Coming into last year’s draft cycle, there was no argument as to who was the best overall prospect. Organizations would give anything to be in a position to draft a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, who has overachieved at every level. However, there was some deliberation about the 2021 draft class’ best non-quarterback prospect, which some dubbed Penei Sewell and Ja’Marr Chase to be. However, most people, including me, gave Kyle Pitts the label even if he was a tight end, which is historically considered to be one of the least valuable positions.
At Florida’s Pro Day, the 6’6″, 245-pound freak ran his 40-yard dash in a remarkable 4.44 seconds, recorded a 10’9″ broad jump and a 33.5-inch vertical leap. However, the most impressive measurement had to be his wingspan, which is over 83 inches and longer than any other wide receiver or tight end that has been measured at the NFL combine in the last 20 years. He was my No. 1 prospect for a reason:
He’s positionless, able to align on the boundary, in the slot, or with his hand in the dirt. He’s as good of a route-runner as any receiver in this draft with great burst out of his break, giving him elite change-of-direction skills for a person of his size. Pitts is as good after-the-catch as he is before, a rare and tremendous red-zone threat. Excellent at beating one-on-one press, but also great at finding the soft spot in zones. The former Gator, much like Julio Jones, makes normal 50-50 balls, closer to 60-40 in favor of Pitts.
Much like Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson were going to thrive in whichever situation they landed in, Pitts has the same potential as a prospect. He and Hayden Hurst would provide Arthur Smith with a deadly two-tight end formation that would keep defenses in their base personnel or force them into sub-packages to which Smith would just run the ball against lighter boxes. The “F” tight end means Pitts is used outside, in the slot, and in-line in multiple ways.
The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-picked tight end in league history after selecting him fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. He hauled in 68 receptions for 1,026 yards, an average of 15.1 yards per reception, and eclipsed a bevy of franchise records this season. Pitts became the first rookie tight end in 60 years to surpass 1,000 receiving yards; he’s also Atlanta’s all-time rookie receiving yards leader, a title previously held by Julio Jones for a decade.
The Florida Gator product passed Tony Gonzalez for the most single-season receiving yards in team history from a tight end and was rewarded with a spot in the Pro Bowl — the first rookie tight end to make the Pro Bowl since Jeremy Shockey in 2002. Pitts also finished the season just short of Mike Ditka’s rookie receiving record for tight ends, which Ditka set in 1961 after totaling 1,076 yards.
Now, during the 2022 draft cycle, a prospect is garnering a similar analysis. Pitts’ positional value is what had many people questioning the Falcons taking the tight end with the 4th overall pick. This year it is Kyle Hamilton, a safety prospect out of Notre Dame. And I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter.
Hamilton is arguably the best non-quarterback prospect of the class. There are a few prospects like Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and some offensive tackles that rival Hamilton, but I see the Notre Dame product as the best of them. Hutchinson’s position is a premium, so Hamilton will never be graded higher than him. However, he is much more than a traditional safety.
Hamilton is similar to Derwin James in that he’s incredibly versatile. He has ideal size, excellent closing speed, and a high football IQ. Hamilton played all over the Irish defense in 2021, lining up deep in coverage, in the slot, and in the box as a linebacker. He can cover tight ends while also supporting the run with the best of them.
Hamilton might not post the same eye-popping numbers as Pitts did during their respective combines; after all, the Notre Dame product did reportedly run a slower-than-ideal 40-yard dash. But it doesn’t matter to me.
Pitts is a swiss army knife on offense, and Hamilton is the same on defense. Both prospects’ positions are naturally undervalued but don’t kid yourself. Hamilton would be a home-run pick if he fell to Atlanta, so I’m confused seeing Falcons fans upset over the prospect of Fontenot selecting him 8th overall. Don’t overthink this one.
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