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2021 NFL Draft: BTSC Steelers Big Board, Tight Ends

Ranking and analyzing the top 17 tight ends in the 2021 NFL Draft.

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Vanderbilt v Florida Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

If recent history has told us anything, it is important to have a good tight end. This year, we saw Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski in the Super Bowl, and last year we saw Kelce and George Kittle. While many tight ends are being used primarily as mismatches in the slot, the best tight ends in the league are still players that can contribute as blockers.

After last year’s class that featured zero first round picks, this year’s class does not seem to be a whole lot stronger. There is more talent at the top, but the depth is somewhat lacking once again. There is no denying that the Steelers have a lot of needs to tend to, but with Vance McDonald retiring and Eric Ebron potentially becoming a cap casualty, I expect Kevin Colbert and the Steelers front office to do their due diligence on the tight end prospects.

We have already covered the rest of the offensive skill positions, but we still have offensive linemen and the defensive side of the football to cover. If you have enjoyed these rankings and want to join us to analyze the other positions, let me or Ryland know in the comment section, and you can be a part of our upcoming rankings.

SNW’s consensus rankings are an average of where the prospects appeared on big boards (ranking all positions) from other draft websites. The websites, in order, are CBS Sports, Drafttek, ESPN, Mock Draft Database, and Tankathon.

In case you missed it, make sure to check out the first four installments of the board: Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide Receivers (Part 1), and Wide Receivers (Part 2).

Draft discussion on BTSC is what makes these articles worth the work, so be sure to give your thoughts on these rankings and anything else related to the Steelers or the NFL Draft in the comment section. Let’s get to the rankings!


1. Kyle Pitts — #84, Jr, 6’5”, 239 lbs, — Florida
Top 20 grade
Consensus ranking: 9 (10, 9, 6, 11, 11)
2020 season stats: 43 receptions, 770 receiving yards, 12 receiving TD’s, (8 games)

Ryland B.: “Matchup nightmare” is really the only way to describe Kyle Pitts. At 6’5” and around 240 lbs, with the athleticism of a wide receiver, Pitts made a living at Florida making defensive backs and linebackers look silly. He has incredible hands, great body control, and a large catch radius, and his ability to track and catch a football through contact make him the best at contested catch scenarios in this class. Perhaps being nearly six-and-a-half feet tall helps, as well. Besides his knack for winning 50/50 balls, Pitts can also win with pure athleticism, as he has good speed and is surprisingly a good route-runner for a player of his size. His lanky frame makes it so he won’t be the quickest, but he has impressive long speed and can easily burn linebackers. He even lined up on the outside at times and held his own, bullying corners. He’s impressive after the catch, as well. The one problem with Pitts is that he isn’t the greatest blocker, and while he’s fairly strong, has good size, and shows good effort, he isn’t that effective and will mainly be a receiving threat on the next level. Still, a team that isn’t looking for a blocking tight end will get some incredible value out of Pitts, and he could be a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.

steelerfan11: Pitts was a special playmaker this year at Florida, accumulating 12 touchdowns from Kyle Trask. He will likely never be a good blocker, but he is an explosive receiving weapon who is similar to Darren Waller of the Raiders. He is a matchup nightmare, playing almost as a big wide receiver. As much fun as fans could have with a “Pitts-burgh,” he will not be available when the Steelers are up to pick, and he does not solve any of the Steelers’ current issues on offense. So let’s move on.

2. Pat Freiermuth — #87, Jr, 6’5”, 250 lbs, — Penn State
Top 25 grade
Consensus ranking: 39 (26, 47, 41, 39, 41)
2020 season stats: 23 receptions, 310 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD’s, (4 games)

Ryland B.: Freiermuth is probably the most complete tight end in this year’s class, impressing both as a pass-catcher and as a blocker. Sadly, we didn’t get to see much of him in 2020, as a shoulder injury prematurely ended his Junior season. He has good size for the position, and is a plus athlete, although he is not as dynamic as Pitts. Freiermuth is one of the better blocking tight ends in this class, but that doesn’t make it a huge strength of his. The size and ability are there, and he’s rather effective, but the technique and effort can be a little lacking at times. The upside is there, though, and Freiermuth could be quite the blocker with some good coaching. As a receiver, he’s very good, with soft hands, good route-running ability, and physicality at the catch point. He’s tough to bring down after the catch as well. Pitts is generally considered the best tight end in the class, but Freiermuth’s game is more well-rounded, and he still brings a lot of athletic upside. His stock has fallen a bit since his injury, making some think he’ll fall from the first round to the second, but a team looking for a traditional tight end will get a good one, who could be great with some good coaching in the right scheme.

steelerfan11: Freiermuth is one of my favorite prospects in this class because of his style of play. Every year people try to compare the top tight ends in the class to Rob Gronkowski, but I actually find it fair to compare Freiermuth to him. I expect Freiermuth to get closer to the 260 pound range once he is in the NFL, helping him hold up against stronger NFL athletes. He does a good job of boxing out defenders and getting in good position to make catches, and he has the soft hands that you want in a tight end. I realize that he is still very raw and undeveloped as a blocker, but I believe that he is fully capable of becoming one of the top blocking tight ends in the league. It just may not come in year one. If he has fully recovered from that shoulder injury that ended his 2020 season early, he will be able to contribute immediately as a legitimate red zone threat. They say that a good blocking tight end is an extension of the offensive line, so if the value does not present itself at center or tackle, maybe the Steelers would consider the local tight end instead.

3. Hunter Long — #80, Jr, 6’5”, 253 lbs, — Boston College
Late 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 90 (NA, 111, 49, 110, NA)
2020 season stats: 57 receptions, 685 receiving yards, 5 receiving TD’s, (11 games)

Ryland B.: Long was targeted a lot last year as a big part of Boston College’s offense, and responded well with some admirable production. He has good size and decent athleticism, although he lacks the athletic upside of some of the others in this class. As a receiver he has solid hands and speed, and while his routes aren’t anything special, they’re more than adequate for a man his size. Long is a great blocker, being both willing and effective, with good hand placement and drive. While Long is still above-average as a receiver, there are still some issues overall. He isn’t the most athletic and could have a tough time getting separation on the next level. His hands are good, but there are still some drops here and there, and while he made some tough catches, he failed to hold onto some passes you would expect a big, imposing tight end to come down with. He’s not much of a threat after the catch, either. Overall I’m not as big a fan of Long as some others are, but in a weak class he’s a solid third option. He could be a good #2 tight end for an NFL team, but I don’t think he has much starter upside.

steelerfan11: Unlike many of the tight ends on this list, Long was very productive in college. I would like to see him become a smoother route-runner, but he does a good job of finding the soft spots in zone coverage and sitting in them. He has a solid pad level but lacks elite strength as a blocker. Adding more weight may help him in that area. Long is also one of those players that I would have liked to see perform at the combine, but if his pro day numbers are made public, it will be telling as to how much upside he has athletically. I think he can be a solid tight end in the NFL, but he will never be a top tier tight end.

4. Brevin Jordan — #9, Jr, 6’3”, 245 lbs, — Miami (FL)
Late 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 66 (47, 85, 71, 64, 65)
2020 season stats: 38 receptions, 576 receiving yards, 7 receiving TD’s, (8 games)

Ryland B.: Brevin Jordan is an elite athlete at the tight end position, with really good speed and excellent yards-after-catch ability. He’s a little more compactly built than some of the other TE’s in the class, but he still has good size. As a pass-catcher he’s dynamic, and is probably only second to Kyle Pitts in receiving ability in this class, with a good speed and agility combination for someone his size. His hands are good and consistent for the most part, but he isn’t the greatest in 50/50 ball scenarios. I wouldn’t necessarily call blocking a strength, but he’s pretty solid in that area and shows good effort. Overall, Jordan is a great receiving tight end who should be able to contribute right away to an NFL offense. I wouldn’t call him starter material just yet, but he has the work ethic and upside to be something special.

steelerfan11: Jordan is similar to Evan Engram in stature and athleticism. While he will never be mistaken for Kittle or Gronkowski as a blocker, he has some sneaky power and can have success against smaller pass rushers. Even though blocking will never be a strength for him, he displays good effort and a willingness to do it. He does his best work from the slot, however, creating size mismatches against defensive backs and serious speed mismatches against linebackers. Jordan is not an excellent route-runner, but he can get upfield quickly and make things happen after the catch. Considering how the tight end position has changed, he could be a special player in the right system.

5. Tre’ McKitty — #87, Sr, 6’5”, 241 lbs, — Georgia
Late 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 222 (NA, 226, MN, 217, NA)
2020 season stats: 6 receptions, 108 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD’s, (7 games)

steelerfan11: When I was going back to watch 2019 tape this past summer, I was intrigued by McKitty and wrote “Keep an eye on him in 2020” next to his name in my notes. Unfortunately, he was very underutilized at both Florida State and Georgia, racking up only 108 yards his senior season. He showed the ability to line up as an H-back, in-line, or in the slot. He did a good job working up the seams and creating separation from defenders, and he displayed good technique as a blocker. McKitty finally had a chance to get the attention of scouts at the Senior Bowl, and he took full advantage of the opportunity, showing the ability to do all the things that we saw in the limited opportunities he was given in college. He has dramatically helped his draft stock and could hear his name called on day two.

Ryland B.: The FSU transfer was never that productive as a Seminole, and not much changed after he ended up at Georgia. The athletic traits are there, though, as McKitty has good size as well as impressive speed and body control for a tight end. McKitty has good hands as well, and can be a threat after the catch. As a blocker, he’s solid, nothing terrible or amazing, but he is versatile in where he can line up, which is a plus. Concerns around his college production and a bit of an injury history could hurt McKitty’s draft stock, but overall he could be a good #2 tight end with the potential to be a solid #1 option.

6, Tommy Tremble — #24, Jr, 6’4’, 248 lbs, — Notre Dame
Early 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 233 (NA, 208, NA, 258, NA)
2020 season stats: 19 receptions, 218 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD’s, (12 games)

steelerfan11: Tremble is a good athlete who was behind Cole Kmet on the depth chart in 2019 and Michael Mayer in 2020. He still got opportunities at Notre Dame, but he oftentimes failed to produce at the level that one would hope for. He can get in and out of his cuts fairly quickly, and he usually displays reliable hands. He does not always create separation from defenders, however, and that will need to change if he is going to take that next step as a receiving tight end. He does his best work from the slot and will probably never become a good in-line blocker, but there is athletic upside to work with here.

Ryland B.: I think that Tremble could be a steal in this draft, as he’s a good tight end who’s just been stuck behind other good tight ends on the Notre Dame depth chart. Tremble is an excellent athlete, with good explosiveness and route-running abilities. He has good hands as well. Tremble is a really good blocker, but most of his success came at the second level, mainly working against linebackers. If he can make an impact against NFL defensive ends he could really elevate his game. Tremble’s good blocking foundation, paired with his athleticism, make him an intriguing prospect in the upcoming draft. However, much like his time at Notre Dame, I’m not sure if he’ll ever be more than a good second option.

7. Miller Forristall — #87, Sr, 6’5”, 242 lbs, — Alabama
Mid 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 295 (NA, 295, NA, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: 12 receptions, 505 receiving yards, 5 receiving TD’s, (12 games)

steelerfan11: Forristall is my favorite sleeper in this class, showing the ability to both block and catch at a high level. He was used in an H-back role quite often at Alabama, and he was underutilized as a receiver, being behind DeVonta Smith, Jeylen Waddle, Najee Harris and John Metchie in the pecking order for targets. He has very good hands, decent speed, and good body control. He has a good pad level as a blocker and has good hand usage. He does have an injury history though, and that is going to be the biggest red flag for teams. For me, he is more than worth the risk on day three because of the starter upside that he brings. At the very least, I expect him to be a reliable #2 tight end if he can stay healthy.

Ryland B.: Trevor Lawrence’s high school tight end ended up at Alabama, where he spent five years before declaring for the NFL draft. Forristall isn’t an incredible athlete, but he has enough ability to compete at a high level, with decent speed and route-running ability as well as strong, reliable hands. He’s an excellent blocker as well, with good technique but also a bit of a nasty streak. His injury history could be a problem, but if he can stay healthy, Forristall is an excellent mid-to-late round prospect with a very high floor.

8. Shaun Beyer — #42, Sr, 6’5”, 246 lbs, — Iowa
Late 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 293 (NA, 386, NA, 200, NA)
2020 season stats: 11 receptions, 158 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD’s, (8 games)

steelerfan11: Those of you that read only the rankings and not the analysis probably stopped to read the analysis for Beyer after you saw that he was from Iowa. Considering the great reputation that Iowa has with tight ends, I don’t blame you. Beyer had to wait his turn behind Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson, and the quarterback play in 2020 was not the most consistent. Although part of his lack of production was due to that, he does have areas that he needs to improve upon. He lets the ball come to him rather than going toward the ball, and he has a few too many body catches. He isn’t the fastest off the line of scrimmage either, but he does a good job of creating separation downfield. He is a consistently good blocker and does a great job of finishing his blocks. Overall, Beyer is a blocking tight end who could potentially develop into a reliable red zone weapon.

Ryland B.: Iowa’s quarterback play over the last few years has been pretty bad, which you have to take into account when analyzing pass-catchers from the school. Beyer suffered from that, and still has some untapped potential. That being said, he’s not the most explosive athlete in the first place, and although he has good hands, he’s not really dynamic as a receiver in the first place. He is one of the better blockers in the class though, and paired with his good size he could definitely excel in a blocking, second/third option role as a tight end on the NFL level.

9. Kenny Yeboah — #84, Sr, 6’4’’, 240 lbs, — Ole Miss
Early 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 149 (NA, 112, 197, 137, NA)
2020 season stats: 27 receptions, 524 receiving yards, 6 receiving TD’s, (8 games)

steelerfan11: Yeboah had a nice season for Ole Miss, averaging nearly twenty yards per catch. He is not an in-line tight end and offers very little as a blocker, but he gives defenders fits when lining up in the slot. His route-running and hands are both exceptional, and he offers sufficient speed. He is not quite as effective when lining up on the perimeter, but he has the athleticism to get better on the outside as well. I am not a huge fan because of his limitations as a blocker, but he could be a chess piece for a team that will utilize his skill set properly.

Ryland B.: A high-upside, athletic tight end, Yeboah reportedly interested Mike Tomlin at the Senior Bowl this year. Yeboah is a big play threat at the tight end position, with good speed who really excelled going down the seam. He has good hands and the ability to track the ball well, too. As a blocker he’s not great, but shows good effort and isn’t a total liability. Yeboah’s higher ceiling makes him an interesting prospect, and if he’s available in the later rounds, expect the Steelers to take a look.

10. Nick Eubanks — #82, Sr, 6’5”, 236 lbs, — Michigan
Mid 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 202 (NA, 262, 188, 157, NA)
2020 season stats: 10 receptions, 117 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD’s, (5 games)

steelerfan11: Eubanks was never utilized well by Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan coaching staff. Eubanks has a lot of athletic upside, and he was reliable when called upon in the passing game, but I feel as if he was not called upon as much as he should have been. Most scouting reports may knock him for poor blocking skills, but I think that he was actually solid in that department for Michigan. He has the size (256 pounds) and speed that you want in a tight end. While there is no denying that he is raw, he brings fringe TE1 upside who will probably be a solid TE2 in the NFL.

Ryland B.: Eubanks has good athleticism and potential, but like a lot of the tight ends in this class, his production last year didn’t really reflect that. He’s a solid receiver with good hands and route-running ability, and is equally effective as a blocker. Nothing too special or terrible, but Eubanks is a better prospect than former Michigan product Zach Gentry, and should be an effective depth tight end on the next level.

11. Matt Bushman — #89, Sr, 6’5”, 245 lbs, — BYU
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 223 (NA, 196, NA, 250, NA)
2020 season stats: None
2019 season stats: 47 receptions, 688 receiving yards, 4 receiving TD’s, (13 games)

steelerfan11: Bushman is older than the other prospects in the class, but he was very productive before an achilles injury kept him out of action in 2020. Bushman is a solid in-line blocker, but his lack of functional strength may keep him from becoming elite in that area of his game. He has decent athleticism and has a big catch radius, but his age and injury are both issues that will cause him to drop to day three. He brings enough upside to warrant a 5th or 6th round selection, but the issues are too worrisome to take him any higher than that.

12. Luke Farrell — #89, Sr, 6’6”, 250 lbs, — Ohio State
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: 261 (NA, 337, NA, 185, NA)
2020 season stats: 5 receptions, 37 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD’s, (8 games)

Ryland B.: A good run-blocking tight end, Farrell doesn’t bring a ton as a receiver but has the ability to move people really well. He’s got great size and strength, and is technically sound, tough, and effective as a blocker. As a receiver he won’t get much separation, but has good hands when targeted and can be tough to bring down. The lack of receiving ability and athletic upside makes it so Farrell doesn’t really have a future as TE #1, but as a primary blocker and depth piece he could be really effective.

13. Josh Pederson — #86, Sr, 6’5”, 235 Lbs, — Louisiana Monroe
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: NA (NA, NA, NA, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: 32 receptions, 367 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD’s, Punts: 1, 47 yds, (10 games)

steelerfan11: The son of former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, Josh is an intriguing prospect that has gotten very little buzz. He is what you would expect out of a coach’s son and then some. Pederson is smart and has good leadership qualities, but he also brings some athletic upside. He needs to add a good bit of weight, but he runs good routes and has decent speed. Run-blocking is a bit of a work in progress, but he could become solid in that department if he adds a good 20-25 pounds. He is also very good after the catch. In an interview with NFL Draft Diamonds, Pederson said that he models his game after Zach Ertz. He isn’t there yet, but if he is given a couple years to develop and get stronger, I think he could be a force to be reckoned with.

14. Noah Gray — #87, Sr, 6’4”, 240 lbs, — Duke
7th round grade
Consensus ranking: 196 (NA, 189, 145, 255, NA)
2020 season stats: 29 receptions, 285 receiving yards, 2 receiving TD’s, (10 games)

Ryland B.: A solid receiving option, Gray is a good athlete with good route-running ability and hands. From the measurements, Gray has good size, but he could still bulk up a bit, and tends to play smaller than he is. Because of that, he’s not a great blocker, and doesn’t offer much in the way of the “makes tough catches” mold of tight end. The athletic upside is there though, so Gray will find his way to an NFL roster. The question is, can he stick?

15. Pro Wells — #81, Jr, 6’4”, 250 lbs, — TCU
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: 258 (NA, 249, NA, 267, NA)
2020 season stats: 13 receptions, 195 receiving yards, 3 receiving TD’s, (10 games)

steelerfan11: Wells is yet another tight end who is best in the slot. Of the limited production he has seen since becoming a tight end, a lot of it has been in the red zone, as he has accumulated 8 touchdowns in the past two seasons on only 30 catches. He is a decent athlete who can box out defenders to make difficult catches, but he is still fairly new to the position and is nothing more than a project.

16. Tony Poljan — #87, Sr, 6’7”, 265 lbs, — Virginia
7th round grade/UDFA
Consensus ranking: 171 (NA, 122, 192, 198, NA)
2020 season stats: 38 receptions, 411 receiving yards, 6 receiving TD’s, (9 games)

Ryland B.: It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Poljan was Zach Gentry — but from Virginia. He’s an incredibly tall player who is a limited athlete, an average to below average blocker, and whose tall frame makes it so he plays too high. And get this — he went to college hoping to be quarterback as well. That being said, Poljan’s large frame still gives him some upside, and he has good, reliable hands as a receiver. He was fairly productive last year as well. He’s a fringe-draftable target who will find his way to an NFL training camp somewhere.

17. John Bates — #85, Sr, 6’6”, 256 lbs, — Boise State
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: NA (NA, NA, NA, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: 12 receptions, 170 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD’s, (5 games)

steelerfan11: Bates has the size that you want in an in-line tight end. He gets good hand placement on defenders and does a good job of sealing the edge in the run game. He has good short-area quickness but lacks the speed needed to separate from defenders downfield. He is also not terribly agile. He will make his contributions as a blocker, but he needs to prove that he is helpful on passing downs as well if he wants to be drafted.


Notable prospects who decided to return to school for 2021:

Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar

Wisconsin TE Jake Feurgeson

Ohio State TE Jeremey Ruckert

Washington TE Cade Otton

Texas TE Cade Brewer


Should the Steelers draft a tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft?

steelerfan11: Considering that the Steelers could save $6 million by cutting Eric Ebron, I think that it should definitely be considered. I have never been a fan of Ebron and did not like the contract he signed with us, but the contract does allow us to move on this year without having a huge dead cap hit. We have failed to find a reliable tight end that can both block and catch since Heath Miller retired, but depending on how the draft plays out, we could potentially find the right guy. Some see tight end as a luxury pick, but I believe that a tight end that can block helps out the offensive line and running game. I highly doubt that the Steelers will trade back under Kevin Colbert, but if he were to break a trend and move back eight to ten spots, I would be totally fine with the Steelers taking Pat Freiermuth. I believe that he would solve the problems that we have had at tight end ever since Heath retired. And considering the emergence of Tre McKitty and Hunter Long as prospects, a team that is interested in Freiermuth may choose to wait and grab Long or McKitty later on, causing Freiermuth to drop to the Steelers in round two. I honestly would not be shocked if Hunter Long went ahead of Freiermuth based on 2020 production and Freiermuth’s injury. If Pat is not available, I would not force a different tight end. There is a good chance that Jesse James will become available, and there may be other options in rounds three through seven. I believe that left tackle and center are bigger needs, but if Freiermuth is available in round two and we can save money by cutting Ebron, we need to consider it.

Ryland B.: I may be in the minority here but I’m not a fan of the idea of cutting Eric Ebron. Sure, he has some drop issues and his off the field antics may irk some, but overall he’s a good receiving tight end whose contract absolutely matched his 2020 production. However, if the Steelers do need to make some veteren cuts to clear cap space, I’d rather them cut Ebron than someone like Joe Haden or Steve Nelson, or even Vince Williams. All that to say, whether Ebron is cut or not, the Steelers are still very weak at the position, as Vance McDonald’s retirement left the team with Zach Gentry and Kevin Radar as #2 and #3 on the depth chart. The best answer would be to find some new talent in the draft, but it’s another weak class. Kyle Pitts is the only true first round option, and he’ll be gone in the top 10-15, and wouldn’t be a great fit on the Steelers anyway. Freiermuth is a BTSC favorite, but I’m not sure if he’d be a valuable pick until the second round, where the Steelers might be picking too late to have a chance. Overall, we’ll have to trust the Steelers’ scouts and hope they can find a good tight end at some point later in the draft, or perhaps the answer will be found in free agency.

Poll

When should the Steelers draft a tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Round 1
    (5 votes)
  • 34%
    Rounds 2-3
    (58 votes)
  • 51%
    Rounds 4-5
    (87 votes)
  • 7%
    Rounds 6-7
    (13 votes)
  • 4%
    UDFA/Don’t draft a tight end
    (7 votes)
170 votes total Vote Now

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If you are interested in contributing, or just want to share your thoughts about the draft, please let us know in the comments below.

Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for more content, including the rest of this big board, as we inch closer to the 2021 NFL Draft.