Before we get into this, something needs to be made clear: I told Jeremy Reisman I would resign from Pride of Detroit if I wasn’t given this article. I’ve earned this opportunity to wax poetically about the best non-quarterback prospect in this year’s NFL Draft, and I’m proud to do it for you right here.
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From Pennsylvania to the Swamp
Kyle Pitts was a four-star tight end recruit coming out of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania, and had plenty of collegiate suitors after helping lead his team to back-to-back state championships: Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, and Georgia all made offers, but Pitts picked the University of Florida to hone his talents.
During his time in Gainesville, Pitts collected his fair share of accolades. He was First Team All-SEC at tight end in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, became Florida’s all-time leader in receiving yards at tight end (1,432 yards), tied the school’s record for touchdown receptions in a single game (four against Ole Miss in Week 1 of the 2020 season), and finished in 10th in Heisman voting in 2020—the first time a tight end finished in the top 10 since 1977.
Beyond the accolades and on-field accomplishments, Pitts has earned high praise from his coaches at Florida. Current Gators tight ends coach, Tim Brewster, has been coaching at both the collegiate and NFL level for over thirty years. Brewster is largely credited with the development and ascension of Antonio Gates from an undrafted free agent in 2003 to an All-Pro and Pro Bowl tight end in 2004 for the San Diego Chargers when he was the team’s tight ends and assistant head coach.
In regards to Pitts, Brewster sees him as a prospect with all the tools.
“He’s generational,” Brewster described Pitts in a February interview. “Catch radius, hands, he’s got the absolute total package... There’s just, there’s no holes in the kid,” continued Brewster. “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 Dane Brugler’s 2021 NFL Draft guide, “The Beast”, Pitts was described by his coaches as “‘intuitive’ and a confident competitor who ‘genuinely wants to be the best.’” His head coach at Florida, Dan Mullen, called him a “unicorn” at Florida’s pro day, noting the only way to defend a unicorn is “... with another unicorn.”
And as if his play and positional versatility weren’t enough to earn him the moniker of “unicorn,” here are his athletic measurements to solidify just how generational Kyle Pitts is as a football player:
Kyle Pitts is a TE prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.64 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 34 out of 927 TE from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/1Rv9pBbFHR #RAS via @Mathbomb pic.twitter.com/7pQ9qlxRCI— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 8, 2021
Pitts’ fit with Detroit
Mullen’s comments about Pitts are where a lot of the discourse surrounding him as a prospect begins. Yes, he’s a tight end, and that’s where he played primarily for Mullen at Florida, but if you think for a second he isn’t the kind of skill player an offense can be built around, you’re wrong—or you haven’t seen enough of him play.
No position on Detroit’s roster has experienced more turnover than the wide receiver position and it’s clear Brad Holmes is interested in adding receivers who can gain separation after the acquisitions of Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Perhaps my favorite stat about Pitts comes from Pro Football Focus’ draft guide:
He’s already shown he can separate against high-level corners and averaged 4.91 yards per route vs. man coverage this year — third-highest of any player in the country and nearly two yards more than any other tight end.
Keep in mind, Pitts wasn’t playing in just any conference—this was against SEC competition. Against Alabama this year, Pitts caught seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in Florida’s 52-46 loss to the Crimson Tide. Pitts is different.
The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner and Chris Burke spent 2000-some words discussing how Pitts would co-exist with current Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic, this article alone is worth the price of admission, but Burke’s parting words about Pitts sums up what the article goes to great lengths to describe:
That’s why Pitts is a special case. He demands that the defense decide whether to cover him like a receiver or a tight end or something in between. The offense doesn’t have to come out and make that determination.
At the next level, Pitts can absolutely line up outside as a team’s X-receiver. He can line up and dominate off the snap from the slot. And while his blocking as an in-line tight end is pretty limited because of his lack of strength, he’s only 20 years old, and if his eagerness to get out in front of defenders as a blocker is any indication of his willingness to develop that skill, Pitts projects well in that area.
The pick at No. 7
Let’s get one last thing out of the way: Kyle Pitts is probably not going to be available when the Detroit Lions are on the clock at No. 7. I don’t see one of the three teams ahead of Detroit—Atlanta, Cincinnati, or Miami—not taking the best offensive weapon in the draft for some fruitless reason like his listed position. Some of the best offenses in the league heavily feature dynamic tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle, and Pitts has the potential to be the biggest mismatch in the entire league.
If Pitts is available at seven, Detroit’s need for skill position players both now and in the future helps make this pick make sense—and making this pick doesn’t throw a wrench in the Lions’ approach to the rest of the draft when it comes to filling other needs. There’s plenty of offensive tackle depth in this draft for Detroit to get a starter with one of their other three picks in the top 101. If Detroit wants to get a more traditional receiver, they’ll have their pick of great talents the likes of Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore, Dyami Brown, and others likely to still be available at 41.
While his exact position in the NFL is a matter of much debate, it’s abundantly clear that Pitts’ athleticism is what will make him a threat on an NFL field no matter where he lines up on it, and that’s why he should be the pick at No. 7 for the Detroit Lions.