June 14, 2021

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2021 NFL Draft Tight End Rankings

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 29th, 2021

1) Kyle Pitts, Florida; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 246

It was initially taking some time for me to wrap my head around the thought of Kyle Pitts going so high in this draft, but after realizing that this is a more versatile wide receiver, I get it. Pitts was easily the best tight end in the country this season at Florida and contributed heavily to their success. His speed, especially vertically, is actually startling and the quickness he displayed was the same. Some of that speed comes from his casually fantastic athleticism, something that’s visible when you look at him and unignorable when you see him play. He runs very good routes and uses his big frame to keep secondary defenders off the football, plus he’s fantastic after the catch, displaying very high end vision. His blocking could be better and his slighter frame contributes to that, plus he could expedite his getting off the snap, but those two factors pale in comparison to the pros about this player. He should be taken in the front end of the first round.

2) Pat Freiermuth, Penn State; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 258

The term “Baby Gronk” is lobbed around a lot and it was applied here to Freiermuth by some fans and pundits, but I dislike that term and don’t believe it applies here. Gronk is Gronk because he’s a freak athlete, maybe the best tight end we’ve ever seen, and an absolute dope in every other facet. Freiermuth is much more refined in his play and has a lot more finesse than the Tampa Bay Buccaneer. He’s an extremely versatile player who can fulfill plenty of roles. One of the first things I noticed was how good of a lead blocker he was, often pulling from one end of the line of scrimmage to the other to get ahead of the running back. He doesn’t have the speed you might love from a tight end, but his spatial awareness and execution more than make up for it. His hands are like vice grips when catching passes and his routes and vision are exceptional as well. He’ll make for a very good tight end in the NFL, but let’s let him carve his own path.

3) Brevin Jordan, Miami; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 243

Brevin Jordan is something like a shorter version of Kyle Pitts. Like Pitts he can struggle with blocking some of the beefier defenders, especially when trying to pick up different pass rush packages, but in the run block he does a good job of keeping his balance and driving, making him a dependable player in both the run and pass games, a valuable asset. One of the worries I have about the player that could raise flags are his hands. For the most part he’s pretty good receiving the football, but the inconsistencies that come along, drops, easy PBUs, and the like could hurt his draft stock. Otherwise, this player is rock solid. He has very good speed, close to that of Pitts, and arguably better strength. His routes are run well, he has very good body control, and he displayed that he could be a reliable target in an advanced offense. That’s all great news for potential investors.

4) Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 253

One of the things I find really interesting about watching all of this film on so many different players is that you can begin to tell who likes doing what based on how they carry out their duties. Jeremy Ruckert is a guy who loves to block. He enjoys getting in the trenches with the offensive linemen and smashing with the big defenders up front, and he’s actually pretty good at it too. He was a wonderful option at Ohio State and even though they ran an offense that underutilized him, he was still able to show off just how good he can be. His catch radius is massive thanks to his massive frame and great hands, plus he’s a versatile route runner. He can run any route from any starting position, outside, slot, EMOLS, I, wishbone, wherever, and he runs them well. He’s going to be a great target and one who can be on the field for all three downs.

5) Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 240

Yeboah, thanks to the offense that Lane Kiffin ran at Ole Miss, is one of the more desired pass catching big men in the draft. He was a menace in the game against Alabama and proved to be a very reliable scoring threat from anywhere on the field. His physicality is off the charts and his intelligent route running makes up for speed that isn’t going to beat defensive backs alone. His value comes after the catch though. He’s exceptional running after the catch, exhibiting very good body control, and he’s extremely tough to bring down. His ability to execute on those routes and passes means he’s a very versatile player who can generally gain that moment of separation to receive a pass and pick up a few yards after contact as well. I don’t love him as a blocker though he should be able to hold his own if used properly.

6) Noah Gray, Duke; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 240

Gray marks the point for me where tight ends in this draft can be immediately thrown in as heavy-rep starters, but there is potential for growth in the draft process for Gray and the players below him to raise their status. Gray exhibited a high level of performance in a lot of areas, but the few shortcomings and lack of exceptional play in any area keeps him down in my ratings. The biggest indictment on the Duke product is that he struggles through contact in his routes, both downfield and in press coverage. That’s not something that can be happening for a tight end, so he either needs to get better in that department or bulk up. In terms of blocking he’s already very good in both pass and run. He’s a good athlete with decent speed and some ability to run after the catch, plus he processes the game well which makes his post-action decisions very good. In terms of running routes Gray is still good. He gets decent separation on shorter routes and can generally use his body to shield on balls further downfield. I think he could use a season with another experienced tight end to adjust before being ready to take over.

7) Hunter Long, Boston College; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 253

Hunter Long was an interesting player to watch film on. The player isn’t an exceptional athlete, especially compared to some of the players on this list, but he does well enough to make up for those shortcomings with execution. First, Long displays immediately that he’s a tough tackle, working with stable legs to drive forward after the catch, resulting in good YAC. His hands do need some work so he can get to the run after catch, but for the most part he’s solid in that department. Long is also very talented at getting open in general. Be it from crisp routes or just understanding defenses, he knows how to lag into open areas of the field to make life easier for his passer. He’s a good, very technical blocker, but one that can be used regularly along the line.

8) Tre’ McKitty, Georgia; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 245

I’m holding with my initial ranking of McKitty for now, but I’m very close to bumping him up a few places thanks to his wonderful Senior Bowl performances. McKitty is an FSU to Athens transplant and wasn’t used very often (or very well) at Georgia, but his flashes at UGA with his production at FSU let us know he’s a very good player, one on the verge of joining that upper echelon. He’s proven to be a very versatile athlete with good blocking chops when set correctly as well as an asset in the passing game. I think it’s a super underrated feature that a college player can work so well vertically on the seams and McKitty was really, really good in those areas. He created and maintained separation and had secure hands when receiving the football. He could be a better run blocker and sometimes catches with his body, something that won’t fly in the pros, but he’s more than capable of showing us he’s ready to start now with some more good performances before the draft.

9) Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 248

Notre Dame doesn’t have that blue chip tight end that everyone wants like a Cole Kmet or Tyler Eifert this season, but Tremble has a chance to become that player in the future. I wouldn’t bet on it playing out, but the tools and size are there. If you check out his stats and compare it to tight ends of the past in Notre Dame’s offense, it immediately raises a concern. I don’t know why he wasn’t used more, but that offense was very good and decided not to use him often and that doesn’t sit too well with me. I’m also concerned about his blocking ability since he was so often beaten when paying as the end man on the line of scrimmage. He might be better off as a lead blocker, not unlike how I described Pat Freiermuth’s versatile blocking.

10) Miller Forristall, Alabama; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 244

I was a bit surprised that Miller Forristall decided to enter the draft after being a background singer to the Fab Four members the past few seasons, but he did and should be able to make a decent living because of it. Forristall obviously has upside considering he’s an Alabama product, but that alone won’t make him a top pick. There isn’t much to harp on Forristall for, but there also isn’t a lot he does that will blow you away. Obviously the high snap count in an Alabama offense is a big deal, but the low usage rate is a big deal also. He’s a very good blocker in both aspects of the offense and had hands that were reliable when he was targeted, often getting himself open when he was. Technically he’s very sound so the lack of refining needed there will be nice to NFL teams, but I just think there might be a lower ceiling to Forristall than to other players on this list. Still, he’s an Alabama player so he’s probably going to prove me dead wrong, but only time will tell.

Other Draft Material

Draft Big Board
Mock Draft 1.0
Mock Draft 2.0
Mock Draft 3.0: All Offense
Mock Draft 3.1: All Defense
Mock Draft 4.0
Mock Draft 5.0
Quarterback Rankings
Running Back Rankings
Wide Receiver Rankings
Offensive Tackle Rankings
Guard Rankings
Center Rankings
Defensive Tackle Rankings
EDGE Rankings
Outside Linebacker Rankings
Inside Linebacker Rankings
Cornerback Rankings
Safety Rankings