Projecting the Gators 2020 Spring Tight End Depth Chart
At this point last offseason, the Florida Gators' tight end room was a bit of a mystery.
Kyle Pitts, Lucas Krull, and Kemore Gamble were regarded as the top talent at the position for the Gators, all with unique backgrounds, physiques, and talents. At the time, Pitts was a high-potential athlete who had worked at both tight end and wide receiver, but the 6-6, 239 lb. rising sophomore had only three college receptions to his name.
Krull, a rising redshirt junior who had transferred to Florida in 2018 after pitching for Jefferson College baseball (Missouri), presented favorable size and upside at the position. The question was, was Krull going to get it all together in 2019 as he was entering just his second season of football since his high school days?
Gamble was considered the high-floor, blocking tight end of the group who was likely to see a bump in playing time, balancing out what Pitts and Krull were expected to provide.
A year later, Pitts is considered one of the most dangerous pass game weapons in college football, Krull has since transferred to Pittsburgh, and Gamble saw a mere 74 total snaps (72 on offense) during his redshirt sophomore campaign.
Meanwhile, as a true freshman, Keon Zipperer flashed ability as a blocker and receiver, and redshirt freshman Dante Lang outplayed Gamble as a whole, seeing 124 snaps on special teams and primarily being used as a blocker across his 55 offensive snaps.
With that being said, what will the Gators' tight end depth chart look like in the spring?
1. Kyle Pitts
This one was pretty easy.
Since his three-reception campaign as freshman, Pitts has emerged as one of the nation's most dynamic tight ends, posting 54 receptions for 649 yard and five touchdowns in 2019.
Pitts led the Gators in targets and receptions as a trusted pair of hands for quarterback Kyle Trask. When someone is 6-6, 239 lbs., runs a 40 yard dash in 4.7 seconds, and has a ridiculous catch radius as Pitts has, they become nearly impossible to defend.
If there's one thing Pitts could improve on this season, it's his hands. With higher targets, this becomes a bit of skewed stat, but Pitts led the team with five drops in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. His drops equated to 6.17% of his targets, which was the second-highest rate on the team (among receivers with 10+ targets) behind Jacob Copeland, at 11.11%.
Though, with fewer veteran receivers in the offense, weapons like Pitts and Trevon Grimes stand to post better production. Look for Pitts to take another step forward in 2020.
2. Keon Zipperer
The rising sophomore saw action in eight games last year, playing on offense in six.
While his stat-line was meager at three receptions, 31 yards, and a touchdown, Zipperer looked like a capable SEC tight end when he was on the field (84 snaps - 34 on offense, 50 on special teams).
The 6-2, 232 lb. TE was primarily utilized as a blocker on offense, but also moved around the field well as a receiver. Like Pitts, Zipperer is pretty athletic, which will serve him well in Florida's pass-heavy offense as of late.
Given a lack of production in a year with opportunities to step up, Gamble and Lang will fall behind Zipperer on this depth chart. He took advantage of his limited opportunities shadowing Pitts in 2019, and Krull's snaps need to be replaced.
Pitts at the big slot and Zipperer in-line in two tight end sets sounds pretty fun.
3. Kemore Gamble or Dante Lang
The rising redshirt junior and redshirt sophomore, respectively, combined for 127 offensive snaps last season, simply falling out of favor as Pitts emerged, Krull saw a solid share of snaps, and Zipperer flashed his skills, despite his youth.
Either of the two tight ends, or both, could certainly take a step forward this year. However, they lack the momentum of Pitts and Zipperer at this point.
When the two see the field, they will likely be primarily used as run blockers, which they spent a combined 75 snaps doing in 2019. Though, if Florida's run game sees an improvement this season, that would be a good thing.
The Gators are far removed from having a question mark hovering over the tight end position.
Entering his third collegiate season after finishing third in the nation among FBS tight ends in receptions, seventh in yards, and tied for fifth in touchdowns as a sophomore, Pitts' arrow is only pointing up.
He's a matchup nightmare, and defenses have to devote coverage to him, which opens up other options in Florida's passing game. Zipperer makes for the perfect complement to Pitts, and Gamble and Lang create high-floor depth.
With these four in the picture, it's hard to picture incoming freshman Jonathan Odom receiving much playing time during his freshman season, especially since he didn't enroll early. However, that allows Odom to take the year and focus on growth and development.