The Minnesota Vikings seem to be very well set up as far as the tight end position goes. Currently, they have the established Kyle Rudolph and the up and coming Irv Smith Jr. Both of which have shown their ability to be excellent receivers, although Rudy could become a casualty of the 2021 COVID cap crisis.
Also, as my friend and colleague Josh Frey insists, the Vikings have another solid receiving tight end in fourth year man Tyler Conklin. So, what would be the point of targeting the best tight end in the 2021 draft?
Well, first let’s look at that number one prospect, the University of Florida’s Kyle Pitts. A three year player for the Gators, Pitts improved statistically every season, despite only playing eight games in 2020 versus 12 in 2019. He finished his career in the Swamp with 100 receptions, 1492 receiving yards, 17.9 yards per catch, and 18 receiving touchdowns. He also won all-SEC honors, was unanimous All-American, and claimed the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end.
When you watch Pitts on film, it’s really hard to find flaws in his game. He’s got the size and speed to be a matchup nightmare anywhere on the field. He creates space against defensive backs by using his body, without drawing flags for offensive pass interference, and out runs most linebackers who are matched up with him.
Usually tight ends who are as athletic and dominant as Pitts was in college lack some polish or refinement. However, Pitts seems to be extremely pro-ready. He played both the traditional tight end position and split out wide at Florida, something that NFL tight ends are expected to do in pretty much every offense, and is competent at finding ways to get open in both situations.
If there is one area where Pitts suffers somewhat, it is blocking. His frame doesn’t allow him to blow up linebackers or defensive linemen. He’s not afraid to mix it up and he gets in the correct position, but he doesn’t have the physical makeup to finish blocks. He should be able to handle blocking most defensive backs at the second level.
So, Pitts is a special tight end prospect. Minnesota is also up against the cap, again, in 2021, mostly because the cap didn’t increase because of the lack of NFL revenue with no, or limited, fans with the COVID pandemic. This makes Kyle Rudolph especially expendable. The Vikings save ~$5 million if they cut the aging tight end.
If the Vikings want to draft Pitts, they’re going to need him to fall, and fall hard. Pitts is projected to go top five in a lot of mock drafts. It’s extremely unlikely that the Vikings make a move up the board for Pitts, especially with how needy the defensive and offensive lines still are. However, if Pitts somehow falls to 14, the Vikings almost have to take him as the best player available.
Of course this makes Pitts pretty much a pipe dream to play in purple, but if he did, it would immediately solve a few problems. First, it would let Minnesota cut Rudolph and free up cap space. Second, it would create a crazy athletic and versatile 1-2 punch at the tight end position. Third, it would let the Vikings use both Pitts and Smith Jr as if they were the team’s WR3 behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
A guy can only dream of how potent that offense would be.
Projected Draft Position: Top 5-10
Best Traits: Athleticism, Flexibility as a receiver, Polish
Biggest Drawbacks: Blocking ability