2021 Pre-Draft Rookie Best Fits – Tight Ends

Updated: April 21st 2021

This will be the third installment of our Rookie Best Fit series with a focus on the often forgotten tight end position. If you are looking for Best Fits for either Quarterback or Running Backs you can find those in the corresponding links.

Most years, because of RSO’s short window to capitalize on rookie contract values over their veteran counterparts, tight end is either pushed down in the rankings or just ignored altogether. There are cases of talents pushing their way into the late first round but often fail to live up to expectations when compared to those around them.

This year there is one player, Kyle Pitts, who is so well known and considered so unanimous that people forget that there are other options even available in 2021. Pitts is likely to go top 10 in the NFL draft and likely between 1.03 and 1.07 in most rookie drafts regardless of the landing spot. Remember to temper expectations though as even the best tight ends often take a year or two to develop before turning into George Kittle or Travis Kelce.

The other options are more rooted in normal tight end projects and would be better served to wait till at least the third round of rookie draft unless in a tight end premium league. With that, let us look at some of the prospects most likely to be drafted in rookie drafts for 2021.

Pat Freiermuth – Penn State

DLF Ranking – 19th (24th SF)

NFL Draft – 2nd Round

Best Fit – 2.38, Cincinnati Bengals /2.39, Carolina Panthers

If the Bengals do the responsible thing at 1.05 and draft Penei Sewell, missing out on Kyle Pitts, they may be rewarded with the opportunity to still draft Pat Freiermuth aka “Baby Gronk” out of Penn State. Freiermuth is easily one of the more polished blockers in this tight end class and would be perfect for both weak side blocking for Joe Mixon in the running game as well as providing another pass catcher for Joe Burrow over the middle. If the Bengals do not take him at 38 the Panthers should immediately turn in their card for all the same reasons one spot behind them.

Brevin Jordan – Miami (Florida)

DLF – 26th (27th SF)

NFL Draft – 3rd/4th Round

Best Fit – 3.85, Tennessee Titans

Another example of the team not having the right capital to acquire a player as I think Brevin Jordan would do excellent in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense where his slimmer frame as a slot tight end would do better for his value than being wasted as a part-time blocker. However, unless a trade down from the second round leaves them with mid-range capital we have to look elsewhere. The Titans just lost Jonnu Smith and while Anthony Frikser did okay as a receiver last season, Jordan would do much better to replace Smith alongside A.J. Brown and Josh Reynolds as the primary catching tight end in Tennessee.

Hunter Long – Boston College

DLF – 43rd (50th SF)

NFL Draft – 2nd/3rd Round

Best Fit – 2.54, Indianapolis Colts /2.61, Buffalo Bills

Watching Hunter Long gives off Zach Ertz vibes so why not pair him up with the coach and quarterback that made Zach Ertz, Frank Reich and Carson Wentz, in Indy. While there are several tight ends in Indianapolis right now there should be opportunities for a rookie like Long to come in and contribute in 2021 and continue to develop into a top tight end by 2022 or 2023. If the Colts do not take him, the Buffalo Bills could sweep in later in the second and fill one of the few holes they have at offense. One thing that usually makes a great fantasy tight end is a great quarterback and being linked to Josh Allen would do nothing but help Long’s case to be the TE2 in this class.

Kyle Pitts – Florida

DLF – 6th (8th SF)

NFL Draft – Top 10 Selection

Best Fit – 1.08, Carolina Panthers

Kyle Pitts is one of those rare talents where even though he plays a less valuable position in terms of draft value he likely is still going in the top 10 if not top 5 of the draft because of how overwhelming the gap between him and the next tight end option would be. If a run on quarterbacks goes early and he was to fall to 1.08 for Carolina, his chances of becoming a top 3 tight end right away would be oozing with potential. With Head Coach Matt Rhule and Offensive Coach Joe Brady able to scheme around talents like Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and then Kyle Pitts it would easily create one of the most dynamic offenses in the league to start day two of the draft.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

The Watch List 2021: Early TE Tiers

Updated: January 5th 2021

Throughout the offseason I will be compiling early positional tiers for the 2021 NFL Draft. In past years I’ve done early rankings but in hindsight those feel counterproductive to my ultimate goal of creating RSO’s rookie rankings that are used in the draft room. Frankly, it’s hard to change a ranking because it feels “locked in” once I put it out into the world. When I would create my early rankings I would always start by grouping the players into themed tiers first, so that’s what I will be sharing in this series. Each tier includes players whose potential and plot line feel similar to me; the sequence of tiers is indicative of a general order of expected draft value. I’ll repeat though: these are not rankings. Within each tier players are sorted alphabetically.

Surefire First Rounders

  • Pat Freiermuth

  • Kyle Pitts

Calm down, calm down. The order of Pat Freiermuth above Kyle Pitts is not a hot take. Remember: these are not rankings. Kyle Pitts is BY FAR the top tight end prospect in this class. He was one of three in the conversation at the beginning of the season and is the last man standing now atop the 2021 tight end class. Back in Week 5, I wrote that “nobody did more for their professional prospects in Week 4 than Florida TE Kyle Pitts.” Well now we can extrapolate that even further to say that nobody improved their NFL draft stock as much as Pitts did in 2020. He went from a borderline first rounder to having a shot at a Top 10 pick come April. Pitts is the quintessential receiving tight end for the current NFL metagame. He can be dominant at the catch point, has solid hands, good body control and separation speed. His 43-770-12 line in eight games played is fantastic and does not even fully illustrate what a beast he’s been. I think Pitts will be a late first rounder in your 2021 rookie drafts and could sneak up a few spots depending on landing spot. Pat Freiermuth probably would have been my pick as the TE1 before the season started. In the Spring, I called him a “zone buster” as a receiver who makes himself an easy target for his quarterback. I didn’t see much of him during that study as an in-line blocker but I liked what he did to seal running lanes from the slot. Unfortunately we only got four games of Freiermuth in 2020 which turned out to be a lost season for the Nittany Lions for a litany of reasons. Freiermuth had surgery in November so we’ll need to check on his recovery leading up to the NFL Combine. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a late first rounder in the NFL Draft and a second rounder in your rookie draft.

Preseason Shortlist Picks

  • Matt Bushman

  • Jake Ferguson

  • Brevin Jordan

  • Charlie Kolar

Matt Bushman has been a crush of mine dating back to the spring of 2018 when I first wrote about him. It’s a shame he suffered an Achilles injury before the 2020 season started, it would have been so much fun to watch him ascend alongside QB Zach Wilson. I last studied Bushman heading into the 2019 season and at that time I described him as a a “versatile tight end” who was “one of the best blockers I’ve seen as an underclassman” and who was also “a good route runner.” I’ve seen conflicting information on the interwebs about whether Bushman has declared as of early January. I expect he’ll go pro but keep an eye on his status and his pre-draft workouts because Achilles injuries typically require a lengthy recovery. Jake Ferguson’s status for 2021 has just been announced as I write this: he’ll be returning to Madison for another season with the Badgers. I watched both of Ferguson’s first games of the season versus Illinois and Michigan and was very impressed with his 11-123-4 output. Those initial games ultimately were his best of the season though, so perhaps it’s not a surprise he’ll be back. I had originally included Ferguson on this list because I felt he was going to be one of the most balanced tight end prospects in the class. Speaking of balanced tight ends, I was encouraged by just how often Brevin Jordan featured as an in-line blocker when I studied him this past spring. I didn’t watch enough Miami ball this season to have a feel for whether his blocking improved to an NFL level. He was the team’s leading receiver on a yards per catch basis (15.2) and receiving scores (7); his 576 receiving yards and 38 receptions were second-best on the squad. Jordan ended the season on a high note: torching the Oklahoma State defense for 8-96-2 during a furious comeback attempt. Brevin Jordan is a bit undersized (6030/245) to be a blocking tight end in the NFL but there’s surely no question about his ability to be a playmaking receiver. Charlie Kolar, a junior, has been QB Brock Purdy’s favorite target over the last two seasons. During that span, Kolar has an impressive 95 receptions for 1,188 and 14 TDs which lead the Cyclones. Kolar stood out in the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma. He had two great downfield catches where he went up and snagged the ball away from his body with soft-strong hands. He’s got a huge body at 6060/257 and looks ready for the NFL but he’s yet to declare. If he does come out, I’d expect Kolar to be a Day Two consideration.

Regular Season Risers

  • Cary Angeline

  • Hunter Long

  • Kenny Yeboah

The three guys on this list were not on my tight end radar to start the season but it’s time for that to change. Angeline is a transfer from USC who never recorded a catch for the Trojans. In 26 career games with the Wolf Pack, Angeline has 11 games where he scored or had at least four receptions. That’s solid, reliable production for a low-volume target. (I bet you NFL fantasy players would kill for that consistency from every tight end not named Travis Kelce or George Kittle.) In highlights it looks like Angeline, who is listed at 6070, has the wingspan of a pterodactyl so it’ll be fun to see his combine measurements. Hunter Long played eleven games for BC in each of the last two seasons. In 2019, he posted a solid 28-509-2 stat line. In 2020, he burst out of the gates and eclipsed those totals with a 57-685-5 tally. In those first four games — against Duke, Texas State, North Carolina and Pittsburgh — Long had 31 grabs for 363 yards. Surely that must have been the second best start to the season among tight ends, except for the aforementioned Kyle Pitts. The clips I watched showed Long solely as a big slot receiver rather than an in-line blocker so I’m not yet sure if he’s the complete package but will study him further this offseason. Last up in this section is Ole Miss TE Kenny Yeboah. Yeboah is a grad transfer from Temple. In his four seasons as an Owl he was only an occasional target so his 27-524-6 output in 2020 is a positive outlier. I watched Kenny Yeboah’s film against Alabama and I came away very impressed. He looked like a rare combination of an athletic yards-after-catch receiver who is also an able blocker. Like Long, he’ll warrant a deeper dive over the winter.

Underutilized, Underdrafted

  • Nick Eubanks

  • Peyton Hendershot

  • Jeremy Ruckert

This trio from the Big Ten were tough to categorize. I wanted to include them but didn’t feel that they fit into my other categories. I felt the through line of their stories were being underutilized or underappreciated in college, leading to them being underdrafted at the NFL level. Eubanks (Michigan) and Ruckert (Ohio State) were both 4-star recruits according to ESPN; both are also 6050 and 250+. Unfortunately, both are similar in another way: they have played a limited number of college games and have just 72 combined receptions. Eubanks had a strong 2019 season where he grabbed 25 passes for 243 yards and 4 scores but he was outshone at times this year by redshirt frosh Erick All and ended with just 10-117-1. As a Michigan fan I have been pulling for Eubanks to become a star but it just never happened; I hope he gets a shot at the next level. Jeremy Ruckert is a block-first red zone threat who has just 27 career receptions. Much of Ruckert’s production, including 8 of his 9 career touchdowns and half of his receptions, have come from within twenty five yards of paydirt. Ruckert had just 9 grabs in the 2020 regular season but added 3-55-2 in the semi-final against Clemson. If he comes out early, ending on an upswing will be good for his pro portfolio; if he returns, a bigger role in the offense would help us solidify his evaluation. Indiana’s Peyton Hendershot lands on this list because he’s underappreciated by #DraftTwitter more so than because he’s underutilized by his team. Hendershot has significantly more career receptions than Eubanks and Ruckert (90 vs 45 vs 27) and yet there’s no film out there to watch to give him the look he deserves. The 2020 version of the Hoosiers’ offense really undercut Hendershot’s downfield targets. In 2019 he averaged 12.0 yards per reception but in 2020 he’s notched barely half that (6.6).  Regardless, Hendershot was a productive piece of a surprisingly successful Indiana squad in 2020, catching 23 balls for 151 yards and 4 TDs. Last year that 12.0 average turned 52 catches into 622 yards and four scores. Underappreciated plus underdrafted could equal late round rookie draft steal.

Small School Sleepers

  • Trae Barry

  • Zach Davidson

  • Cole Turner

Well, it wouldn’t be a draft preview article by yours truly without some deep sleeper suggestions. I first introduced my readers to Central Missouri’s Zach Davidson back in May when I shined the spotlight on some FCS and DII sleepers. Davidson’s size is what caught my eye first (6070/245) but I was further impressed by his stats and the limited highlights I was able to find. Davidson was a frequent downfield target and also served as the team’s punter (trick play possibilities!). Davidson has announced that he is ready to move onto the pros so watch him closely. Two years ago I fell in love with Stetson TE Donald Parham who went onto lead the FCS in receiving yards per game (as a tight end!). This year, I will include Jacksonville State’s Trae Barry on my list as an FCS hopeful to monitor. As of this writing, Barry leads the FCS in receiving yards per game for the position (60.0) and has a career line of 80-1,316-5. Barry is listed at 6070/245, identical to Davidson; and like Parham, Barry is lanky with a looping gait that doesn’t look fast but covers ground. I watched some film of his matchup against North Alabama and I think Barry’s upside is being a situational red zone target. He’s unlikely to become fantasy relevant but when he scores a random touchdown in Week 9 next year you’ll remember this article! My last small school sleeper, Cole Turner of Nevada, is a bit of a unicorn. The only easily searchable clips on Youtube for him, as of early December, are two highlights uploaded by his uncle and a number of high school profiles. Luckily for us, Turner is active on Twitter retweeting clips of his best catches. This I do know: he’s a converted receiver with a big body (6060/240) who has contested catch skills. Turner has just nine games of experience at tight end so let’s not jump to conclusions yet but he excites me. Ending the season with a five game streak of 4+ receptions and 1+ touchdown also excites me. Since he is just a junior, and this year doesn’t count against eligibility, we could see Turner for another two years before the NFL Combine comes calling.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com, nflmockdraftdatabase.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Week 8 Preview

Updated: October 23rd 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will preview the prospects you should be watching each week so you know who will be fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

The Big Ten is back baby! I am, admittedly, a Big Ten homer and am so excited for the league to return to play this weekend. (Let’s not talk about the fact that I need to work all day Saturday and won’t actually get to see a minute of the action live, but I digress.) To celebrate the return of my favorite conference this week, I present a supersized version of my weekly preview that will highlight one offensive skill player from each of the fourteen squads. Keep an eye on these players throughout the B1G season, they may just end up on your fantasy rosters next season.

(Prospects are listed alphabetically by position, they are not ranked.)

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Justin Fields may be one of the main reasons I am even able to write this preview of the Big Ten season. He was the vocal leader of the “we want to play” movement and we are all the beneficiary of that. Fields started his career as a highly touted prep star who played at Georgia as a true freshman. He did not win the job away from Jake Fromm and decided to transfer to Ohio State for his sophomore season, managing to get an eligibility waiver from the NCAA so he didn’t have to skip a season. Fields dominated the Big Ten in his first season. He totaled 51 touchdowns and threw just three picks. He passed for 3,273 yards and rushed for an additional 484 more. It’s amazing to see those numbers and then hear that he finished third in Heisman voting but that’s just how lucky we were in 2019 with Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts lighting it up as well. Fields, as is obvious by his box scores, is a dual-threat quarterback. What makes him special though is his size to go along with that athleticism: he’s 6030/228 and might run a 4.40. Very few quarterbacks have run a sub-4.50 forty in the last twenty years and doing so would put him in the conversation with somebody like Vince Young when it comes to a physical comparison. Fields will likely lead this Buckeyes team to the playoff, and in doing so will cement his place atop this draft class. A top five draft pick seems like a lock at this point so I’m looking forward to watching him more closely this season.

Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska

Adrian Martinez is a former 4-star recruit who spurned SEC offers from Alabama and Tennessee to join Nebraska and the hottest name in college football at the time: Scott Frost. Two years, multiple injuries, and nine wins later, you might say that was the wrong decision. (Speaking of those wins, two were against FCS foes and none of the other seven were against the top of the conference.) Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback who has 1,255 rushing yards and 15 TDs so far in his career. As a passer, Martinez totaled 4,573-27-17-62.4% in 21 games. In my mind’s eye, Martinez was too small to be on the NFL radar but he is listed at 6020/225 and was more stout that I remembered when I watched some Youtube tape. He has all of the requisite traits of a running quarterback: he’s quick with long speed, not afraid to take a hit, throws accurately on the run, etc. What surprised me most was how well Martinez could sling it. He spins a beautiful deep ball, leading his receiver enough to let them run underneath it. Clearly, I had a preconceived notion in my mind about Martinez which is why these articles are so important to help me get a clearer picture of each prospect. I need to watch him more closely this season to determine if he’s just a fun-to-watch college star or if he’ll make a mark in the NFL.

Joe Milton, QB Michigan

Choosing a player to highlight from my favorite team was a tough decision. The offensive skill player from Michigan that I think has the best chance at being a high draft pick in 2021 is WR Nico Collins but he opted out. Lead running back Zach Charbonnet is just a sophomore so he’s not eligible yet but is a name to watch for 2022-2023. I’ve always been a fan of RB Chris Evans but its been two years since we have seen him play after injuries in 2018 and a season-long suspension in 2019. QB Dylan McCaffrey, a 4-star recruit who played in mop up duty last year, would have competed for the starting job but he too opted out for 2020. Now, the presumptive starter is junior Joe Milton who has more career rushing attempts (12) than passing attempts (11).  There’s excitement about Milton among Wolverine fans so I thought it was time to take a closer look. Let’s start with his measureables. Milton is huge at 6050/243 and would be one of the biggest passers in the class. As a high school recruit, Milton clocked a 4.80 forty; he’s reportedly said his fastest ever time was a 4.62. If those numbers hold, we would be looking at a physical comp like Josh Allen or Carson Wentz. Milton’s college highlight reel on Youtube ran for a scant fifty-one seconds so I had to seek out some high school highlights as well. Wow, those high school clips were impressive. Milton was the proverbial man against boys, playing faster and stronger than everybody else. Some of the throws he made were incredible, the type that Patrick Mahomes makes and then we see clipped on social media for a week. Off-structure, awkward arm angles, on the run, under pressure, fifty yards downfield. No matter the situation, Milton was dropping dimes. He won’t be able to do that consistently against Big Ten defenses but I have to say I’m even more excited to watch him play now. A strong season for Michigan will certainly put Milton in the NFL Draft conversation.

Brandon Peters, QB, Illinois

Oh, Brandon Peters. As a Michigan fan, I thought Peters was going to finally be our answer at the quarterback position. I was sitting about eighty rows up in the Big House when Peters took his first real snaps as the Wolverines QB, taking over for the underwhelming John O’Korn. Rutgers kept it closer than they should have that afternoon and Peters provided the steady hand that ensured the win. Unfortunately, that 10-14-124-1-0 outing was Peters best in Ann Arbor. He fell out of favor and grad transferred to Illinois where he was the starter from the opening game against Akron in 2019. Peters started well: throwing for 687 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs and a 63.1% completion percentage in the first three. His efficiency and volume fell off as the season went on, partially due to some missed time after a concussion, including a five game span where he failed to complete more than nine passes in a game. Despite some bumps and bruises, Peters led the Fightin’ Illini to their first bowl game since 2014. I was feeling nostalgic so I went back and watched Peters tape from that 2017 contest against Rutgers; I wanted to remember what it felt like to believe that the Wolverines had found the next quarterback of the future. Peters looked stoic in the pocket, standing tall, and stepping into well-placed throws against an above average Rutgers d-line. He is definitely a pocket passer but he has enough functional mobility to roll away from a rusher or to run a bootleg to keep the defense off balance. Peters has NFL size (6050/220) and was a highly rated pro-style recruit coming out of high school. There’s sure to be some “project quarterback” interest in Peters for those reasons but this year will be telling as to whether he has any next-level love.

Isaiah Bowser, RB, Northwestern

I absolutely loved reading Isaiah Bowser’s bio on the team’s website. This dude ticks all of my favorite bio boxes: decorated high school player in a talent-rich state (Ohio), multi-sport high school athlete (basketball, track), all-conference sprinter (as a junior), National Honor Society, a real major (civil engineering). Unfortunately, my research did turn up some negative injury-related nuggets too. Bowser missed most of 2019 after a knee surgery that required surgery. He underwent surgery this offseason for an “undisclosed” injury, which I presume was probably a cleanup of the injured knee but who knows. In 2018, as a true freshman, Bowser took over the top running back spot in late October. Four of those eight starts went for 100+ yards (108, 117, 165, 166). He didn’t hit the century mark in 2019 though because he was sharing carries in a crowded backfield. Bowser was listed atop the 2020 depth chart so I would expect him to lead the team in carries, even if he may be eased in at the beginning. Bowser is listed at 6010/220 just like Elijah Collins (see below), but he wears his weight differently. Bowser is broad shouldered and has a yoked upper body. If he didn’t have on a helmet, I think his shoulder pads would touch his ears. Obviously he’s a strong short yardage runner but Bowser’s highlights surprised me with his nimble feet and acceleration. Bowser will be a “win the workout” guy so let’s monitor his progression and see if he can get a combine invite whenever he moves on from Northwestern.

Elijah Collins, RB, Michigan State

Collins, a redshirt sophomore, was a rare bright spot for the Spartans in a mostly disappointing 2019 season. Sure, a 7-6 record and a Pinstripe Bowl victory sound decent, but Michigan State had the nation’s 104th ranked scoring offense. They endured a five game losing streak midseason, scoring 10 points or less in four of those games. In the one game that MSU did score during that stretch, against Illinois, Collins was the main contributor with 177 total yards and 2 scores. Things should have been better under QB Brian Lewerke, a veteran who I always wanted to be better than he was. Collins ran for 988 yards and 5 TDs, averaging 4.5 yards per tote. He also added 15 catches; his 99 receiving yards pushed him over the 1,000 scrimmage yard threshold. Collins is listed at 6010/220 and has a thick lower half. He loves to hesitate at the line of scrimmage, carefully picking his lane before using those powerful legs to make a cut in either direction. Often, but not always, that patience works out well. Collins still has three years of eligibility so it may be awhile before we see him trending on #DraftTwitter. If he uses that time to quicken his decision making and to hone his receiving skills we could have a solid all-round NFL back.

Isaih Pacheco, RB, Rutgers

I was tempted to make a self-deprecating pick for my hometown Rutgers Scarlet Knights and highlight punter Adam Korsak who won numerous honors after a busy 2019 season. Instead, I decided to play it straight and share Isaih [sic] Pacheco with my readers. Pacheco was the team’s leading rusher last year, finishing with 729 yards and 7 scores. Much of that production came in an opening game explosion against UMass (156-4), but Pacheco also had solid games against Iowa, Maryland, Liberty and Penn State. Pacheco also had a taste for the big game as a freshman, lighting up #4 Michigan for 142 yards and a touchdown. Greg Schiano’s previous stint at Rutgers heavily relied on the run and featured pass catching running backs (see: Brian Leonard and Ray Rice). Pacheco will see the lion’s share of the carries and if he can add 2-3 catches a game he will help the offense stay in rhythm and ahead of the chains. Providing a trustworthy safety valve for whoever is under center will be key. The only downside: Rutgers figures to be playing from behind much of the season and the game script will not be in his favor.

Stevie Scott, RB, Indiana

Stevie Scott is an interesting study. There’s not much footage of him available on Youtube, and what is available is mostly from 2018. From what I did see though from 2019, I walked away impressed. Scott is tall at a listed 6020 but runs with a forward pad lean that makes him a smaller target and keeps his progress moving forward. His weight is quoted at 230 but he doesn’t look that heavy to me, probably more like 220. Still though, he runs with enough power to win short yardage situations. He effortlessly slips low arm tackles as he skips through the hole. The highlights I watched showed Scott running solely out of the shotgun; I’d love to see him taking a handoff from an I or singleback formation where he has a few steps to work up his momentum before hitting the hole. Scott looked faster than I expected, maybe in the 4.50 range which would be great for his listed size. As a freshman, Scott surprised with 1,137 yards and 10 TDs, setting school records for a true freshman. His sophomore season was a bit of a step back because of injury (845-10, on fifty less carries) but he remained the team’s leading rusher by a huge margin despite missing two games. Scott is also a plus receiver which flashed in the highlights I watched. I would bet that we see Scott again in 2021 as a senior but if he does put together a solid junior year he could get a late round look.

Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Like some of the other athletes featured here, Rashod Bateman was unsure about playing in this covid-threatened season. He had originally opted out but then opted back in after the Big Ten released plans for its late fall season. I came across a great tidbit from ESPN when doing some Bateman research: he is switching to number 0 this year to represent a “zero tolerance for racism.” The follow-up quotes from head coach PJ Fleck really speak to Bateman’s character and leadership. As a true freshman from Georgia, Bateman played second fiddle to #DraftTwitter favorite Tyler Johnson. In his complementary role, he tallied 51-704-6. I expected Johnson to be the star again in 2019, and while he did still lead the team in receiving, Bateman got a lot more attention as a big play baller. The sophomore line ended at 60-1,219-11, averaging a Big Ten-best 20.3 yards per catch. Bateman has preternatural concentration which allows him to track and locate the ball, even after its been tipped, underthrown or lost in the sun. If you want to see two of the best catches of 2019, check out the beginning of this highlight reel. My goodness. Bateman pairs that concentration with leaping ability and strength at the catch point to win in contested situations downfield. As illustrated by some of those ridiculous catches, Bateman appears to have very strong and sticky hands. I’m glad that we’ll be able to see Bateman play this season. He’s very likely a first rounder with the potential to be a Top 15 pick in April if he continues to show a penchant for the preposterous.

Dontay Demus, WR, Maryland

After taking a dip into Dontay Demus, I really wish he was on a better team than Maryland! Even though he played on a struggling Terrapins team, he still managed 41-625-6 in 2019. Demus is long and lean and super fast. He’s listed at 6030/200 but looks a skinnier and lankier than that. His game is less across the middle or contested catch, and more downfield dominator. His highlights are littered with deep passes that he tracks well and adjusts to in midstride before making the grab. When he does catch a crossing pattern, the trailing defender has no hope of catching him so if he hits the coverage just right he’s gone. Demus has elite looking acceleration and consistently uses a deadly stop-start hesitation move. He uses that move while running routes to great effect. He also uses it after the catch where he can use his quickness rather than brute strength to break tackles. Maryland has been cagey about who their starting quarterback will be for the opener but I hope that it’ll be Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother who transferred from Alabama. A Taulia-Demus connection would be a “we have that at home” version of 2018’s Tua-Jeudy battery at Alabama.

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

Simply put, Rondale Moore is one of the most explosive players in college football. He was the most exciting player in the nation as a true freshman in 2018. That frosh season ended with an impressive 114 receptions, 1,258 yards and 12 TDs (plus 213 and 2 more as a runner). Unfortunately, a hamstring injury cut his 2019 campaign short. We almost lost our chance to see Moore in 2020 between his opt out and the Big Ten cancellation but luckily he’s back in the fold at Purdue. Moore is dynamic with the ball in his hands; he’s able to accelerate out of easily broken tackles. He is also a smart route runner which helps him get open, even against future NFL talent. When I wrote about Moore in the Spring, I predicted that if he could put up 80% of his 2018 productivity that he would be a first rounder. That will be a tall order in an eight game season so instead let’s look for a 65-800-8 type season as a benchmark. A new favorite of mine, the website www.nflmockdraftdatabase.com has Moore listed as the 18th ranked prospect in the 2021 class, with a peak ranking of 12th. Most mocks compiled by the site have him going at the end of the first round. Proving that he’s back from his 2019 injury will close that gap between the potential and the pick.  (Editor’s note: Rondale Moore has been ruled out for this weekend’s game and is expected to play in Week 9.)

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa

When I was thinking of and researching players for this piece I realized I have a bit of a blind spot for the Hawkeyes. As the team’s leading returning receiver (44-722-5), Smith-Marsette was a simple choice to include. I watched some highlights to give myself a crash course in his game. Smith-Marsette is a playmaker with breakaway speed. He was the Big Ten’s best kickoff return man in both 2018 and 2019, averaging 29.5 and 29.6 yards per return respectively. It may have been fortuitous timing to watch his highlights when I did, just after another NFL weekend where we saw receivers like Chase Claypool and Deebo Samuel taking hand offs and pop passes behind the line of scrimmage to utilize their open field playmaking ability. That’s something that Smith-Marsette did multiple times last season. Smith-Marsette’s body isn’t as sturdy as either of those two (6010/179), but if NFL offenses continue to deploy receivers in that manner somebody like Smith-Marsette could flourish.

Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin

If you’re looking for an old school style tight end, Jake Ferguson is your guy. I didn’t have a feel for Ferguson so I watched his 2019 tape from Michigan State. Right from the start you can see that he’s not some undersized nouveau move tight end. Instead, he’s the type of guy you need if you’re playing smash mouth football and giving Jonathan Taylor 300 carries a year. Against MSU, Ferguson didn’t have a target until late in the first quarter, after staying in to block on just about every snap. That first target came on a 4th and 2 just outside of field goal range. The Badgers line up as if they are going to run for the first but instead Jack Coan fakes the handoff and hits Ferguson down the seam for a big gain that was nearly a touchdown. Because he was deployed solely as a blocker until that point, I think the defense was caught off guard. On his second catch, Ferguson showed off some elusiveness, breaking two tackles on his way to a first down. It’s a shame that Ferguson doesn’t get more standup snaps off the line of scrimmage. He utilizes a wonderful evasive swim move at the top of his stem against close coverage that gives him space. I can see Ferguson having a long NFL career as a reliable blocker and a trustworthy third down target.

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

Luckily for fans of football, Pat Freiermuth will be playing for the Nittany Lions in 2020. Freiermuth disputes that he ever officially opted out of the previously cancelled season but that’s semantics because he’s suiting up this weekend. When I highlighted Freiermuth in my Spring Scouting series, I predicted that he would make Penn State history, easily passing Mike Gesicki for the most career touchdown catches by a tight end, and then setting his sights on 3rd and maybe 2nd on the overall leaderboard. A shortened season may damn those lofty hopes but a solid 2020 will put Freiermuth on the short list of the greatest Penn State pass catchers of all time. Freiermuth is listed at 6050/256 and contributes both as a pass catcher (43-507-7 last year) and a blocker. In my spring study, I noted how much I loved his ability to seal off running lanes for his running backs while lined up in the slot or split out. Freiermuth projects as a first round tight end and will need to start strong if he has a chance of catching Florida’s Kyle Pitts as TE1.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, TEs

Updated: May 25th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

In today’s installment of Spring Scouting, I will be focusing on the top three tight end prospects in the 2021 class: Kyle Pitts, Brevin Jordan and Pat Freiermuth. For the other entries in my Spring Scouting series I concentrated on under the radar players who deserved some attention, but I went in a different direction for the tight ends. I felt it was important to highlight these three standouts because they are less known to casual NFL Draft fans than the big names at other positions. Each player comes with an impressive pedigree (4-star recruits all around) and each has a shot at becoming the TE1 in the class.

(An honorable mention goes out to Matt Bushman of BYU. I was excited for Bushman heading into the 2019 season. He ended up meeting my expectations stats-wise but decided to skip the draft and come back for 2020. To read last year’s write-up on Bushman, click here.)

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

  • Measurables: 6060/239
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 3 receptions, 73 rec yards, 24.3 ypc, 1 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 54 receptions, 649 rec yards, 12.0 ypc, 5 rec TDs

Pitts, a product of Philly and an Under Armour All-America game alumni, earned a starting role for the Gators in 2019. Throughout the 2018 season he played primarily on special teams but did score one long-distance touchdown against Idaho. I’m not sure what made me search for the highlight but I’m glad I did. The play itself was fine — Pitts was lined up outside, caught the post against an overmatched DB and ran 50 yards to the house — but it was the celebration afterward that caught my eye. The score put the Gators up 21-0 in a game that was in no doubt, and yet the players celebrated with Pitts like it was a game clinching score against Georgia. I love when I get to watch a player who is beloved by his teammates, especially when he was just a backup true freshman. A Gators fan blog called it “The Kyle Pitts Factor” in a 2019 post.

Put simply, Pitts is a first round talent. I checked out his game against LSU from last season to get a feel for his game against the nation’s best. I was impressed with how well-rounded Pitts’ game was for an underclassmen with only one season’s worth of starts. Pitts won’t be the best blocking tight end in the class but he lined up inline more than I anticipated and he acquitted himself well enough against LSU. He splits out often but he’s most dangerous lining up on the wing where he can get a free release and uses his speed to beat the linebacker tasked with covering him. In this play you see that the Tigers assigned All-American linebacker-safety hybrid Grant Delpit to cover Pitts. Pitts takes advantage of Delpit’s aggression to sell the underneath route before breaking upfield along the sideline. They hand fight and then Pitts uses his leverage to gain a modicum of separation to make the spectacular diving catch.

I’m excited to see Pitts pitted against SEC greats, and future NFL stars like Delpit, once again in 2020. With speed and a 6060/239 frame he’s an impossible matchup for most defenders. I would assume that Pitts declares early and becomes a hot NFL Draft commodity.

 

Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (FL)

  • Measurables: 6030/235
  • 2018 Stats: 12 games, 32 receptions, 287 rec yards, 9.0 ypc, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games 35 receptions, 495 rec yards, 14.1 ypc, 2 rec TDs

Brevin Jordan, a rising junior, joined the Hurricanes in 2018 as the top rated tight end recruit in the nation. He was held catchless in his first-ever game against LSU but went on to tally 12-119-3 in his next two games, not bad for a true freshman. His final totals in both 2018 and 2019 are about average for the position but more impressive considering he missed time both years. Before we move on, a word on Jordan’s past injuries. Jordan missed a game and a half at the end of 2018 with an ankle injury (he returned for the bowl game). He then bruised his knee in March 2019 during offseason workouts which some thought might have been a more serious injury. In November of 2019 he injured his left foot and missed two games. He returned for the regular season finale but was shutout and then sat out the bowl game. In early March of 2020, pre-coronavirus, the Miami Herald reported that Jordan would miss all of Spring due to that nagging foot injury.

Enough injury talk, let’s talk about what makes Jordan great on the field. Jordan showcases his versatility on nearly every play because he lines up all over the formation. He features as an inline blocker more frequently than his 6030/235 size would dictate. He is a willing blocker but to my untrained eye it looks like he is sometimes too quick to initiate contact and in turn, overextending himself or falling for an evasive move. Jordan is a security blanket for his (ever-changing) quarterback. He’s particularly adept at selling a block before breaking into the flat for a chunk play. When he does get down field he has enough speed to burst past linebackers and find openings in the defense. In this sample play you see Jordan run a simple post from an inline position. The ball is tipped at the line of scrimmage but he maintains focus and makes the catch by using his body to protect the ball from the safety. He breaks the safety’s tackle and gets into the endzone for a key score in a big bragging rights game.

Jordan is a talented prospect and will be in the running for TE1 next draft season. I hope that he’s able to fully recover from his foot injury so we can see him at full strength in 2020.

 

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

  • Measurables: 6050/256
  • 2018 Stats: 12 games, 26 receptions, 368 rec yards, 14.2 ypc, 8 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 43 receptions, 507 rec yards, 11.8 ypc, 7 rec TDs

Freiermuth, another highly touted junior tight end, is thisclose to Penn State history. He is currently tied with Mike Gesicki, the Nittany Lions’ last great tight end prospect, for career touchdown receptions at the position. If Freiermuth matches his previous touchdown output in 2020 he will vault to 2nd or 3rd on the Penn State career receiving touchdown list, ahead of familiar NFL names like WRs Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson. We are about to see, pending pandemic-related postponements, Freiermuth cement his place in Happy Valley lore.

I watched Freiermuth’s tape from Minnesota last season, arguably his best game of the season (7 receptions, 104 yards in a close loss). Interestingly, he seemed to line up on the line of scrimmage less frequently than either Pitts or Jordan did in their games that I watched. That, however, doesn’t mean he doesn’t feature as a key blocker. To the contrary, he is often used from the slot or the wing to seal the edge for his running back. He turns his blocks well, using leverage and angles to preserve running lanes, and does not rush. I loved this play where he patiently comes across the formation looking to help make an impact play. He ends up finding a DB who came up in run support and takes him out of the play to allow RB Journey Brown to cut back and turn a short gain into a big gain.

As a receiver, Freiermuth is a zone buster. He can find the soft spot and shows his numbers to the quarterback, making him an easy target. On this play you see his awareness as both the corner and linebacker sit on his short route. As the play breaks down, he releases down the field into an open area, putting his hand up to make sure he’s seen by his scrambling quarterback. He makes the catch and holds on through a crunching tackle.

I’ve always been honest that I grew up as a Michigan fan and now root for my nearby Scarlet Knights so I am pro-Big Ten. However, there’s no Big Ten bias here: Pat Freiermuth looks like a surefire NFL talent and will be a first rounder next April.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper