If you were to turn back the clocks almost a decade, the tight end position in the NFL looked like it was about to take over in terms of importance to passing offenses. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham both went over 1,300 yards receiving in 2011, and all of a sudden, everyone was seemingly trying to find their version of those two.
Fast forward back to today, and not much has changed. Two tight ends stand head and shoulders above the rest at the position as it’s become increasingly clear that there are so few difference-makers at the position. The highest-paid tight end in the NFL (Austin Hooper, $10.5 million per year) makes less than half per season of the highest-paid wide receiver (Julio Jones, $22 million per year).
After all, the good lord only made so many 6-foot-5, 250-plus-pounders with speed to challenge down the field and receiving ability to consistently move the chains. If you don’t have those traits, offensive coordinators have shown that they’d rather just put another wide receiver on the football field.
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The good news is that the 2021 tight end class has a number of players who do possess those coveted traits. After an incredibly weak 2020 tight end class that didn’t have a single tight end who ranked among PFF’s top-75 prospects, 2021 could possess the next tight end to join the Travis Kelce/George Kittle tier of prospects.
The two names you need to know ahead of the 2020 college football season are Florida’s Kyle Pitts and Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. Watching both, you can tell very quickly that they’re just different from the masses at the position. They’re both young and athletic, and you should expect both of them to hear their names called in the first round next spring.
Let’s examine the key aspects of the tight end position and see how each of these players stacks up.