The tight end position has drastically changed in the NFL over the past decade, and it's become extraordinarily top-heavy. While we haven't had remarkable tight end classes in the last two drafts, the league is getting the most talented receiving prospect at the position in Falcons pass catcher Kyle Pitts.
And there are others from the 2021 draft who have the receiving acumen to make an impact early in their NFL careers. Let's rank the five rookie tight ends who'll be most productive in 2021.
5. Jacob Harris, Rams
Harris was labeled as a tight end during the pre-draft process, but that was just a generous title for a 6-foot-5, 219-pound big slot receiver. However you want to categorize him -- which may be vital for fantasy football this season -- Harris tested like a phenomenal athlete at the UCF pro day a few months ago.
He ran 4.43 with a 40 1/2-inch vertical, a double-take worthy 6.51 three-cone time, and a broad jump in the 93rd percentile among receivers at the combine since 1999. And his story is fascinating; Harris is truly one of a kind. He did not catch a pass in his one year of high school football and was set to play soccer at Florida Gulf Coast before changing his mind to try to walk on the Western Kentucky football team. He later transferred to UCF and averaged 23.6 yards per catch on 19 grabs as a junior before scoring eight touchdowns at 18 yards per grab on 30 receptions in 2020 for the Knights.
The UCF system is unique too -- loaded with wide splits for receivers and tons of elementary vertical routes. But Harris flashed the ability to track it over his shoulder and routinely ran by defenders down the field. After losing Gerald Everett in free agency, the Rams will have some competition for the primary depth behind Tyler Higbee. And while 2020 fourth-round pick Brycen Hopkins was a prolific pass-catching tight end at Purdue, he doesn't have the same juice at Harris. Also, last season Sean McVay utilized at least two tight ends on 34% of the Rams offensive plays, the second-highest rate in football.
4. Brevin Jordan, Texans
Did I think Jordan was a tremendous tight end prospect? No. But to be picked in Round 5? Seemed like awesome value for the Texans because Jordan has a lot of Eric Ebron to him.
He's not the most sudden, light-footed athlete yet shines after the catch as an H-back. In 2020, he forced nine missed tackles, which tied for the fourth-most at the position in his draft class, and his 9.3 yards-after-the-catch-per-reception average was the sixth-best in the entire class.
Another reason Jordan made this list -- the Texans roster is an absolute state of flux. It feels like every single job is open. This is a team with almost 50 new players on it, and "projected" starter Tyrod Taylor won't shy away from looking for his tight end. In Taylor's longest starting stint -- in Buffalo from 2015 to 2017 -- the Jordan-like Charles Clay caught 49 or more passes each season.
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I'll be the first to admit I wasn't as high on Tremble as the masses. By the time the draft rolled around, Tremble was the consensus tight end No. 3 in the 2021 class, and he ultimately was the fourth tight end picked in the draft.
What I didn't like about Tremble was his low-volume receiving production and the occasional drop. He only caught 35 passes for 401 yards with four scores in his two seasons with the Fighting Irish. Some of that was due to a noticeable run-heavy offensive philosophy at Notre Dame. And while it hindered Tremble's pass-catching development, it allowed him to hone his skills as a blocker. And Carolina is going to want to run it with a healthy Christian McCaffrey back in 2021.
Tremble's blocking chops will get him on the field, and there isn't a star tight end in front of him on the roster. No disrespect to the naturally talented Ian Thomas: he hasn't blossomed -- yet. While new Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has an established rapport with wideout Robby Anderson from their time together with the Jets, Darnold also demonstrated a proclivity to target his tight end as a rookie in 2018, when Chris Herndon had 39 receptions for 502 yards and a hefty 9.0 yards-per-target average.
Freiermuth enters the NFL with serious upside as a complete, three-down player because of his already chiseled frame and flashes of route-running and tackle-breaking ability he showcased at Penn State. His statistics decreased in each of his three seasons with the Nittany Lions, but the eight-touchdown freshman year with nearly 15 yards per catch can't be forgotten.
While I don't view him as a serious separator or tight end who's particularly fast for the position, he can be an asset in the short-to-intermediate passing game. He's a quality blocker too.
And, yes, the Steelers still have Ebron as their top tight end. But new offensive coordinator Matt Canada is a major two-tight end proponent. Freiermuth, the No. 55 overall pick, is going to be on the field and a distinct part of the Pittsburgh offense as a rookie.
1. Kyle Pitts, Falcons
This is a half-speed layup in the layup line. Pitts is the most dynamic receiver playing the tight end position we've seen since at least Vernon Davis in 2006 if not longer.
With Julio Jones now in Nashville with the Titans, Pitts is going to gobble up 100-plus targets as a rookie. Calvin Ridley will be the No. 1 wideout, but Pitts will challenge him for that distinction this season.
The route-running savvy he plays with is of Pro Bowl-caliber. His catch radius is larger than a Chevy Tahoe. He has 4.44 speed at nearly 6-6 and 245 pounds. Laboratory-experiment type stuff with Pitts. Oh, and Matt Ryan led the NFL in completions and attempts last year. A tight end hasn't won Offensive Rookie of the Year since Mike Ditka (!) in 1961, but Pitts could change that in 2021.