For months, the assumption of mock drafters and NFL draft analysts was that the New York Giants would likely use their first-round pick, No. 11 overall, on the best receiver available to help jump-start their 31st-ranked offense.
Then Kenny Golladay happened. The Giants showered the best wide receiver on the free agent market with a four-year, $72 million contract ($28 million fully guaranteed), making absolutely certain they would enter the 2021 season with the No. 1 receiver they acknowledged they need to find for quarterback Daniel Jones and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
Golladay’s signing also opened up the draft board for the Giants, something that co-owner John Mara openly acknowledged during a Zoom call with New York media on Wednesday.
“We thought he’d be a vital piece to what we want to accomplish going forward,” Mara said. “To have a receiver with that skill set alongside the guys we already have we thought would be a huge piece for us.
“It also takes pressure off of us going into the draft. We don’t have to take a receiver in round one or round two, we can sit there and just take the best player available when it comes to our spot. I think that’s another reason why it was so important to us.”
As Mark Schofield detailed in a comprehensive piece about what may happen in the 10 picks before the Giants are on the clock, as many as five quarterbacks are expected to be selected before the Giants get their turn.
New York could have its choice of the best edge rusher, linebacker, one of the best two offensive linemen or cornerbacks in the class. There will also likely be at least one of the top four receivers available.
Could the Giants justify selecting a wide receiver in Round 1 even after adding Golladay and John Ross in free agency?
Perhaps. Especially if the player happens to be a unicorn.
Which brings us to Kyle Pitts.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Florida hybrid tight end just might be that unicorn. Even with Golladay ... and Evan Engram ... and Kyle Rudolph ... and Sterling Shepard ... and Darius Slayton could the Giants pass up an opportunity to select the most unique pass catcher in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Florida coach Dan Mullen talked ... and talked ... and talked some more when asked after Florida’s Pro Day on Wednesday about what Pitts can do for an offense.
“His ability to create matchup problems. I think he’s an elite wide receiver and I think he’s an elite tight end, and when you’re that that’s what causes the problem of what personnel grouping you’re in, who you’re going to match up against him,” Mullen said.
“The only way you can defend a unicorn is with another unicorn. So, if you don’t have a unicorn on defense you’ve got a problem.”
That’s the short version. Mullen then got into the weeds of offensive vs. defensive matchups.
“If you’re going to put a corner on him here’s this 6-6, 245-pound guy that actually we can attach to the line, so what are you doing with that corner when he comes in to be a blocker?,” said Mullen. “If you’re going to match a linebacker on him and all of a sudden you have the linebacker and say OK our run fits are going to work here and then he [Pitts] goes and flexes out. What do you do at that point? How are you rolling coverage? Two are away from him and what does that mean to the other receivers that are on the field because now are you rolling coverage to your No. 1 receiver or are you rolling coverage to the tight end?”
That’s the kind of nightmare scenario that will keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Many, including our Chris Pflum, believe that Pitts should be purely a wide receiver in the NFL. Here is part of what Chris wrote a few months ago:
“Pitts likely projects best as a wide receiver with scheme versatility at the NFL level. While Florida called him a tight end and asked him to line up in-line and block often enough to justify the title, any play in which Pitts is blocking and not running a route is a waste of his potent receiving ability.
“His game more accurately mirrors big receivers like Mike Evans or Plaxico Burress, who are able to use their size to overwhelm cornerbacks and safeties, while simply being too athletic for defenders their size to match. His ability to play each wide receiver position would allow an offense to manipulate alignments and force defensive backs into roles in which they aren’t comfortable, such as asking a big outside corner to play inside or risk matching a smaller slot corner up against the 6-foot-6 Pitts.”
I respect Chris’s opinion on this, but have said in the past and will say again that I disagree. Yes, Pitts could be a Burress-type wide receiver. I will agree that trying to run behind him or keeping him in to pass protect instead of out running routes with any regularity are wastes of his talent. So, too, is purely using him as a wide receiver where teams can play him with a cornerback and be done with it. The element of making defenses uncomfortable is lost.
As Mara said this week, the NFL is “becoming more and more of a passing league.” Within that passing attack, offensive coordinators search every week for ways to create favorable 1-on-1 matchups. Limiting Pitts to the roles of either pure tight end or full-time wide receiver would be negligence, it would be not using an incredible matchup weapon — a unicorn — to its fullest capability.
When Pitts spoke to media following his Pro Day on Wednesday, he said no NFL team he had spoken with had broached the idea of him moving full-time to wide receiver. Teams, he said, are interested in using him in multiple roles.
“People call me a unicorn. it’s kind of a special nickname because unicorn, you don’t find many of them,” Pitts said. “Being able to do other things other tight ends can’t is kinda special.”
Here is part of a glowing Pitts scouting report from Walter Football:
Week after week in 2020, Pitts showed NFL teams saw everything they could hope to see out of a receiving tight end. He demonstrated the speed to run past defensive backs and get open vertically. His 71-yard touchdown against Ole Miss was astounding with the way he ran away from the defensive backs, and the Rebels couldn’t catch him from behind. All year, Pitts used his size to win 50-50 passes, showed good hands, ran excellent routes, and was utterly unstoppable. He went up against some secondaries that were comprised of future NFL competitors, but even the guys from Georgia’s, Kentucky’s, Texas A&M’s and Alabama’s secondaries who will get drafted were dominated by Pitts.
As a receiving weapon, Pitts is a once-in-a-decade-caliber prospect who is a mismatch nightmare similar to a Travis Kelce or Calvin Johnson. Pitts is fast for a tight end and really fires off the ball to get into the secondary. Not only is Pitts fast to find openings downfield, but he is a smooth mover who glides through the defense and is able to generate separation from his route-running as well. He has shocking change-of-direction skills with a burst out of his breaks that takes defensive backs by surprise and creates separation. Pitts has impressive suddenness and explosiveness for a tight end, and really, he moves like a big wide receiver.
Pitts is an amazing weapon on 50-50 passes, and he is never really covered because of his ability to make acrobatic grabs over defenders. Pitts uses his tall and long frame to make catches over defensive backs, and he is a tremendous weapon in the red zone thanks to his size mismatch ability. With his leaping ability and superb body control, Pitts has a huge catch radius, so even when defenders do everything right, Pitts can make big plays above them. As a red-zone player, Pitts could be among the best in the NFL.
Pitts caught 97 passes for more than 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He does display the ability to beat press coverage from cornerbacks, which he developed while working as a wide receiver as a freshman at Florida.
Mullen told media the plan had always been for Pitts to play tight end, and that Pitts “moved into becoming the most dominant tight end in college football” as a sophomore once his frame had filled out sufficiently.
He is still learning the receiving craft, having been a high school quarterback. For what it’s worth, Pitts said he was a running quarterback who “sucked” at the position.
Here is how Pitts compares athletically to the Giants’ Evan Engram when Engram came out of Ole Miss:
Weight: 245 lbs.
Arm: 33 ½”
Wingspan: 83 ⅜”
40-yard: 4.44 & 4.44
Broad Jump: 129”
Short Shuttle: 4.30
Bench Press: 22 reps
Arm Length: 33½
Hand Size: 10”
40 Yard Dash: 4.42s
Vertical Jump: 36”
Broad Jump: 125”
3-Cone Drill: 6.92s
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.23s
Bench Press: 19 reps
There are some physical similarities. One difference, though. Where Engram was charged with 11 drops last season, Pitts did not drop any passes in 49 catchable targets.
Pro Football Focus numbers are not the be-all and end-all, and should never be used to figure out exactly how to rank players. Still, they are a noteworthy tool. Pitt’s 96.1 PFF grade was the highest receiving grade in the nation in 2020, with DeVonta Smith of Alabama second at 95.6. Pitts led all tight ends with 39 receptions for first downs and was tied for most touchdowns among tight ends with 12. Pitts was ninth in the country with 11 contested catches.
Should the Giants draft him?
Back to the central question. Of course they should if he is available and the Giants believe he is the biggest difference-maker on the board. If they have the chance and don’t, the reason can’t be “well, we signed Golladay, so we couldn’t.” The reason has to be because Micah Parsons or Penei Sewell or Jaylen Waddle or Rashawn Slater or someone they believed could make an even bigger impact was also available.
GM Dave Gettleman always says he isn’t afraid to draft over a player. The Giants shouldn’t be afraid to draft over Engram. Pitts can be better, and probably will be better right from the start.
I don’t want to hear, well, how would you make all those pieces fit together? With a difference-maker like this, you figure it out. Besides, drafting Pitts gives you the flexibility to deal Engram if you get an enticing offer.
“We always went into a draft thinking there were about eight or nine blue-chip players in a draft and that we’re going to take one of those blue-chip players regardless of position,” Diamond said. “Don’t be shocked if all of a sudden even though they signed Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency and they’ve got Slayton and Shepard, well, if all of a sudden one of those top wide receivers slides down ... if something like that happens, that’s what happened to us in Minnesota in 1998 we took Randy Moss, we had Cris Carter, we had Jake Reed, they were both 1,000-yard receivers and everybody’s saying ‘oh you need defense, you need defense,’ but this guy was such a superior talent that we ended up taking Randy Moss.
“Gettleman certainly knows the needs of his team ... if a great player slides down they could take that player.”
Especially if he happens to be a unicorn.