Don’t reach for Kyle Pitts in your rookie drafts

You can call this click bait or anything you’d like because I know that I am putting myself out on an island, but I am also willing to own up to it if it fires back in my face. I’ve been hearing it all. A generational talent. A tight end of which we’ve never seen before. His numbers are off the chart. Rinse and repeat. And now with the rumors of Julio Jones being traded, Kyle Pitts’ “projections” are skyrocketing to a point where no rookie tight end has gone before.

I’ve done a couple dynasty rookie drafts already and keep seeing Pitts go in the 1.03-1.05 range; and most people that I’ve talked to believe they are getting a steal despite being selected this early in drafts. We all love what Pitts did in college and can’t wait to get him on our fantasy teams, but we as drafters are currently way too high on him. We need to be aware, he is not a wide receiver, but a tight end, which in itself is one of the most volatile positions in the NFL.

We’re continuing to see Pitts selected over the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Travis Etienne and Najee Harris. The value just isn’t there to take Pitts over any of these players, and I’d argue that Pitts should 100% be selected after these guys simply based on the amount of fantasy point potential.

Let’s take a look at SuperFlex leagues. One of my most recent drafts had Trevor Lawrence going 1.01, Chase at 1.02, which opened the door for the 1.03 pick to be a QB but the guy ended up taking Harris. The 1.04 was then gift wrapped as a QB selection, but guess who went instead, You guessed it… Pitts. By doing this you’re passing on a QB who could give you a few hundred points on a yearly basis for a tight end that will need to turn into an elite player at the next level in order to sniff 200 fantasy points.

I went back to 2013 and found eight tight ends drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Eric Ebron and T.J. Hockenson were both top-10 picks. Tyler Eifert went No. 21, O.J. Howard was picked 19th, Evan Engram went 23rd and David Njoku was picked 29th. Hayden Hurst was a reach in 2018 (25th overall) and Noah Fant went 20th in the same draft as Hockenson. Out of all of these tight ends, Engram had the most successful rookie season with 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns. He’s never really come close to posting these numbers since as he’s essentially a good TE2 for your dynasty team at this point in time.

Let’s look at 2019 rookie drafts and how high both Hockenson and Fant were being selected. Sure, Fant was more of an early second-round pick, but I did see him go at the end of the firsts in many leagues. In the two years that Fant has been in the league, he has managed to produce 1,235 yards off of 102 receptions and six total touchdowns. He finished his rookie season as the TE15, which is not bad for an early second-round pick, but you definitely missed out on fantasy points by making him your selection. His 2020 season was his best to date, but will he continue to climb the rankings moving forward? I personally think he’ll continue to improve as I have him as my TE7 heading into the ’21 season, but can you really wait 3+ years for a tight end to hit? Most of the time it’s no.

Then there’s Hockenson. Being a Lions fan, this one was tough because we saw how Ebron flamed out in Detroit prior to scoring 13 touchdowns the following season with the Indianapolis Colts. Hockenson was the highest drafted tight end to date in rookie drafts going as early as the 1.07 in 2019 rookie drafts. Those of you that drafted him at the time were excited right? I know I was. Then the season started and Hockenson came out with a week-one game with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. We struck gold… or so we thought. This week-one production turned out to be fool’s gold as Hockenson finished the season with just 32 receptions, 367 yards and two touchdowns. Not exactly what we were hoping to get out of our first-round pick who finished as the TE31.

Last season, he improved with 67 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns. Sure, those stats don’t look too bad, but if you look at his game log, he never had over 89 receiving yards or scored multiple touchdowns in a single game. He finished as the TE4 last year, around 10 fantasy points behind Robert Tonyan, but more than 80 fantasy points behind the TE2 (Darren Waller). Notice anything about the two tight ends mentioned? Waller was a converted wide receiver who was a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft while Tonyan was a 2017 undrafted free agent. Additionally, these two players were both added off the waiver wire in your dynasty leagues over the last couple of years.

Last year the Atlanta Falcons traded a second-round pick for a former first-round tight end in Hayden Hurst to help fill the void of losing Austin Hooper. Hurst finished the season with 56 receptions, 571 receiving yards and six touchdowns. It was a good season for Hurst, but he finished as the TE9 who was only about 10 fantasy points away from the TE16… Evan Engram.

In 2018 and 2019 Hooper was a star for the Falcons finishing the ’18 season with 71 receptions for 660 yards and three touchdowns while following it up with 75 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns as the TE6 in .5PPR both seasons. Again, a talent like Hooper took three seasons to really burst onto the scene, but was also taken in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft AND the third round of rookie drafts. This is a better place to take a chance on a tight end in my mind.

Are you curious why I didn’t mention Travis Kelce? Well it’s because he wasn’t a first-round pick. Kelce was drafted in the third round, and in year one in the NFL him and I had the same stats. If you haven’t guessed it was all zeros across the board. He didn’t burst on the scene until year two and a strong finish to the season left him with a final stat line of 67 receptions, 852 yards and five touchdowns. Here were some funny write ups that I found on Kelce:

#30 overall, “Travis Kelce has a chance to be a borderline TE1 throughout his career, but he has to stay clean; he’s had off-the-field issues in the past.” – Walterfootball.com

My favorite one was this and my hat goes off to you Ken Kelly

“I personally have Kelce rated highest amongst the DLF crew – I think he could be the steal of the draft at the position. While many are clamoring for Tyler Eifert or Zach Ertz as their developmental rookie tight end, I have as much confidence in Kelce becoming a significant contributor as I do the others. Thing is, Kelce comes at a cheaper price. He was a very productive player in college and is a very natural athlete. He has some growing to do, but so does everyone else you’ll find in this range. With the tight end tiers being so close, I’d rather take the player with the highest (or at least equally high) ceiling and lowest floor at this point in the draft over the other two much earlier.”

Looking back at rankings and write ups about Eifert, he had similar traits to that of Pitts, and went as high as pick 1.08 in what I could see based on rankings alone, but was more of a mid-second-round pick in leagues. Here’s a good writeup on Eifert just to give you an idea of what was thought of him:

“We’re not sure whether to be more disappointed for Jeremy Gresham, Tyler Eifert or both of them. Truth be told, while Gresham has been serviceable as a starting tight end, he hasn’t produced to expectations and Eifert has the ability to stretch the field, in addition to making the tough catches across the middle. In short, he’s got more upside and should eventually take over as the Bengals’ primary option at the position. With many teams migrating to two tight ends sets to pressure opposing linebackers, the risk is that Gresham and Eifert will remain on the field together without either one of them producing to any great degree. Despite the risks, Eifert’s ceiling is too high to allow him to slip much beyond the first round in fantasy drafts. There are flashier picks available, but you won’t go fantasy-broke by loading up on the top talent in each skill position.” –dynastyleaguefootball.com

Eifert broke out in year three (2015) with 13 touchdowns. Once again, as we’ve seen with these top tight ends, we had to wait for production as the year prior he only played eight snaps before dislocating his elbow. However, in Eifert’s case his 13-touchdown season turned out to be a bit of an outlier as his career ever since has been plagued with injuries and a lack of production, essentially turning him into a player you can’t even afford to roster.

Conclusion:

I get it. Kyle Pitts is like no other. I am like most of you dynasty owners as his athletic ability projects to make him one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Would I love to have him on my dynasty rosters? Absolutely, I’m not going to lie to you, but from what I have researched and concluded while composing this article, I just can’t take a tight end based on all the “what if” scenarios.

If, and it’s a strong/bold IF, Pitts becomes the next Kelce, he will be worth the first-round pick and this article will be complete trash. However, I don’t think Pitts is the absolute slam dunk that people are making him out to be since we have a lot of proof that the transition from college to pro at the position of tight end is rather challenging.

Wasting a top-half, first-round pick is nothing you want to mess with. Every rookie, every year has a chance to bust. None of them are true guarantees at all positions. But for tight ends, their available points are just too low to be satisfied with. You will be passing up points with quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers that I think will be better than Pitts year after year. However, like I said in my intro, I am willing to be on this island by myself if need be.

I am prepared to not have ONE share of Pitts this year. If I am on the clock and he is there for me to pick, I’ll be more than prepared to trade it and let someone else in my league reach for him while I accumulate their future picks so that they have a chance to land this “Generational Talent”. 

Ryan Miner is a featured blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast. Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook

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