Change is inevitable.
Change in football is necessary. You change or you lose. You evolve or you die. You adapt or you become obsolete. Few positions have changed in recent years like the tight end.
As Travis Kelce and George Kittle continue to revolutionize the position, every other team is scrambling to keep up; to change their own perception of the unit as well in order to find their version of that game-changing weapon.
Here’s what is important to realize though about Kelce and Kittle and the other tight ends that are working to enter their class. They didn’t really change the tight end; they simply added to the position.
Tight ends evolved over the years as a hodgepodge of roles; a fullback, an offensive lineman, and a receiver. For the past couple of decades, they’ve been seen as some variant of those three. Typically if a player could do two out of three, they were called a tight end. Kelce and Kittle proved you can be elite at all three facets of the position.
Now comes Kyle Pitts.
The Florida Gators' best weapon took the college football world by storm in 2020. He won the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end, finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman voting and now he’s projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming April 2021 NFL Draft. He may even go in the top-15, if not higher. Over in Gainesville, his Gators position coach Tim Brewster—who spent four years coaching in the NFL—feels Pitts is the prototypical guy for what teams want in a tight end in today’s game.
"The tight end position is totally evolving into one of the absolute important positions on the offensive side of the ball,” Brewster told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think the quarterback and tight ends right now, they’re marquee players. You see a guy like Kyle Pitts, you see the guys in the National Football League at the tight end position and how much teams value that. And that’s what it comes down to. How much value do you bring to this team?”
As such, and to the surprise of no one, Brewster is fielding calls from every team that needs Kyle Pitts…which is every team.
“I’ve probably talked to all 32 teams at this point about Kyle Pitts. I think he’s a generation player… you look at needs. Some teams need a quarterback. But Kyle Pitts is not going to be around long. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see. I think there’s going to be some teams that trade up trying to get a shot at Kyle Pitts.”
"But my feeling about Kyle Pitts is you know is that he’s 6-6, 245 pounds, probably runs 4.5, maybe he’ll run better. Catch radius, hands, he’s got the absolute total package," Brewster said.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, with their bounty of picks, could be one of those teams. It would require a substantial trade. The club holds 11 picks in the upcoming draft, a year after boasting a franchise record 12 picks. They own two in the first round alone, although ownership and coaches have given no indication of giving up the No. 1 overall pick, which will most likely be used on Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Still, their pick at No. 25 along with other capital is a starting point. Would they pull the trigger? Jaguar Report’s John Shipley addressed the question in a recent mailbag:
“It largely depends on what the price is. Pitts is an incredible receiving threat and that alone is why he is the consensus top-ranked tight end this season, but he isn't the only option. Players like Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith will be free agents, while Brevin Jordan and Pat Freiermuth are two talented tight ends who the Jaguars could draft after the first round without sacrificing other picks.
“They need to upgrade the overall talent level of the roster, and there is a good argument that Pitts would be worth a move up if it took, say, a fourth-round selection and swapping firsts? A move up into the mid-to-early teens would cost substantially more, however, and it is hard to make a good argument that the Jaguars should make that move with all of their other needs and tight end options.”
Since then, the club has reportedly made plans to decline the option on Tyler Eifert’s contract. With James O’Shaughnessy set to become a free agent, the Jags are practically barren at the position. The possibility of filling the need with the best talent in years is a heady prospect.
Continued Brewster, “There’s just, there’s no holes in the kid. The development that he made in the run game to make him a more complete tight end I think just totally helped him in the eyes of the National Football League.”
In 2020, during a 10-game All-SEC schedule in which Pitts was forced to sit out two and a half games with concussion protocol, he finished with 43 receptions, 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. He didn't drop a single pass all season.
In the history of the NFL Draft, the five highest drafted tight ends of all time are: Ron Kramer, (Green Bay, No. 4 overall in 1957) Mike Ditka (Chicago, No. 5 overall in 1961), Riley Odoms (Denver, No. 5 overall in 1972), Kellen Winslow Jr. (Cleveland Browns, No. 6 overall in 2004) and Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers, No. 6 overall in 2006).
It’s rare for a tight end to be drafted so high, rarer still for them to become a potential franchise-changing player. But times, they are a-changing. The Jaguars, like 31 other teams, know they must change to succeed. Kyle Pitts—along with Lawrence—provides one of the best potential options to do so in several years.
"I think a guy like Kyle Pitts, he’s going to do nothing but enhance how that position is looked at,” opines Brewster. “If you’ve got an opportunity to get this guy, you better get him. I would certainly think that he would not get out of the first 10 for sure.”