiple defenders to neutralize DeAndre Hopkins.
Pitts would instantly become the team’s go-to option on third down, and the only person happier than DeAndre Hopkins is Deshaun Watson. Watson now has a mismatch to go to in short yard situations or just another body that can produce in the middle of the field. With Pitts, Watson could very well become a legitimate MVP candidate.
Brevin Jordan, Miami
Brevin Jordan started off the 2019 season strong. He posted 369 yards and two touchdowns in the first five weeks. Unfortunately, pathetic quarterback play and offensive game planning derailed the second half of the season, contributing to a dip in production from Jordan. He also suffered a minor injury and missed the last two games of the season.
Through all the variables, however, Jordan proved to be one of the top tight ends in the country. Miami has revamped the offensive staff, and the offense should take a turn for the best. Expect Jordan to be a featured member of this new offense.
Right in the middle of Freiermuth and Pitts, we find Jordan. He’s a stockier player who absorbs contact and can create after the catch. He’s a top athlete and will look to impress at the 2021 NFL Combine. Jordan likely won’t be the first tight end drafted, as the other two are better in their respective roles. That said, I have a feeling that, in this new offense, Jordan will be the most productive tight end in the nation next season.
Best Team Fit: New England Patriots
The Patriots have lacked a threat at tight end since the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Knowing them, it won’t take much longer to replace him. Jordan brings ability as a receiver and some upside as a blocker. He’s excellent after the catch and would thrive in what some would call the “dink ‘n dunk” system the Patriots use.
Jordan could develop in New England and become one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. How on-brand would it be for the Patriots to lose Gronk, then somehow draft the next best tight end in the NFL? It seems all but destiny at this point.