With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group.
The 2020 tight end class was unfairly portrayed as one of the weakest positions in the draft. While it lacked top-end talent – the Chicago Bears made Cole Kmet the first tight end off the board at No. 43 overall – 12 players at the position were ultimately selected, only slightly less than average over the past 10 years. Part of the reason for this is that the position has changed so much with fewer teams employing full-time, in-line blockers and more opting for oversized receivers.
Fortunately, the 2021 draft appears likely to have prospects of every size and shape with multiple first round candidates, led by Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and Florida’s Kyle Pitts.
There is no comparing the duo’s production in college. Freirmuth enters his true junior campaign already tied for Penn State’s career touchdown title (among tight ends) with 15 scores over his career, including eight last year. Affectionately referred to as “Baby Gronk,” Freiermuth is a rare full-service tight end, possessing terrific hands and surprising mobility given his prototypical 6-5, 256 pound frame, while sprinkling in intimidating, bulldozing hits on defensive backs in the open field.
Pitts, on the other hand, isn’t as big or strength at 6-5, 239 pounds, but he is a well-suited to today’s up-tempo game, offering exceptional speed and body control for the position. Though he enters his junior campaign with “just” six touchdowns, five of them came last year when led all SEC tight ends in receptions (54), receiving yards (649) and scores.
Miami’s Brevin Jordan and Washington’s Cade Otton do not generate as much national attention but each has already stood out for programs well known in the scouting community for producing quality prospects and could be on the verge of monster campaigns. Blue blood programs like Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan and Iowa have their normal allotment of intriguing prospects, as well.
Two of the most intriguing senior prospects this year, however, may want to consider playing at the Senior Bowl or other highly regarded post-season all-star games to eliminate any questions about level of competition.
Take BYU’s Matt Bushman, for example. While scouts like his steady hands (125 career receptions), some feel that the Cougars create opportunities for him and that less-than-scintillating performances against SEC teams suggest that he lacks the quickness and speed needed to star at the highest level.
Central Michigan’s Tony Poljan was taking the majority of his snaps for the Chippewas as a quarterback as recently as 2018, reportedly adding nearly 30 pounds to his frame since that time. He has some impressive catches on tape and accelerates smoothly for a big man but obviously lacks polish at his new position.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk. All players listed are potentially eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.
The Top Five
1. *Pat Freiermuth 6-5, 256 Penn State
2. *Kyle Pitts 6-5, 239 Florida
3. * Brevin Jordan 6-3, 245 Miami
4. Matt Bushman 6-4, 245 BYU
5. Tony Poljan 6-7, 250 Central Michigan
Best of the Rest
6. *Cade Otton 6-5, 250 Washington
7. Nick Eubanks 6-4, 256 Michigan
8. Shaun Beyer 6-4, 244 Iowa
9. Jamal Pettigrew 6-6, 258 LSU
10. *Charlie Kolar 6-5, 250 Iowa State
11. *Jeremy Ruckert 6-5, 250 Ohio State
12. *Major Tennison 6-5, 248 Alabama
13. Noah Gray 6-4, 245 Duke
14. Luke Farrell 6-5, 250 Ohio State
15. *Nick Lenners 6-5, 252 Kansas State
16. Zach Davidson 6-6, 245 Central Missouri
17. Jack Stoll 6-4, 260 Nebraska
18. John Bates 6-5, 255 Boise State
19. Cary Angeline 6-6, 254 North Carolina State
20. Jordan Wilson 6-4, 240 Florida State
Prior "First Take" Positional Previews: