Tight ends are notoriously difficult to project in the NFL draft as proven by Ron Gronkowski (42nd), Travis Kelce (63rd), George Kittle (146th) and Zach Ertz (35th).
Only six have been drafted in the first rounds of the last four drafts. Last year the Bears’ Cole Kmet was the first one off the board at 43rd.
This year brings one very special prospect, Kyle Pitts, but after Pitts it wouldn’t be stunning if we wait until the third round for the next tight end, and it seems likely there will be four at the most drafted by the end of Day 2.
DAY 1 PROSPECT
1. Kyle Pitts, Florida (6-6, 245, Junior)
Pitts is a rare prospect whose blend of athleticism, size, speed, huge hands and enormous catch radius make it tough to find a comp for him. Maybe a faster Tony Gonzalez? Pitts is a willing blocker but will almost certainly be more of a U than Y tight end as he will be the best receiver on the field many Sundays. It’s hard to imagine how NFL defenses will approach covering him as there are no cornerbacks big and strong enough, no safeties with his athleticism and no linebackers who can run with him. There is no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect in the NFL, but Pitts may be as close as it gets.
DAY 2 TARGETS TO WATCH
2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn St. (6-5, 251, Junior)
This is the best Y prospect in this draft. Freiermuth is probably a better blocker than receiver right now, but he has the athletic ability and hands to become a solid receiver. His leadership and character will be coveted. He excelled in the YAC category at Happy Valley, and while very much like most young tight ends he’s going to need some time, solid coaching and improved techniques, but his ceiling is high.
3. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (6-3, 241, Junior)
Tremble is tough to project after backing up Kmet and Michael Mayer the last two seasons, but he is a player teams have their eyes on. He is a bit undersized and interestingly to date has impressed more with his blocking than pass catching, but some of that is due to Kmet and Mayer demanding targets. On tape he is always crashing into someone, appears to relish blocking assignments and contact and has shown some traits to suggest there is a quality receiver there as well.
4. Hunter Long, Boston College (6-5, 254, Junior)
Long has the body of a Y but the temperament and skills of a U, and he needs to show teams how bad he wants it. He’s impressed catching the ball at BC, but his blocking has a long way to go. It’s not clear that he loves the contact.
DAY 3 TARGETS TO WATCH
5. Tony Poljan, Virginia (6-7, 251, Senior)
Poljan is a converted quarterback with a unique frame that reminds you of Jimmy Graham. But unlike Graham, Poljan is a work in progress as a receiver and may have limited upside, but he does project as a plus inline blocker who could be a threat in the red zone as well.
6. Brevin Jordan, Miami (Fla.) (6-3, 247, Junior)
The latest entry from “Tight End U.” You wish Jordan was an inch or two taller, but he does project as a Y with plus potential as a receiver. He doesn’t lack confidence, but he does need to win more contested catches and improve technique both blocking and catching.
7. Kenny Yeboah, Mississippi (6-4, 250, Redshirt Senior)
Yeboah was a big play guy his first two seasons at Temple and after transferring to Mississippi. His future is probably as a U as he’s shown minimal success blocking and may not have much of an appetite for it.
8. Tre’ McKitty, Georgia (6-4, 246, Senior)
He played two seasons at Florida St. before transferring to Georgia. McKitty is intriguing but a real developmental guy who looks the part but still has a ton to learn.
9. Noah Gray, Duke (6-3, 240, Senior)
Gray’s leadership and want-to are what you’d like to find in every prospect, but he’s undersized and his measurables are all just adequate. He could have a future as a third tight end and special teams demon.
10. Nick Eubanks, Michigan (6-4 ½, 245, Senior)
He looks the part and showed flashes of big-time athleticism and a nose for the end zone at Michigan. Teams that feature an H-back could be intrigued as he lacks inline blocking chops for the tight end position.