The 2021 draft class of tight ends looks significantly more appealing than the pedestrian class in 2020, and Florida's Kyle Pitts made quite a statement in his season-opening game to be TE1 among studs like Penn State's Pat Freiermuth and Miami's Brevin Jordan. In Florida's win over Ole Miss, Pitts had eight catches for 170 yards and four touchdowns, including a 71-yarder.
And, really, we kind of saw this coming. Last year, the true sophomore astonishingly led the Gators with 54 receptions on a team that had two receivers drafted (Van Jefferson in Round 2 and Freddie Swain in Round 6.) Pitts only finished eight yards behind Jefferson for the team high in receiving yards with 647.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 246 pounds, Pitts is a colossal target down the seam, and because he's not currently carrying much extra weight, he's ultra-fluid out of his breaks as a route runner and floats downfield once the ball is in his hands. Pitts could easily add 10-15 pounds and not be sapped of any athleticism. And in the NFL, he'll probably want to get up into the 250s -- given his height -- to deal with the physicality he's bound to see at that level.
But Pitts is a modern-day tight end in every way imaginable. Put it this way -- if people question if a tight end is really just a tall receiver that's a major compliment, and Pitts wasn't even deemed eligible for the John Mackey Award (college football's top tight end) because the committee stated he didn't play enough in-line as a tight end last season. OK, then.
With that, I jump back to this film breakdown of Pitts' full display of dominance -- that's translatable to the NFL level -- against Ole Miss on Saturday. His burst off the line does not pop. The rest of his performance was breath-taking, especially for someone who scouts NFL prospects for a living [fans self].
After an easy walk-in score from inside the five in the first quarter, Pitts really went off. And there were so many fantastic elements to his second touchdown. Pitts' release was textbook albeit lacking explosion off the line. He started with a hesitation move then swatted the arms of the defensive back and flashed a quick swim to get outside leverage. Then, with the corner underneath him as he drifted toward the front pylon, Pitts waited until the final split second to subtly gain separation with a tiny shove before making the grab as he fell toward the ground.
Given Pitts' massively long frame, the back-shoulder facet of that play made it essentially impossible to cover, and generating separation as the ball arrived was more vital than doing so during the route. Such an athletic play all-around play from a tight end.
On his third score, Pitts started in-line and was given a free release into the second level. Note to defensive coordinators: do not give Pitts a free release off the line of scrimmage. Brutal idea. From a position-specific skill perspective, this touchdown was more straight-forward than the featured score above yet was nonetheless impressive.
He then lulled the middle of the field defender to sleep by gliding at what looks like three-quarters speed before hitting the gas as he got even. At that point, it was guaranteed to be a huge play for the Gators. Just how huge depended on Pitts' athletic gifts and Ole Miss' ability to tackle.
Although Pitts had to slow to make the reception, his thunderous stiff arm catapulted him forward a few yards, then the footrace was on. And, I'll be honest, Pitts doesn't look that fast. But at 6-6, he's a smooth, long-striding speedster at tight end. He scampered into the end zone for a 71-yard score. Freaky stuff.
While not a touchdown -- how dare Pitts catch a pass that doesn't result in a score! -- the tight-end nuances displayed on this next catch were fundamentally sound. In tight to the formation, Pitts engaged the edge rusher with a nice pop then used that momentum to pull himself past the defender with another efficient swim move that led to an easy throw into the flat for Kyle Trask. Pitts then made six yards of YAC look easy.
Not a splash play, but the push-bull move to free himself before slamming on the brakes to gain three extra yards was a phenomenal demonstration of Pitts executing "traditional" tight end duties and a quick reminder of his rare physical gifts.
I'll end this gushing session with another impossible-to-cover demonstration from the All-American tight end. Late in the fourth, again with another unimpeded release, Pitts went to his hesitation move down the seam to work into the end zone. Right before reaching the goal line, Pitts swatted the arms of the Ole Miss defender as he looked back for the ball. Then he did a Randy Moss impression on the safety flying down from the middle of the field.
Given his height and what looks like a hawk-like wingspan, there aren't many college (or pro) safeties who are going to get higher than Pitts in those jump-ball situations. And even though the safety battled hard to pry the football loose, Pitts held on to the ground for the score.
Pitts will have ample opportunity to demonstrate his special receiving capabilities and his improvement in the strength department as a blocker this season with Trask in the shotgun. And don't be surprised if he continues to dominate. Pitts has first-round pick written all over him. And he's only 20 years old.