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Rankings

2021 NFL Draft TE Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: March 17, 2021, 11:53 am ET

This is the fifth installment of my 2021 NFL Draft prospect rankings series, following quarterbacksrunning backs, and a two-parter on wide receivers (WR1-9 here, WR10-50 here). We'll be back next week with the offensive line.

Before we hop into the column, I want to encourage everyone to check out NFL Draft War Room with Thor & Lindsay, a live NBC Sports EDGE original Twitch show every week from now through the draft where I sit down with NFL agent Lindsay Crook. This week's episode will return to its regularly-scheduled time of 8 pm EST on Wednesday. Lindsay and I will be discussing tight end rankings and pro day results. Those in the Twitch room can ask Lindsay questions live!


1. Kyle Pitts (Florida) | 6'6/240
Comp: Tony Gonzalez

You know, in recent years, how the term “defensive chesspiece” became a thing? Teams were looking for guys like Isaiah Simmons, a 6-foot-4, 238-pounder with a 4.39 forty and 39” vertical that could play safety, linebacker, off the edge, or in the slot. 

Evaluators understood not just where the game was, but where it was going. And where it was going was more size/athleticism/skill mutants, more unicorns galloping in space. Kyle Pitts is the scariest we’ve seen enter the league at the tight end position since either Vernon Davis or Tony Gonzalez. And this is coming from TJ Hockenson’s biggest fanboy.

It is not instructive to think of Pitts as a tight end, so free your mind of that. He offers an All-Pro WR ceiling as a pass-catcher alone, with the same body and ball skills as Calvin Johnson (6’5/236), and an athleticism package just south.

At his size and speed, Pitts provides a tactical puzzle for defenders, who are always wary that Pitts is going to make them the laughing stock of Monday’s film session by singing them over the top. So when Pitts makes a 90-degree precision cut to the sideline like he’s folding origami, or slams on the breaks for a come-backer, it’s not just that most defenders can’t stay with the footwork -- it’s that they can’t see it coming.

Which makes it impossible to cheat. And if you can’t cheat against Kyle Pitts, you probably can’t win. When he gets deep on you, goodnight -- this is the part of his game you see Megatron, the length, the hops, the hands, the grace. 

Nobody on the college football field could compete with Pitts the air -- picture the rebounding stats from a basketball game where one guy is 3-5 inches taller than everybody else, has 5-7 inches of wingspan on everyone else, is 40 pounds heavier than everyone else, has the best hands on the court, and is a box-out artist besides (Pitts is so good at using his frame to ensure the only way the defender has access to the ball is through his back, more colloquially known as DPI) -- and that’s going to continue to be the case in the NFL outside of the few very times he’ll matched up against a Simmons-like freak (I still like Pitts’ chances). It goes without saying that we don’t see catch radiuses this size.

There are so many Kyle Pitts stats from last season that would make your eyes bug out of your head. Here is my favorite. If he’d been listed as a WR last season, Pitts’ 4.91 yards per route run would have finished No. 3 in the nation (it was almost two yards higher than any other TE); despite the degree of difficulty, Pitts didn’t drop a single pass last year. 

Not one, on a 13.8 aDOT, while, in only eight games, easily leading all tight ends in deep yards (331) and deep catches (10). Of his 43 catches, all but four ended in a first down or in the end zone. Pitts’ 96.2 PFF grade not only blew out all tight end challengers, it led all receivers.

Pitts is a dogged worker who appears committed to shoring up each and every weakness in his game. As one example, Pitts dropped four balls in 2019, mostly concentration-related flubs. Last year, no drops -- no receiver in the nation was more locked-in with the ball on its way.

The biggest criticism of Pitts’ game has always been blocking. Last season, he made an objectively enormous leap, improving from a poor 42.6 PFF run-blocking grade in 2019 to 65.8 last fall. He’ll never be George Kittle in this area, but length, acceleration, movement, technique and want could get to him to league-average.

Last year, Pitts lined up inline 54.7% of his snaps, with 24.1% coming in the slot and 21.2% as an outside receiver, taking snaps at both the X and Y spots. He’s proven he can affect the game from any spot in the alignment. Unheard of versatility.

One NFL scout who spoke to The Athletic’s Bob McGinn said Pitts was “better than (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) combined” and had “Hall of Fame potential as a receiver (alone). Just unique.” A second told McGinn his team had Pitts as the second-best player in the draft: “You look at (Travis) Kelce and (George) Kittle, the success they’ve had, there’s no comparison as far as athletic ability to this guy. I usually don’t go for that position that high, but I would take him in the top 10.”

Same. Pitts is a top-five overall prospect in this class.


2. Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) | 6'5/260
Comp: Hunter Henry 

Pitts is the unicorn we sort of haven’t seen before. Let’s return to our regularly-scheduled tight end programming with Pat Freiermuth, a prototypical inline prospect. Freiermuth offers true dual-threat ability at the position as a thumping blocker and rangy receiving target that runs like a rhino after the catch.

A former basketball player built like a hotel, you notice that, for a big man, Freiermuth consistently releases off the line clean and gets to work with purpose, with snappy footwork and the speed and grace to both threaten down the seam and slice into an intermediate soft spot to box his man out at the catch point like a sawed-off power forward.

In Happy Valley, they called Freiermuth “Baby Gronk” due to his rugged frame, ball skills, and, mostly, his berserker style after the catch. Freiermuth can pluck the ball outside his frame -- we saw him save several errant Sean Clifford throws the past few years -- and smoothly pirouette upfield to begin rampaging. 

He’s not going to make you miss, but you’re going to need multiple guys to wrestle him to the ground, and he’s fast enough to chew up large swatches of field until that happens. Freiermuth was not only heavily-targeted and highly-productive at Penn State, but he ripped off more explosive plays than you might think for his body type and athletic profile.

Freiermuth could become an exceptional NFL blocker, but he’s not quite there yet. For all the smooth refinement he’s shown as a receiver, blocking technique remains a Rubik’s cube. For a guy this size, with this kind of footwork and short-area quickness, with this kind of physical power and brawling attitude running with the ball, and that gives this level of effort as a blocker, Freiermuth should profile to provide… well, a Gronk-esque blocker.

But Freiermuth rarely leverages his quickness and feet to win early play-side seal-offs, getting caught bumping and grappling too much. He may struggle to win the leverage battle in the NFL, but his other skills will produce a difference-maker in this area if he buys into refining his approach.

Freiermuth, who played 44.2% of his snaps in-line in college and 54.4% of his snaps in the slot, posted a strong PFF run-blocking grades of 76.8 as a freshman, regressed to 61.5 as a sophomore, and hopped back up to 74.8 as a junior. Playing more in-line in the NFL won’t be a problem, and he’ll provide all the more return on draft value the more his blocking improves.


3. Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame) | 6’4/252
Comp: Kyle Juszczyk

Tommy Tremble is the great unknown among the top-5 in this year’s tight end class. His drafting team is going to get college football’s nastiest run-blocking TE/H-back last year (Tremble also lined up at FB and wiped out anyone in his path as a lead-blocker). 

As a lead-blocking fullback, he’s a Terminator type, charging into the hole like a stick of dynamite and blasting out any garbage he finds. If the offensive line has done its job, that means Tremble is about to go head-hunting in the second level. Tremble’s run-blocking grades the past two years of 84.8 and 83.7, respectively, are elite. He is the best run-blocking TE I’ve evaluated since TJ Hockenson.

Inline, Tremble gets off the snap quicker than the edge’s he’s lined up across, he pops them in the chest and gets his cleavers into them, and he shuffles his feet to seal his man off from the play-side of the field. 

What we don’t know, yet, is what else Tremble will provide as a receiver. In two active seasons, Tremble caught 35 balls for 401 yards and four TD. But Tremble played with Cole Kmet and Michael Mayer the past two seasons -- two terrific receiving tight ends, one of whom already went in Round 2 of the NFL Draft (Mayer may ultimately end up getting picked higher than Kmet).

Notre Dame simply didn’t use Tremble in this area as much as he might have been used at another school. This is the sticking point of the evaluation. Those who rank Tremble lower will say his five drops on 40 career targets is indicative of a player who lacks feel in the receiving game and was thus unable to be trusted.

They will say that Tremble had more drops (5) than touchdowns (4) at Notre Dame, and that, even if his hands were better, he’d need to be taught to run convincing routes to keep defenders out of his space when the ball arrives.

Those who like Tremble more argue he’s an All-World blocker with the tools to become at least a tertiary weapon in the passing game -- not only does he explode off the line, but Tremble shows nice urgency and play-speed in-route, as well as the ability to peel away from his man to open throwing windows for the quarterback. 

They will also argue -- I am now arguing -- that Tremble showed flashes of improvement as a receiver last year and has more ceiling to unearth. In 2019, Tremble dropped three balls and went 0-for-5 in contested situations on 24 targets. In 2020, despite his aDOT increased from 7.5 to 8.8, Tremble reeled in 4-of-5 contested balls and dropped only two balls on 28 targets.

Tremble’s ball skills very much remain an open question -- particularly in 2019, he had a habit of letting the ball eat him up -- but he showed enough progress in that department to project continued growth. If he can become even a mediocre receiver, Tremble is going to provide oodles of value with his tenacious brand of blocking on special teams, lined up in-line, and as a lead-blocker.

Remember: Tremble is almost two full years younger than Pat Friermuth and Hunter Long. There’s plenty more room here for growth, particularly as a receiver.


4. Hunter Long (Boston College) | 6'5/254
Comp: Jace Sternberger

Boston College found a live one out of Exeter, New Hampshire when it signed Hunter Long as a three-star recruit. Long was somewhat miscast in Steve Addazio’s run-first offense that ran 12 or even 22 personnel regularly, with multiple tight ends and backs on the field at once. If your name wasn’t AJ Dillon, you were blocking.

Once BC imported Jeff Hafley, the former co-OC at Ohio State, this past offseason, Long blossomed. A smooth-mover with soft hands, Long broke out working with Notre Dame transfer QB Phil Jurkovich in a completely revamped offense in 2020, posting a 57-685-5 receiving line in 11 games. 

Long is not an upper-tier athlete, but he’s extremely crafty, altering the tempo of his routes, not wasting motion on cuts, finding soft spots in zone coverage, and surprising defenders with the haste he’s able to slice down the seam. 

For a tight end that didn’t find a system that suited him until his final year, Long’s tape presented a prospect ahead of his years with the ball in the air, a sonar-tracker at all three levels who pins defenders to his broad backside and cleanly plucks the ball with his hands. In 133 career targets, Long dropped only five balls.

Addazio’s tutelage seemed to finally pay off in 2020, when Long’s run-blocking improved substantially, from a 42.9 PFF grade in 2019 to 70.6 in 2020. Long is more of a finesse tight end, and he categorically lacks Freirmuth’s play strength. He could become a decent space blocker. You just don't want him lined up inline across from a power edge.


5. Brevin Jordan (Miami) 6'3/244
Comp: Jonnu Smith

Brevin Jordan arrived in Coral Gables in 2018 with an enormous amount of hype, the No. 1 tight end in the country. His high school, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, had won the state title every year Jordan played. And he looked set to become college football’s next great move-TE.

Jordan was good, not great, in college. He enters the NFL as a solid receiving option to deploy out of the slot and around the formation to create mismatches, if not quite the game-changing talent we hoped he’d one day become.

In his three seasons, Jordan caught between 32-38 balls each time. Whereas in Jordan’s first two seasons, Miami lined him up as an in-line tight end on a little more than 50% of his snaps, in 2020 new OC Rhett Lashlee deployed Jordan out of the slot on 61.7% of his snaps.

Jordan’s game took off, as he easily averaged the best yards per route run and aDOT of his career while proving he could win down the field. This was an open question earlier in his career, when Jordan was more effective wrangling in dump-offs and running after the catch. He only caught 3-of-15 targets beyond 10 yards as a freshman. Last year, Jordan caught 11-of-19 such balls.

Jordan isn’t the next-generation athlete that Kyle Pitts is, and he lacks length. But Jordan is extremely fluid in-route, showing strength, crisp cuts for a big guy, and acceleration out of those cuts to create separation and throwing windows. His inability to threaten deep earlier in his career had more to do with his ball skills than his athleticism. 

And that’s my sticking point with Jordan, because that issue hasn't totally gone away. He’s not going to hold up as a blocker in-line. He’ll have more success blocking linebackers and defensive backs in space than edge rushers in a phone booth, so we want him in the slot and moving around the formation (Jordan tries, but he doesn’t have the power or frame for the job; his career-best PFF run-blocking grade was the mediocre 62.5 he posted last year).

You want a player like this to offer you big value in the passing game, because he’s likely going to take your WR3 off the field (think the Vikings the past two seasons with Irv Smith Jr.). I'm not sure Jordan will offer the efficiency or explosion to consistently justify that.

He went 2-for-8 in contested opportunities last year to bring him to 11-of-33 in his career. Jordan has mediocre hands as is -- leading to flubs, bobbles, and chest-plate catches downfield -- and they get worse in traffic, in part because he doesn't use his wide frame to seal off defenders at the catch point. 

I see Jordan as a guy you can move around, who will move the chains out of the slot as a short/intermediate weapon. He will be most effective when you can get him the ball in space and let him run, when Jordan becomes a 245-pound hammer that knifes through traffic and runs over defensive backs (21 career broken tackles on 105 catches, per PFF).

I don’t trust his blocking or hands enough to project him to be more than a role player in the passing game. Even there, unless Jordan's ball skills improve, he'll have to pay for a large part of his meal ticket with YAC. 


6. Kenny Yeboah (Mississippi) | 6'4/247
Comp: Chris Herndon

Yeboah played under Panthers HC Matt Rhule at Temple, and intended to reconnect with Rhule at Baylor in 2020 before Rhule bolted for Carolina. Yeboah flipped to Ole Miss, and turned out to be the perfect move-TE in Lane Kiffin’s system, posting a 27-524-6 line (19.4 YPC) in eight starts before opting-out (he got injured, then got COVID and decided to regroup for the Senior Bowl -- certainly understandable).

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound high school wide receiver and defensive back (also his team's kicker and punter lol), Yeboah has packed on 30 pounds over the last five years but kept his speed, feel for routes and ball skills. Yeboah gets off the snap with a certain rudeness and is at top-speed very quickly, able to challenge down the seam in a flash and tilt 50-50 balls in the offense’s favor at the catch point (8-for-12 in contested situations the past two years). Last year, his aDOT was 11.3.

As a blocker, Yeboah gets after it but is betrayed by his jumbo-WR body against power players, who can rag-doll him. Fortunately, he’s versatile, having played nearly 2,000 college snaps and lined up plenty in the slot, inline, in the backfield, and even outside. And Yeboah has shown some promise as a lead-blocker and in space, coming downhill with force and using his momentum to add extra power he regularly lacks.

Yeboah’s route tree is rudimentary right now. He gained separation and won downfield last season leaning on his athleticism and WR-esque ball skills. But to truly take advantage of his skillset, and give him more YAC opportunities (he ranked No. 8 among FBS TE last year in yards after the catch per reception), he’s going to have to become a snappy route-runner in the intermediate sector.

Yeboah profiles as a niche role player early, as he develops. During that time, he will play on most special teams units, as he did at both Temple and Ole Miss. If his routes improve and he can find a blocking niche as a part-time lead-blocker, Yeboah could turn into a starting-caliber player.


7. Tre' McKitty (Georgia) | 6'4/247
Comp: Dawson Knox

To me, McKitty is the Dawson Knox of this class. In college -- McKitty began at Florida State before transferring to Georgia in 2020, whereas Knox spent his whole career at Ole Miss -- each player flashed dual-threat inline ability with the requisite athletic package to hang in the NFL for a decade while, for whatever reason, not getting used to their full ability on the collegiate gridiron.

Knox posted a 39-605-0 receiving line over four years in Oxford, including 15 receptions as a senior in nine games. McKitty posted a 56-628-3 receiving line over three years in Tallahassee and one in Athens, including six receptions on 10 targets in four games as a senior.

McKitty’s transfer to Georgia was inspired, as it wasn’t difficult to envision him as a secondary downfield jump-baller to George Pickens with QB Jamie Newman running the offense. Unfortunately, Newman opted out, McKitty got nicked up, and McKitty never factored into the passing plan as Georgia began the season with limited Stetson Bennett behind center and ended it with JT Daniels, who only had eyes for Pickens.

But McKitty’s time in Athens wasn’t a total waste. Whereas McKitty, a well-built, muscled-up athlete, struggled as a blocker at Florida State, he made a leap from a 50.1 PFF run-blocking grade in 2019 to 75.8 in 2020, this while he went from 48.1% of his snaps inline at FSU in 2019 to 58.8% for Georgia last year. McKitty started to put his powerful natural frame to use, jarring edge rushers with quickness and strength.

With more work in that area, he’s going to get even better. In 2020 McKitty mostly won by arriving first with pop, hoping to jar his man off-balance and use him like a steering wheel. But too many fish get off the line because of McKitty’s hard-charging style. 

If he doesn’t win the initial collision, he often finds himself too deep and too high, with the edge rusher now under his chest plate. These are the times McKitty is used as a steering wheel. A more measured, technically-refined approach will lead to more wins. Somebody needs to teach him that blocking is more about getting your feet and body play-side to seal-off than a demolition derby.

As a receiver, McKitty just needs more polish. He dropped only 2-of-37 targets the past two seasons and comes with soft hands. McKitty compensates for his lack of agility in-route with altered tempo, head deaks, and false tells. In conjunction with his strong straight-line speed and ability to snatch the ball on the move, McKitty potentially profiles as a receiver that could make plays in all three sectors. 

However, McKitty's ball skills remain a work in progress, and he dropped more career balls (6) than he made contested catches (5), getting jostled by linebackers at the catch point or eaten alive by balls downfield while preoccupied with a pesky safety. The good news: They've improved every year he's been on campus.

There’s risk in the profile, but with gains in blocking approach and receiving refinement, McKitty will become a complete two-way tight end with starting athletic traits. Those don’t grow on trees. 


8. Matt Bushman (BYU) | 6'5/240
Comp: Mark Andrews

Matt Bushman is the old-man of this group, 25-years old. And he didn’t play last season after rupturing his Achilles. He’s a terrible run blocker, and the lack of lower-body horse power can be seen on routes, where he’s less snappy and rugged, more straight-line runner or diagonal slicer through garbage.

And yet, I have to rank him in the top-10. And I can guarantee you this: Had Bushman not gotten hurt in 2020, he’d be a consensus top-10 tight end right now. After posting a 47-688-4 line as Zach Wilson’s favorite target in 2019 (Dax Milne had 21 catches that year) -- and going over 500 receiving yards in each of his first two years on BYU -- Bushman may have threatened 1,000 receiving yards last season in a system he was perfectly suited for.

A long-armed 6-foot-5 target, Bushman could make an argument for having the second-best set of mitts in this class behind Kyle Pitts. In Bushman’s last two active years, 2018-2019, he dropped only two balls on 117 targets. These weren’t freebie targets either: Bushman averaged a 13.0 and 11.8 aDOT over those years.

Bushman is extremely crafty against zone coverage and must be watched like a hawk -- even in his younger days, he had a third-eye feel for finding the soft-spot with his hands up ready to catch. Though not be the swiftest side-to-side mover, Bushman is a proven winner at all three levels of the field. He caught 42 balls 10-or-more yards downfield between 2018-2019 alone. He can stab balls outside his frame on the move and keep trucking. Very few tight ends in this class have the fluidity for that.

With a Venus flytrap catch radius that is both large and extra-sticky, and a good idea how to use his body at the catch point, Bushman, the grizzled graybeard, will provide his NFL team with a move-TE that can immediately help its passing game. Because of his age and lack of blocking chops, he’s going to come at a discount, as well.


9. Dylan Soehner (Iowa State) | 6'6/270

Comp: Jack Doyle

The biggest tight end in this class, Soehner is a fabulous blocking tight end -- arguably No. 2 behind Tommy Tremble in that metric -- that posted a PFF run-blocking grade of 79.5 last year, his second-consecutive year over 72.0. Soehner may be flying a little under the radar because of his college situation.

It’s not that Soehner chose wrong -- Iowa State is going to make a strong argument the next few years that it needs to be included in “Tight End U” debates -- it’s that, even though the Cyclones deployed plenty of 12 personnel, Soehner got pigeon-holed into the blocking role on a team that also had Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar, future NFL draft picks. 

Soehner proved adept at the role, offering a third offensive tackle on the field for prolific RB Breece Hall, combining strength and quickness to dislodge his man momentarily from his center of gravity and wash over him with length like a tsunami. 

Soehner’s ultimate value will come down to how much he can improve as a receiver. He showed flashes last year, catching 18 balls after coming into the season with only eight career receptions over three years. Lining up inline on over 70% of his ISU snaps, Soehner, to this point, mostly offers reliability near the line of scrimmage, with an 81.2% percentage of targets caught in 2020 but on only 5.2 aDOT. 

The year before, Soehner caught only seven balls on severely limited targets, but managed to go 3-of-4 in contested situations, showing the ability to box out with that huge frame and secure the ball with his man draped on him. He's a solid athlete for his size, so there's certainly intrigue in that area.

Early on, Soehner will be a blocking specialist, a good one at that. We will have to see if he can ever turn into anything more as a receiver than a guy who runs upfield five yards and turns around. Fortunately, Soehner will play special teams as he develops, more than justifying a roster spot. He should fill his niches nicely, while providing low-end starting inline potential if his NFL team can make a reliable outlet receiver out of these physical tools.


10. Pro Wells (TCU) | 6'4/250

Comp: Hunter Bryant

A dart-throw, lottery-ticket sort of proposition, Wells is a former star prep basketball player that devoted himself to the gridiron and worked his way up to TCU from the JUCO ranks. In Fort Worth, Wells learned the tight end position. He didn’t get his number called much (32 career catches) but proved to be a red-zone weapon, averaging one touchdown every four receptions.

Wells’ best attributes seem to flower from his basketball background. He shows nice footwork in his routes, and is already adept at boxing defenders out at the catch point and coming down with the rebound. Wells converted an impressive 9-of-14 contested catch opportunities in his career.

Wells struggled as a blocker at TCU and will absolutely not be able to hold up in this phase inline long-term. At TCU, he was essentially a huge slot receiver, playing 85.4% of his career snaps in the slot. In the NFL, it would be nice if Wells could become at least an adequate blocker of smaller players in space, be that taking care of his man in the slot, or improving his leverage and intensity as a lead-blocker.

A developmental move-TE prospect, Wells definitely holds intrigue due to his movement and exceptional balls skills. But he remains untested and raw, no sure thing to pan out, so the juice won’t be worth the squeeze until the middle of Day 3.


11. Noah Gray (Duke) | 6'4/240
Comp: Tyler Conklin

Noah Gray is like a younger, less-polished, less diverse, less-accomplished version of Matt Bushman. Like Bushman, Gray will get manhandled as a blocker against edge rushers if you line him up in inline. But like Bushman, Gray is a reliable slot receiver. At Duke, Gray played 71.0% of this snaps in the slot.

Gray is sure-handed, with only three career drops on 141 targets. Blessed with quick feet, Gray runs nice routes, cutting sharply in the intermediate sector to create space. He’s also a pest against zone coverage, with a nose for open space. He brings the ball down in traffic: Gray was 16-of-25 in contested situations in his career. 

Really, there’s only one big difference between Bushman and Gray as a receiver: Whereas Bushman consistently won deep in college, Gray only had two career catches that traveled 20-or-more yards downfield, including zero the past two years. 

Some of that usage was no doubt related to Duke’s poor quarterback play the last two seasons, as well as the system David Cutcliffe designed to protect those signal-callers. But for a receiving-only prospect who is closer to an H-Back than tight end -- Gray has the right attitude for blocking but lacks power -- it’s concerning that Gray may only be a big slot that is reliable in the short-to-intermediate areas. 

That describes a player who could have a short shelf life in the NFL. But if he adds a tool or two to his toolbox -- reliable deep receiving, improve blocking in space -- he becomes intriguing.


12. Tony Poljan (Virginia) | 6'7/263
Comp: Scott Chandler

A former enormous dual-threat quarterback at Central Michigan, Poljan switched positions and ultimately wound up at Virginia for his graduation year in 2020. He posted a 38-411-6 receiving line in eight starts last season, giving him 33-plus catches in both of his campaigns at his new position.

Virginia played Poljan inline on 89.2% of his snaps, one year after CMU deployed him in that spot 64.7%. Poljan has a little experience in the slot, but because of his huge frame and lack of athleticism, inline is where he projects best at the next level. As a receiver, he’s a reliable outlet with a huge catch radius that’ll haul in the ball and head to the turf shortly thereafter. 

Poljan is a lumberer that is easy for defenders to stay with in-route. But because of his enormous frame and long arms, Poljan offers a big target that can reel in balls his man can’t get to. Unfortunately, he’s toast when the defender is able to make it a party-for-two at the catch point. 

Poljan went just 2-of-14 in contested situations last year, and 4-of-10 at CMU in 2019. A 25% contested catch rate for a tight end that can’t separate or get deep in the NFL may ultimately be Poljan’s kiss of death. Especially when you consider he fumbled three times over the last two years (and eight times total in his career, if you want to toss in his first two years as a part-time QB at CMU). 

Poljan has steadily improved his run-blocking, checking in at a solid 69.4 PFF grade last year. He has huge natural advantages in this area, namely that towering frame and those extension-cord arms. Poljan always touches his man first, dictating the interaction, keeping his own chest clean, and, once he shuffles into position, provides the length of a building his opponent must run around, which generally takes them out of the play.

Poljan lacks power and likely will never be elite in this area. But he profiles as an above-average blocker from the inline position that will provide enough low-yardage reliability as a receiver to hang around as a backup. One of the older prospects in the class -- Poljan will be 24 at the time of the draft -- I just don’t know how much upside is left to cull here.


13. Nick Eubanks (Michigan) | 6'4/256
Comp: Ian Thomas

Like Tre McKitty, Eubanks is a gifted prospect that never had the opportunity to work in an ideal system that suited him. Eubanks also suffered through poor quarterback play in Ann Arbor, as well as nagging injuries over three different campaigns that slowed him.

Eubanks is a strong athlete who creates separation more naturally than many other tight ends on this list. His tape shows the speed to threaten the seam, and enough short-area quicks to create separation in the intermediate area. But Eubanks labors to change directions and loses all momentum on cuts, allowing defenders to crowd him.

Equipped with long arms and soft hands, Eubanks stabs the ball away from his frame and rarely misses (only three drops on 72 career targets). But he disappeared for long stretches at Michigan -- quarterback play was a part of this -- and averaged only about two catches per game the last two years despite starting.

For a large tight end that played over two-thirds of his snaps inline at Michigan, Eubanks has a shocking lack of play strength. He gets eaten alive by power players. He can handle assignments in space that don’t require power, and is, for instance, a decent pass-blocker. But you’re not drafting a tight end to pass block. 

Eubanks is likely always going to be overmatched in the run-blocking game -- he has neither the play strength nor the attitude for the job. And, since he’s already 24 (will be 25 as a rookie), it would require a logical leap to assume he has a ton of ceiling left to unearth as a receiver. He's going to need to pick up tricks to create separation in the intermediate game, because his clunky feet aren't going to do the job.


Best of the Rest...

14. John Bates (Boise State) | 6'6/256
15. Cary Angeline (North Carolina State) | 6'7/250
16. Zach Davidson (Central Missouri) | 6'6/245
17. Quintin Morris (Bowling Green) | 6'4/251
16. Briley Moore (Kansas State) | 6'4/249
19. Luke Farrell (Ohio State) | 6'5/250
20. Shaun Beyer (Iowa) | 6'4/244
21. Zaire Mitchell-Paden (Notre Dame (OH)) | 6'7/250
22. Jack Stoll (Nebraska) | 6'4/247
23. Miller Forristall (Alabama) | 6'4/242
24. Artayvious Lynn (TCU) | 6'5/265
25. Hunter Kampmoyer (Oregon) | 6'4/245


Fullback/H-Back rankings

1. Ben Mason (Michigan) | 6'3/256
2. Kylen Granson (SMU) | 6'3/235
3. Tory Carter (LSU) | 6'0/244
4. Mason Stokke (Wisconsin) | 6'2/239
5. John Raine (Northwestern) | 6'2/230
6. Carl Tucker (Alabama) | 6'2/248


Check out the rest of Thor's 2021 NFL Draft work here:

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!