Training Camp Rookie Rankings: Tight Ends

Nov 28, 2020; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators sigh end Kyle Pitts (84) smiles to the Gator fans after the Gators beat the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Nov. 28, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Brad McClenny-USA TODAY NETWORK

As training camp gets under way, all eyes are on the incoming rookies. This is their first chance to show off their talents since being drafted. With their first season approaching, we will be ranking each position for our five favorites going into the 2021 season. These rankings will be based on overall talent as well as their likelihood to succeed based on the team around them.

1. Kyle Pitts

Jul 29, 2021; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) catches a pass on the field during the first day of training camp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Pitts has a chance to be historically great at the tight end position. Going into the draft, his comps were guys at the top of the league, such as Travis Kelce. Atlanta has always been a pass-oriented offense with Matt Ryan at QB., which should lead to numerous opportunities right out of the gates. Additionally, since Julio Jones is no longer in Atlanta, Pitts’ already sizable expected target share might get even higher.

Pitts skill set is almost entirely based on his receiving. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage and gets into his routes with ease. At 6’6 and 240 pounds, this speed makes it impossible for linebackers to keep up with him, and his size allows him to bully defensive backs. He offers very little in terms of blocking right now, but the dynamic receiving skills make up for it.

2. Pat Freiermuth

Jun 15, 2021; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) participates in drills during minicamp held at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a great history of developing tight ends, and Pat Freiermuth may be the latest edition. At Penn State, Freiermuth was donned the nickname “baby Gronk”, and it is not unearned. Freiermuth showed a good mix of pass and run blocking abilities, mimicking Rob Gronkowski’s tenacity in that aspect of the game. Combine that with some serviceable receiving skills, and Pittsburgh has a talented player on their hands.

That said, there are still a number of questions revolving around this version of the Black and Gold. Ben Roethlisberger did not look great for much of the season last year, and their offensive line lost some key veteran pieces. With wide receiver James Washington reportedly requesting a trade, more targets may be on Freiermuth’s plate. We will see if he’s up to the task in year one.

3. Tre McKitty

Jul 29, 2021; Costa Mesa, CA, United States; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Tre McKitty (88) during training camp at Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2020 season, Tre McKitty had a knee scope performed, so it is unknown how healthy he was throughout his final campaign at Georgia. So far into Chargers training camp though, he has done very well. This is an offense that needs a receiving tight end presence to replace Hunter Henry.

McKitty fits that role very well. His skillset turns elite after the catch, though. He accelerates very quickly and is surprisingly slippery at the tight end position. While he isn’t going to dominate as a blocker, he is at least serviceable against most defenses. Pairing him with the reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert should create a very dangerous duo in LA.

4. Hunter Long

Nov 30, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston College Eagles tight end Hunter Long (80) crosses the goal line for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There were some rumors before the draft that if the chips fell into place, Miami could have ended up with Kyle Pitts. Of course Atlanta snagged him, but the Dolphins still got one of the best tight ends in this class, Hunter Long. In his final season at Boston College, Long was targeted 89 times which led the entire country at the TE position.

Long played all over field for Boston College, so there is seldom a scheme that he is uncomfortable in. He blocks well, especially in the running game, with powerful hands and quick lateral movements. As aforementioned, he does plenty of route running too. He is reliable as a pass catcher and should be a valuable addition to Miami’s offense.

5. Brevin Jordan

Dec 5, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end Brevin Jordan (9) dives across the goal line to score against the Duke Blue Devils in the first quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

I believed going into the draft that Brevin Jordan could look very similar to Tre McKitty as a receiver. He has all the weapons: explosiveness, acceleration, reliable hands, and familiarity with multiple routes. Then, he got drafted by the Houston Texans. There probably isn’t a worse situation for a young tight end to land in.

As of now, Houston’s QB is either one of the journeymen, Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Driskell, or it is the rookie Davis Mills. None of the above are great for a player like Jordan who thrives at completing big chunk plays down the field. Jordan still has a chance to be a great player, but he needs a quarterback to prove reliable first.