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Each year, the incoming group of rookies offers hope for the new season. We asked our staff to offer up the rookie tight end they are most interested in.
Here are the names who were mentioned.
And here are all of the reasons.
There is not a great amount of depth to this tight end class in terms of immediate contributors, which makes it difficult to not wax poetically about Kyle Pitts. I think at this point everyone understands what kind of an incredible prospect he was, considering he is now the highest-drafted tight end of all time. But I think it may be currently undersold just how effective he could be as a wide receiver, where he draws statistical similarity to players such as Mike Evans and Chase Claypool. The rookie tight end learning curve is often understated, but this is the rare case where I believe it to be greatly overstated. Pitts should see as much immediate functionality as a Russell Gage replacement as he will lined up as a traditional tight end, and that will allow Pitts to be an immediate impact player for fantasy.
Kyle Pitts is clearly the top tight end in this class and for good reason. Top corner, Jaycee Horn even mentioned that among all of the SEC receivers he has covered, Pitts is among the toughest challenge. This includes Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Elijah Moore, Devonta Smith, Seth Williams, etc.
As for the most interesting. I am intrigued and excited about the Colts selection of Kylen Granson. In the last two years at SMU, Granson had 78 receptions for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 6'1, 240 pounds, he is small for a tight end, but big for a wide receiver and he plays more like a wide receiver. Colts head coach Frank Reich was thrilled with this pick and his dynasty value is increasing as I type this. In the last five years, no team has more touchdowns to tight ends (52) than the Colts, with Carson Wentz's Eagles team #2 with 50. The outlook for Granson is on the rise. There are still areas for him to improve, but his ability to create separation and gain yards after the catch is what excites me, especially for his size. He's a big wide receiver playing the tight end position. If he learns the playbook, excels quickly, and is given a chance to be a receiving threat as a move tight end as expected, he could have a fantasy impact in year one.
This may sound like a homer pick, but I’ll go with Hunter Long. I was surprised when the Dolphins drafted him in the 3rd round since they have Gesicki and other tight ends they used often last year. Long is athletic and a solid pass catcher, so I’m curious if we will see him utilized a lot in his rookie year. The Dolphins after this year I believe can either tag Gesicki, resign him, or let him walk. Maybe the Dolphins will utilize him in some 12 personnel packages. Long is a great stash in dynasty leagues.
I agree with my colleagues, this was a really weak tight end class save for Kyle Pitts, who has the potential to be an all-timer. He's interesting for a lot of reasons, but the thing I'm fascinated by is the potential for his being among the most overvalued players in redraft leagues. Even Hall of Fame tight ends usually struggle as rookies. It's an exceedingly difficult position to master. And those few rookies who were fantasy relevant throughout history didn't have two All-Pro caliber wide receivers commanding target share. If Julio Jones is dealt (unlikely) or sits out a big chunk of the season (more likely), Pitts can be viable, but this current trend where he's being drafted as TE4 and in the first few rounds boggles my mind.
Kyle Pitts is going as early as TE1 in dynasty startup drafts, which is a high-risk strategy. He is the best tight end in the class by far, but taking a rookie that early in a startup draft is fraught with risk. A low-end TE1 type finish as a rookie is a fair projection, but expecting stardom from a slow developing position is dangerous.
While everyone will have eyes on Kyle Pitts, I am curious to see how Pat Freiermuth performs in Pittsburgh. Deemed "Baby Gronk," Freiermuth broke Miami Dolphins and former Penn State alum Mike Gesicki’s career touchdown record in 16 fewer games played. Tight ends take roughly 2-3 good years to develop for fantasy, so we shouldn't expect much production from Freiermuth this year, as a majority of his 2021 usage projects to be as a blocker. However, tight end Eric Ebron is in his last contract year with the Steelers, so we should expect to see a changing-of-the-guard in 2022. Freiermuth is a great value in dynasty drafts this year if you can afford to wait on tight end production.
Since it's such a low-impact tight end class for fantasy outside of Pitts (for 2021 anyway), the more interesting question to me is where he should be drafted among tight ends in season-long leagues.
Pitts is coming off the board at TE4 according to the early ADP data at Underdog, which is a HUGE ask given the historic learning curve for rookies at the position. I'm as enamored with Pitts' upside as anyone on staff, but it's too big a leap for me to draft him ahead of other young high-ceiling tight ends with more NFL experience under their collective belts (think T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert, and Noah Fant).
I reserve the right to change my tune if Julio Jones isn't on the Falcons roster in Week 1.
While there are more intriguing year-one fantasy tight ends, I am going with Tre' McKitty.
A Day 2 (barely) pick, McKitty was hand-picked by the Chargers staff to compete with Donald Parham for the starting gig eventually. It may come later in 2021. McKitty transferred from Florida State to Georgia and the pandemic-shortened offseason impacted his involvement in the offense.
McKitty was highly rated coming out of IMG Academy and is very athletic. He was the top tight for the state of Florida before joining Florida State.
Outside of the aging Jared Cook, there is not much ahead of McKitty on the depth chart so there is hope that his athletic talent kicks in with solid coaching.
I'll piggyback on Haseley's call on Granson. Frank Reich basically handpicked him and both the scheme and Wentz's past proclivities point towards tight end being a featured position in the pass offense. He wasn't drafted to block. Mo Alie-Cox is still exciting as a late bloomer who is a physical wonder and the better play for just this year, but Granson could zoom up the ranks quickly once he is fully integrated into the offense.
Redraft is always a drag for rookie tight ends, but Kyle Pitts has my endorsement as the TE4 in redraft. We couldn't have more signs that he is unique. Forget the past, Pitts is the future.
Dynasty is much more interesting for tight ends because of their slow development. Sammis Reyes is one of the most athletically gifted tight end prospects ever and a basketball convert. Washington gave him more guaranteed money than any fifth-round pick got, so think of him as a fourth-round pick. Jacob Harris is a size/speed WR/TE tweener who should move into Gerald Everett's role, but probably not until 2022 at the earliest.
Why Kyle Pitts is interesting for me is based on history. Tight ends are, at best, marginal fantasy starters in Year 1. The Falcons are loaded with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst, and even an under-the-radar Russell Gage in the passing game. Does Kyle Pitts take a shark-sized bite out of each's upside this year? How does especially the dynasty market react if Pitts is a TE2 in fantasy terms after spending typically a top-five rookie pick on Pitts?
I find Kylen Granson super interesting as a prospect. My research has him on the Gerald Everett and Jonnu Smith prism - shorter but athletic with strong collegiate production. While Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox populate the Colts tight end depth chart, neither is more than a speed bump if Granson is on the Everett-Smith level for early-career flashes.
The discussion about rookie tight ends is dominated by Kyle Pitts, which is fair enough. The next step is to look at guys drafted in the first four rounds and see if any land in a good spot. Washington selected John Bates in the fourth round. Will he be an NFL star at the position? Probably not, but can he be fantasy useful down the line? Yes. The guy he teams up with, Logan Thomas, is a perfect example. It took him seven years to crack the top-50 fantasy tight ends. He was selected in a similar spot. Bates will get a chance to learn and enhance his craft. Maybe by 2022 will earn more playing time. His upside is not elite, but he is a hard worker with great size and good hands. ESPN’s Todd McShay said, “I think he catches the ball as well as any tight end in this class besides Pitts." Bates is a hard sell to keep on most but the deepest dynasty squads, but outside Kyle Pitts most in this class are. Bates is in an ideal position to take advantage of a lack of depth on his team. His development will be interesting.
The only interesting tight end in 2021 is Kyle Pitts. In tight end premium leagues, it will be interesting to see how often he goes at the 1.01 in rookie drafts. Personally, I don't think he'll achieve that fantasy value unless he converts to wide receiver after the Falcons release Julio Jones on (or shortly after) June 1.
Oh wait, there's another: Tommy Tremble. There's hardly any resistance to his ascension up the depth chart in Carolina. The only question for me is how he doesn't end up being a Kyle Juszczyk clone that's great for real football but basically a non-entity for fantasy football.
I'll follow up on what Chad said with Granson. That situation is open and he is already getting positive reports from camp. I would not plan on depending on Granson this year, but as a developmental option, he is a good option, especially deeper in dynasty rookie drafts.
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