The 2021 NFL Draft season is finally upon us. Football, for now, is over. All eyes will turn to the offseason as 32 franchises attempt to build their teams up to championship-caliber squads.
Among those teams will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold 11 picks in this season’s draft -- including the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars are entering a new era under Head Coach Urban Meyer, and the 2021 draft will serve as a catalyst to the Jaguars’ rebuild moving into the future.
As we march closer and closer to April’s draft, we will look at individual draft prospects and how they would potentially fit with the Jaguars. Instead of looking at any negatives, we are going to look at what the players do well and if they could match what the Jaguars need at the specific role or position.
Next up, we take a look at one of the most talented and popular players in the entire draft: Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
After a dominating final season at Florida, it is clear Pitts won't have to wait long to hear his name called in April. Acquiring him would almost certainly require a move up the boards, but does his skill set suggest he would be worth the move?
A four-star prospect from Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pa., Pitts elected to commit to the Gators over other offers from schools such as Alabama, Georgia, and Baylor.
Pitts played sparingly as a true freshman in 2018 but exploded onto the scene in 2019, catching 54 receptions for 649 yards and five touchdowns. He showed the talent to be considered one of the SEC's top offensive players, earning First-Team All-SEC honors for the season.
Pitts was a popular name in preseason watchlists and mock drafts entering the 2020 season, but Pitts used last fall to attach a hyperdrive jet pack to his draft stock. Despite battling both injuries and a shortened season due to COVID-19, Pitts' production completely exploded as he turned in one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory from a college tight end.
In eight games in 2020, Pitts caught 54 receptions for 649 yards and 5 touchdowns. Pitts earned First Team All-SEC for the season, a result of him consistently being uncoverable for any SEC defense.
Pitts leaves Florida as the most productive tight end in school history, catching 100 passes for 1,492 yards (14.9 yards per catch) and 18 touchdowns. Now, the only question is how early in the first round he is drafted in April.
What Kyle Pitts Does Well
The selling point of Pitts is obvious. He is a rare athlete at 6-foot-6, 246 pounds due to his fluid and agile movements. While many athletes with that amount of size and length may lumber when asked to change direction, Pitts runs like a receiver of significantly smaller stature and is able to sink his hips with ease.
It is because of this that Pitts became one of the SEC's most dangerous route runners. He knows how to use leverage and leans to set up moves and create space for himself, but he is also able to make the quick cuts and turns that many linebackers can't keep up with. He also showed a good understanding for route concepts and how to adjust his routes when the play was extended. He didn't just win with his speed and size; he won with smart, calculated route running as well.
It is because of Pitts' blend of size and athleticism that he is such a tough player to cover. He isn't the cliche of "faster than linebackers, bigger than defensive backs'. He is bigger and faster than many players at both positions, while also being equipped with rare size, length, and lateral and linear athletic ability.
Due to this athletic ability, Pitts is a threat after the catch and especially in the red zone. He was a jump-ball specialist for the Gators, frequently outleaping or outmuscling defenders for 50/50 balls in the end zone.
Thanks to the physical mismatch that Pitts' skillset provided the Gators, Dan Mullen and his staff weren't afraid to let him have a considerable amount of responsibilities. Pitts was used all over the field for Florida, whether out wide as a Z or X receiver or as a 'Jumbo Slot'. He played with his hand in the dirt on and off the line of scrimmage as a tight end, which gave him plenty of chances to prove himself as a blocker and receiver in a traditional tight end role.
As a blocker, Pitts isn't blowing any defenders off of the ball and dominating at the line of scrimmage, but he isn't a complete liability either. He shows the physicality and effort needed from a tight end as a blocker, and he even won a few reps along the way. He will get labeled by some as a receiver in a tight end's body, but he can be a traditional tight end.
How Kyle Pitts Would Fit With the Jaguars
The Jaguars' need for a tight end, whether it be a veteran or a talented rookie, is clear for all to see. The four current tight ends on the team's roster have a combined 14 career receptions, and none come close to Pitts in terms of ability.
Pitts could step in and be the Jaguars' most talented tight end from day one. In fact, he would be able to quickly make an argument for the most talented Jaguars tight end ever. That is how much the Jaguars have lacked at the position, as well as a testament to Pitts' rare traits.
The Jaguars need a tight end who can function both as a blocker and receiver, and Pitts fits that bill. He isn't simply a college tight end who will have to be flexed out wide. as a result, his fit with the Jaguars is much more clear than it otherwise would be.
The value in a tight end who can play with his hand in the dirt but still dominate as a receiver is found in how they dictate what the defense does. The defense will be unable to know whether it is a pass or run based solely on Pitts' place on the field since he can function in both areas. He isn't a dominating blocker, but he is a good enough one to force the defense to keep a linebacker on the field as opposed to bringing an extra defensive back.
Simply put, a weapon like Pitts would transform the Jaguars' offensive ceiling. He is so talented as a receiving threat that he could feasibly step into the offense and make things easier on every other player on the field due to the attention defenses are required to pay to him.
Pitts isn't a complete tight end prospect in the sense that he needs to add to his frame and isn't a road-paving blocker, but he has the ability to perform in more roles in an offense than any other player in this draft. Add in the fact that he is a walking mismatch in the red zone and on third-down, and he is a logical fit for a Jaguars team that will be starting a rookie quarterback.
The question with Pitts isn't if the Jaguars should want to acquire him. That answer is a resounding and obvious "yes". The question instead is if the Jaguars should want Pitts bad enough to want to make an aggressive move up in the first round for him.
You don't see teams trading up for tight ends for often, but you also don't really ever see tight end prospects like Pitts. He would bring enough value to the offense in terms of mismatch potential and ball skills that a trade up for him may sting on draft night, but any worries go away once you see him snatching touchdowns on Sundays.
As always, whether the Jaguars should pursue a move for Pitts depends on the price. If the Jaguars aren't asked to give up one of their top-65 picks, each of which can be used to pick an impact player to fill one of the roster's countless holes, then this could be an easy trade to pull the trigger on.
With that said, there are other tight end options this offseason. Not all bring the dynamic pass-catching ability or high ceiling of Pitts, but they wouldn't require giving up valuable draft picks.
If the Jaguars want to make the offense as safe as possible for the transition of their rookie quarterback, however, then trading up for Pitts could be a game-changer. This shouldn't be considered likely, but the idea of it alone is interesting enough that one would think the Jaguars should at least explore the idea.