49ers

NFL Draft 2021: Who's next after Kyle Pitts at tight end?

49ers
Kyle Pitts

The last couple of NFL drafts have failed to produce a star tight end, but the 2021 NFL Draft class has the chance to revamp the position.

There is one standout prospect at the position this year who will likely become a top-10 pick. However, several successful teams have found all-time tight ends in later rounds this past decade. Rob Gronkowski was a second-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2010, Travis Kelce was a third-round pick for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, and George Kittle fell to the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round back in 2017.

Could a team find a diamond in the rough at tight end this year? Here are some of the key questions surrounding the tight end class in the 2021 NFL Draft along with the top players at the position:

 

Who is the top rated tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft?

Kyle Pitts is one of the stars of this draft, even beyond tight ends. He showed exceptional speed, catching ability and overall play during his time at Florida. He is a unique prospect who is primed to be a top-10 selection.

How many tight ends are expected to go in the first round?

Pitts will be the only first-round tight end in all likelihood. Other tight ends in this class have the chance to excel at the position in the NFL, but Pitts is in a class of his own. It's not a knock against the other tight ends, either -- only four tight ends have been selected in the first round in the last five drafts combined.

How do the top 10 tight ends in the 2021 class rank?

1. Kyle Pitts, Florida

Pitts will be the first tight end to have his name called on April 29. The former Gator's physique and measurables are historic, and his stats from his junior year are eye-popping. Pitts opened his 2020 season with eight catches, 170 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Ole Miss and finished his college career with seven catches, 129 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Kyle Pitts

2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State

Freiermuth is heading to the NFL after his final season in Happy Valley was cut short due to a shoulder injury. He scored 15 touchdowns over his first two seasons with the Nittany Lions and excelled after the catch. He has the potential to be a starting tight end as he improves his catching and blocking.

3. Brevin Jordan, Miami

Jordan has already drawn interest from the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. He is not afraid of contact before or after the catch. He's able to make tough catches and is tough to bring down with the ball in his hands. He capped off his final college season with eight catches, 96 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's Cheez-It Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Jordan will become the seventh Hurricanes tight end to be drafted since 2010, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Graham, David Njoku and more.

4. Hunter Long, Boston College

Long was a productive target the last two seasons in Chestnut Hill, surpassing 500 yards as a sophomore in 2019 before reaching 685 across 11 games in 2020. His final game was his best, as he caught eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in a loss at Virginia. Long brings skills to the table as a pass catcher and blocker at the next level. 

5. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

 

2021 will be the fourth straight year a Notre Dame tight end gets selected in the draft. After college teammate Cole Kmet was the first tight end off the board in 2020, Tremble will be making the switch from South Bend to the NFL.

The stats do not tell the full story for Tremble. Despite notching just 19 catches for 218 receiving yards all 2020, Tremble showed off his blocking and has the chance to elevate his catching talent at the next level.

6. Tre' McKitty, Georgia

Similar to Tremble’s, McKitty's 2020 stats do not reflect what he brings to the table. He joined a competitive Bulldogs tight end group in 2020 and caught just six passes all season, but he is a reliable target and a solid blocker. He could slide into a similar backup tight end role in the NFL.

7. Kylen Granson, SMU

Granson's stats dropped from his junior year to his senior year, but he still showcased the kind of impact he can make in a passing attack. He scored 14 touchdowns over his last two seasons combined, including one in each of his final three games. That production at Southern Methodist will give him a shot as a second or third tight end on an NFL roster next season.

8. Tony Poljan, Virginia

Poljan started his college career as a quarterback at Central Michigan before converting to tight end and transferring to Virginia. At an eye-opening 6-foot-7, Poljan made an impressive transition, totaling six touchdowns in 2020 with the Cavaliers. He still has work to do as a receiver, but that can be expected from someone who made a position switch of this magnitude.

9. Quintin Morris, Bowling Green

Morris scored a career-high seven touchdowns in his sophomore season and set career highs with 55 catches and 649 yards as a junior before his stats tailed off as a senior due to a shortened schedule. An NFL team might take a chance on him in one of the later rounds as someone with upside in the passing game.

10. Nick Eubanks, Michigan

Eubanks dealt with an undisclosed injury during his final season with the Wolverines, totaling just 10 catches for 117 yards and one touchdown across five games. He also contributed as a blocker, though, and can potentially leverage those skills into more opportunities as a receiver as a backup tight end in the NFL.

Max Molski contributed to this story.