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2021 NFL draft: Comparing the top tight ends’ advanced numbers

Brevin Jordan
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The tight end position could be essential in Mike LaFleur’s offense. Who should the New York Jets target in the draft?

Over Mike LaFleur’s time in San Francisco, the tight position was consistently a focal point of the 49ers’ offense. George Kittle was the ringleader, but the 49ers also got important contributions from players like Ross Dwelley, Jordan Reed, and Levine Toilolo.

The Jets’ tight end room has a proven blocker in Tyler Kroft and a tad of potentially untapped potential in Chris Herndon, but that’s about it. Joe Douglas and company will undoubtedly be on the lookout for more talent at the position in the 2021 NFL draft. So, who should they target? Let’s compare the advanced numbers of some of the top players in the tight end class.

Here are the prospects we will be comparing today:

  • Kyle Pitts, Florida
  • Pat Freiermuth, Penn St.
  • Brevin Jordan, Miami
  • Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
  • Hunter Long, Boston College
  • Kenny Yeboah, Mississippi
  • Tre’ McKitty, Georgia
  • Quinton Morris, Bowling Green
  • Nick Eubanks, Michigan
  • Pro Wells, TCU
  • Miller Forristall, Alabama
  • John Bates, Boise St.
  • Shaun Beyer, Iowa

If there are any other prospects you’d like to learn about, let me know in the comments.

2021 NFL Draft Advanced Stats:

Yards per route run

This statistic divides a player’s receiving yardage by the number of plays in which he ran out to catch a pass. It gives us a good feel for how productive each player was when we adjust for the number of opportunities they were given.

Here is how everyone in our 13-player group fared in yards per route run in 2020, and their percentile rank among qualified FBS tight ends.

  1. Kyle Pitts: 3.53 (99th percentile)
  2. Brevin Jordan: 2.70 (95th)
  3. Pat Freiermuth: 2.33 (91st)
  4. Kenny Yeboah: 2.09 (87th)
  5. John Bates: 1.83 (82nd)
  6. Quintin Morris: 1.81 (81st)
  7. Hunter Long: 1.74 (78th)
  8. Shaun Beyer: 1.70 (77th)
  9. Pro Wells: 1.55 (65th)
  10. Tre’ McKitty: 1.32 (58th)
  11. Tommy Tremble: 1.25 (52nd)
  12. Nick Eubanks: 0.99 (36th)
  13. Miller Forristall: 0.92 (31st)

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Get ready to see Kyle Pitts at the top of most of these lists. He’s somewhat good at the whole football thing.

Pitts led all tight ends in the FBS with 770 receiving and 12 receiving touchdowns (tied for the TD lead with BYU’s Isaac Rex) despite playing only eight games and ranking 26th among tight ends with 236 routes run. His average of 3.53 yards per route run was by far the highest among Power-5 tight ends and tight ends with at least 20 targets – the only players ahead of him were small-sample/small-school wizards Kyle Patterson (Air Force) and Rivaldo Fairweather (FIU).

Boston College’s Hunter Long ranked second behind Pitts with 685 yards (over 11 games), but he had the most routes run of any tight end in the country (393), so his efficiency wasn’t actually that great. Meanwhile, Miami’s Brevin Jordan placed sixth with 576 yards (over 8 games) despite ranking 30th in routes run (213).

Pitts led the position with 96.3 yards per game while Jordan finished fourth with 72.0. Placing third was Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, who amassed 310 yards over only four games (77.5).

Pro Football Focus receiving grade

PFF’s receiving grade does a good job of showcasing the quality of a player’s receiving impact. Players will not fare well in this category if they rack up a lot of free production through uncontested catches and runs after the catch. Drops and failed contested-catch opportunities will hurt as well. Players will fare very well by avoiding drops, creating catches for themselves by beating defenders with strong routes, making contested catches, and making plays after the catch.

Here is how the group fared.

  1. Kyle Pitts: 96.1 (100th percentile)
  2. Hunter Long: 83.2 (92nd)
  3. Pat Freiermuth: 80.9 (90th)
  4. Shaun Beyer: 80.5 (89th)
  5. Brevin Jordan: 78.0 (86th)
  6. Kenny Yeboah: 69.5 (67th)
  7. Nick Eubanks: 67.0 (64th)
  8. John Bates: 66.4 (62nd)
  9. Pro Wells: 64.8 (57th)
  10. Tre’ McKitty: 63.9 (55th)
  11. Tommy Tremble: 63.7 (54th)
  12. Miller Forristall: 60.0 (37th)
  13. Quintin Morris: 57.2 (30th)

Pitts’ 96.1 receiving grade was the best among all players in the country – regardless of how many targets they got, regardless of what position they played, and even including all 360 FBS, FCS, Division-II, and Division-III teams. He’s not too shabby.

While Hunter Long’s yards-per-route efficiency wasn’t anything special, his PFF receiving grade aligns more closely with his excellent volume production. He displayed great hands with only three drops against 57 catches (5.0% rate) and a total of 11 contested catches that tied with Pitts for third-most in the country.

Pat Freiermuth was a contested-catch monster, ranking eighth in the country with eight of them despite playing only four games. His average of 2.0 contested catches per game was by far the best of any FBS tight end.

Despite producing well in terms of yards per route run, Quintin Morris graded poorly due to the fact that he has terrible hands. He led all tight ends with seven drops while making only 20 catches (25.9% drop rate).

Pro Football Focus run blocking grade

The Jets have placed an emphasis upon improving their skill position blocking through the addition of good blockers like Kroft, Corey Davis, and Keelan Cole. Which tight ends in the draft can help them keep that trend going?

Here is how our 13 tight ends graded out as run blockers at PFF in 2020.

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