'The Defense Can't Be Right': Fits From Pitts In Any Offense
Let's talk about Kyle Pitts. Or, as I like to call him, "Pitts-magic." Some of the most respected college football and NFL Draft analysts have labeled Pitts the most can't-miss tight end prospect in decades, maybe ever.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, a former Philadelphia Eagles scout, rated Pitts as the third-best overall prospect for next month's NFL Draft, behind surefire No. 1 pick quarterback Trevor Lawrence and ridiculously athletic LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. Jeremiah wrote that Pitts has the talent "to take over a game" and is the epitome of "a mismatch" player. It's no secret that offensive NFL coaches value and covet mismatches in the passing game, now more than ever. On his Zoom conference call Monday, Jeremiah doubled-down on Pitts' capacity to become a major game-changer. "I think you can make a strong case that he's the best player in the draft," Jeremiah said. "I have him as the third-best player right bow. I just watched all these corners, and I'm watching all these corners with first-, second- and third-round draft grades in the SEC, and they can't cover this guy." In this New York Post profile of Pitts, a Philly kid who attended Archbishop Wood, an AFC scout told the Post: "After Trevor Lawrence, it's Kyle Pitts," and added that Pitts is the most deserving tight end prospect in the game's history to be picked top-five. Still, the question is often asked whether the 6-foot-6, 246-pound University of Florida product truly merits top-five consideration given his position and its draft history. The highest any tight end has ever been drafted into the NFL is fourth overall, when the Packers took Ron Kramer almost 65 years ago. Four years later, the Bears Mike Ditka fifth overall. More recently, the Browns took Kellen Winslow Jr. sixth overall in 2004 and the 49ers took Vernon Davis sixth overall in 2006. Both were good enough players – Davis made two Pro Bowls, Winslow made one –but in retrospect not worthy of a top-10 selection. So why would teams gamble on Pitts? Personnel sources have told me that Pitts is a tight end in title only. He's gifted enough to line up on the outside and play wide receiver but versatile enough to move around and create those coveted mismatches anywhere on the field. Winslow Jr. and Davis weren't the kind of move pieces who could line up at the X or Z and stack NFL-level corners. Jeremiah said Pitts if only lined up at the X, he's still talented enough to warrant a top-10 or top-15 pick. As one AFC personnel source told me of Pitts: "You can do whatever you want with him." I asked this same personnel source to rank the top four pass-catchers. Here's his list: DeVonta Smith, Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle. More evidence that Pitts shouldn't be viewed as merely a tight end. I asked another personnel man, from the NFC, if Pitts could simply move to the "X" position and have the same kind of career as Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver for the Buccaneers and three-time Pro Bowler. Evans moves around some but usually plays "X." He's logged over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his six seasons, including 1,524 in 2018. The answer on Pitts was yes, if he can refine his technique and route-running and learn to play at the proper pad level, he could move permanently outside and has the potential to be elite. Some have even described Pitts as having Calvin Johnson-like traits, but several personnel sources have told me it might not be Pitts' best usage to keep him in one spot. "It's a matchup favor every time you put hm out there," Jeremiah added. "The defense can't be right when you face him. That, to me, is wha makes him special."
Hurts vs. Others
Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News/Philly.com asked Jeremiah to compare his evaluation last year of Jalen Hurts to his evaluations of Justin Fields and Trey Lance. Jeremiah said Lance and Fields offer "a much higher ceiling" than Hurts, and said the most potential of all three lies with Fields.
"Trey Lance is a great runner and probably going to run in the high 4.5s, which is incredible, and Jalen Hurts is a really good runner, but Justin Fields can be a home-run hitter as a runner," Jeremiah said. "All three of those guys have strong arms. Fields has the ability to do as much as those guys in terms of throwing the ball. I think these two kids [Fields and Lance] have a much higher ceiling."
Leader of the pack
By the way, I'll probably double-down on this closer to the draft – or receive information that forces me to completely flip the script -- but don't be shocked if Alabama's Jaylen Waddle is the first receiver off the board. Some teams will be scared off by DeVonta Smith's size [6 foot, 170 pounds]. Others will simply prefer Waddle's own special blend of explosion and route-running. "Could be argued that Waddle is the top WR in the draft," a personnel source said. Obviously, it's another top-heavy draft for receivers. Waddle, per Jeremiah, clocked the highest GPS rating of any draft-eligible receiver this year. Some teams will emphasize GPS ratings more than 40 times. "What you get after the catch with some of the shiftiness and home run speed is what you get from Waddle," Jeremiah said. "Which is why I went with Waddle over Smith [in rankings]. Your eyes aren't deceiving you when you watch him. He's freaky fast."
If the Eagles move out of No. 6, they might consider Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, who measured short arms but still projects to be a top-10 or top-12 pick. There's some mixed opinion on whether Oregon's Penei Sewell, a bigger and more naturally gifted athlete than Slater, will be the first offensive tackle taken. Slater is more of a technician who, as Jeremiah noted, really excels at climbing into the second level. Also watch for USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker, who played tackle but projects at guard at the pro level. One personnel source I spoke to raved about him. Jeremiah called him one the most clean prospects in the entire draft. Don't be surprised if Vera-Tucker creeps into the top 12-15, maybe top 10. – Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the Inside The Birds podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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