NFL Mock Draft: Ranking the top tight ends
With the 2021 NFL Draft only a few weeks away, it’s time to look at the best tight ends available. This year, the best five prospects in the position are all juniors, and as the tight end becomes more of a weapon in the modern-day passing attack, several of these prospects look like they could be game-changers for the right team.
Let’s break down the top five tight ends available.
5. Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)
The first player on the list is a guy who is a throwback to the NFL tight ends of old; a dominant run-blocking beast who will rarely be called upon in the passing game. Notre Dame's Tommy Tremble is, by far, the best blocking tight end in the draft this year, and had a run-block grade of 83.7 from PFF, the best in the nation at his position.
Tremble is not someone who was really relied on in the passing game, catching just 35 balls for 401 yards over the past two years for the Fighting Irish. He was targeted less than half as many times in 2020 as teammate Michael Mayer, and his route running leaves quite a bit to be desired. Depending on the team that takes him, Tremble could be moved to fullback or H-back. Either way, his ability to obliterate defenders on the line is a skill that power-run teams like Baltimore highly covet.
4. Hunter Long (Boston College)
The leading pass-catcher for the Golden Eagles in 2020, Long had a solid junior season capped off with an eight catch, 109 yard performance against Virginia in December. A year after catching 28 passes for 509 yards, Long caught 57 passes for 685 yards and five touchdowns.
A solid blocker as well, he took more than 550 snaps lined up on the edge, and showed an ability to run the majority of the route tree. He has soft hands, and rarely dropped a pass that he got his hands on. While his athletic ability doesn’t blow you away, he runs routes very effectively and uses his size to regularly make contested catches. Simply put, he should be a reliable target in the short passing game.
3. Brevin Jordan (Miami)
Jordan is the type of tight end that NFL offensive coordinators salivate over. In his three seasons at Miami, the junior caught at least 30 passes each season, gaining 1,358 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns (including seven last year). He was a problem for defenders, lining up in the slot and on the wing for the Canes, and catching passes downfield as well as being used on bubble screens.
Not only is Jordan a matchup nightmare, PFF stats showed that he broke 21 tackles on his 105 career catches as he tends to run through defenders rather than around them. His speed and athleticism will likely be boosted in the NFL with added strength, as most scouts believe his frame could easily support another 10 to 20 pounds of muscle. It will also help Jordan improve on contested catches, which is the most glaring weakness in his game.
2. Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)
It's easy to see why Pat Freiermuth is nicknamed "Baby Gronk" when you watch him play. Our first player outside of the ACC, the Nittany Lion junior caught 23 passes in just four contests this year, with 310 yards and a single touchdown before a shoulder injury shut him down for the year. However, he set the school record for receiving touchdowns by a freshman tight end in his debut season, and is tied for the most touchdowns at the position in Penn State history with 16.
A big, physical tight end who typically lines up on the end of the line, PFF recorded that Freiermuth was targeted on nearly 28% of passing attempts when he was on the field. When he gets the ball in his hands, he relishes contact, and seeks out additional yards by going through a defender. He is a polished route runner, can hang on through contact, and has a strong, physical frame that will make him a terrific red zone target. If he escapes the first round, expect him to go very early on day two—potentially to a team trading up to get him.
1. Kyle Pitts (Florida)
Was there really any doubt as to who would be No. 1 on this list? Pitts is considered a once-in-a-decade type athletic talent, and caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games. According to PFF, just two players in the entire country average more than his 4.91 yards per route against man coverage as he terrorized defenders on a weekly basis.
Pitts also has a nasty streak, which he showed against Kentucky after one of their linebackers stated he was better than Pitts. The tight end responded with three touchdown catches, rightly taunting the Kentucky defender after two of them. One of the touchdowns saw him run away from CB Kelvin Joseph, who ran a 4.34 time in his Pro Day 40-yard dash.
Pitts is not much of a blocker, but he is the kind of player who can provide numerous explosive plays and can create mismatches across the field. He is an athletic freak who decimates man coverage, has the route-running ability of a slot receiver, and is an imposing target in the red zone at 6'6". Expect Pitts to be one of the first 10 players taken on the draft’s opening night.