PewterReport.com analyzes the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft with its’ position previews. Mark Cook previews the tight end position with a comprehensive look at what the Bucs have and what they need at tight end, while also providing a detailed list of this year’s top tight ends. In addition, Scott Reynolds offers up the team needs and the annual PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bets – the most likely tight end for the Bucs to select in Rounds 1-3, and in Rounds 4-7.
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What The Bucs Have At Tight End
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Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs boast one of the most talented tight end rooms in the NFL for the second year in a row. Tampa Bay re-signed Rob Gronkowski to a one-year extension. O.J. Howard will return from an Achilles injury to play in his fifth-year option. Reserve Cameron Brate has always been reliable as a pass catcher and filled in nicely for Howard last year. Each of those three tight ends could be starters on other teams. Tampa Bay also has Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy on the roster. The Bucs didn’t re-sign Antony Auclair in free agency.
What The Bucs Need At Tight End
The Bucs typically keep four tight ends on the roster for depth with the reserves playing special teams. Yet last year, Tampa Bay opted to use reserve tackle Joe Haeg as an extra blocking tight end. That allowed the Bucs to only dress three tight ends rather than four on game days. With five tight ends on the current roster, Bucs don’t need to draft one at all. Yet Gronkowski turning 32 and Brate turning 30 this year means that Tampa Bay could be in the market for a younger tight end. The fact that Howard and Gronkowski are in the final year of their contracts could prompt the Bucs to draft one this year. A Day 3 tight end like Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble, UCF’s Jacob Harris, Ole Miss’ Kenny Yeboah, Boise State’s John Bates or Virginia’s Tony Poljan could be an option.
Most believe Pitts is the next superstar tight end in the NFL. His rare blend of size. speed and overall athleticism created tons of mismatches while at Florida, which should continue at the next level. Pitts’ versatility to be essentially another wide receiver when he flexes out has NFL offensive coordinators drooling with the possibilities. Pitts isn’t the best inline blocker of the tight end prospects in 2021, but coordinators aren’t drafting Pitts as a blocker. Last season in eight games for the Gators, Pitts had 43 receptions for 770 yards (17.9 avg.) and 12 receiving touchdowns while being named the John Mackey award winner and earning Associated Press first-team All-American honors.
2. Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth – Junior – 6-5, 251, N/A
Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth – Photo by: USA Today
If Pitts wasn’t in the draft, Freiermuth would be the top-rated tight end. While he may not be the freakish athlete that Pitts is, he could be the most complete tight end of the class in 2021, with some inevitable comparisons to Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski. Freiermuth played in just four games last season due to an injury cutting his year short, but he still finished his career as Penn State’s all-time leader in touchdowns from a tight end. Despite missing all but four games he was still named first-team All-Big Ten by league coaches with 23 receptions for 310 yards (13.5 avg.) and one TD.
3. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble – Redshirt Sophomore – 6-3, 241, 4.63
Tremble is far from a polished product, but scouts believe he has high upside and can develop into a more complete tight end with experience. Already an excellent blocker, Tremble loves to initiate contact and can punish defenders. His biggest weakness is his lack of pass-catching production, as he had just 35 receptions for 401 yards at Notre Dame. He is an intriguing prospect that could end up surprising some at the next level.
4. Miami TE Brevin Jordan – Junior – 6-3, 247, 4.67
Jordan missed three games in 2020 but still managed 38 receptions for 576 yards (15.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He will need to improve his blocking technique at the next level, while also using his hands more to catch the ball as opposed to his body. Jordan, with some work, can develop into a solid TE2 in the NFL.
5. Boston College TE Hunter Long – Junior – 6-5, 254, 4.68
Long is a solid pass-catching tight end, but scouts have concerns about the physical part of his game at the next level, as he didn’t show much aggression as a blocker while at Boston College. He did finish his final season as a second-team AP All-American and first team All-ACC selection after nabbing 57 receptions for 685 yards (12.0 avg.) and five touchdowns in 11 starts for the Eagles.
Harris grew up in the Tampa Bay area as a huge Mike Evans fan, and has seen his stock rise of late after an impressive hand-timed 4.39 40-yard dash at his recent pro day. Harris started six games in 2020 and had 30 receptions for 530 yards and eight scores for the Knights. Like Evans, Harris is a long-strider who can lull defenders to sleep then blow by them, as evidenced by his 20.1 career reception average at UCF.
Best Of The Rest
7. Ole Miss TE Kenny Yeboah – Senior – 6-4, 250 4.71
Ole Miss TE Kenny Yeboah – Photo by: USA Today
Yeboah began his college career at Temple before finishing up at Ole Miss.where he averaged 19.4 yards per reception (27 catches for 524 yards) in 2020. Yeboah will need to add more muscle and strength to his frame as he isn’t a very good inline blocker. He is an athletic pass catcher who can go up over defenders and make the tough catch, but will struggle with the easy grab at times.
8. Georgia TE Tre McKitty – Senior – 6-4, 246, N/A
A Wesley Chapel native and graduate of IMG Academy in Bradenton, McKitty signed with FSU and was a productive tight end for the Seminoles before transferring to Georgia. His best season came in 2018 when he had 26 catches for 256 yards with 10 starts. At Georgia a preseason injury limited his time on the field, and McKitty had just six catches for 108 yards and one score last year in Athens. Like many of the tight ends in this class, McKitty needs to work on his blocking technique to see the field in the NFL.
9. Michigan TE Ben Mason – Senior – 6-3, 246, 4.75
Mason was primarily a fullback/H-back and doesn’t boast any impressive receiving stats. What he did showcase at Michigan was size, strength and toughness. Mason was a special teams standout and likely would have to make an NFL roster doing the same thing. Mason was a coach’s dream in Ann Arbor, doing what was asked of him with a great attitude and passion.
10. Boise State TE John Bates – Senior – 6-5, 250, 4.82
Bates won’t wow scouts as a pass catcher when they turn on the film, but his aggressiveness and willingness to stick his nose in the pile as a blocker will make them take notice. Bates was a three-year starter for the Broncos and is a throwback-type player that can make an NFL roster with attitude and willingness to play on special teams. He finished his Boise State career with 47 rec receptions for 579 yards and two scores.
11. Virginia TE Tony Poljan – Senior – 6-6, 251, 4.82
Poljan is an impressive athlete who was able to make the switch from quarterback to tight end after three seasons at Central Michigan. As a full-time tight end last season for the Cavs he recorded 38 catches for 411 yards and six touchdowns. He has some developmental upside that could make him a Day 3 pick and maybe earn a roster spot in the NFL with his 6-foot-6, 251-pound frame.
12. Kansas State TE Briley Moore – Senior – 6-4, 240, 4.64
Kansas State TE Briley Moore – Photo by: USA Today
Moore was just a one-season starter for the Wildcats after transferring from Northern Iowa. Last year he recorded 22 catches for 338 and three touchdowns. Scouts love his ability to get into routes quickly and his hands are above average, but he could take a while to develop enough strength to hold up at the NFL level as a blocker.
13. BYU TE Matt Bushman – Senior – 6-5, 245, N/A
An Achilles injury derailed his senior season, but Bushman was just the third player in school history to lead the team in receiving yards three straight seasons. At age 25 Bushman is older than teams might like and that along with a 2020 injury likely hurts his draft stock. Still, he is a powerful blocker who was productive for the Cougars, finishing his career with 125 catches for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns.
Bucs Best Bets: Tight End
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
At 6-foot-3, 241 pounds, Tremble lacks ideal size to be an in-line tight end. Yet he is known for his elite blocking ability and may be the best blocking tight end in the draft. Tremble uses superior technique and tremendous tenacity to get the job done. He was used by the Fighting Irish as an inline blocker, an H-back and a fullback. Without playing a down in the NFL yet, Tremble is already a better blocker than Cameron Brate and Tanner Hudson.
But Tremble is not a one-dimensional tight end. When called upon he’s a good receiver. Tremble totaled 35 catches for 401 yards (11.5 avg.) and four touchdowns in two years at Notre Dame. All four of those TDs came when Tremble was a sophomore in 2019. If the Bucs wanted to draft a complete tight end, selecting Tremble with their third-round pick would be an ideal choice.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: UCF TE Jacob Harris
UCF TE Jacob Harris – Photo by: USA Today
Harris is one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft. At 6-foot-5, 219 pounds, he’s incredibly light to play tight end by NFL standards. In fact, he’s roughly the same size as Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans. Yet Harris is even faster than Evans, running a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the UCF pro day. The supremely athletic Harris also posted a 40.5-inch vertical and an 11-1 broad jump. The Knights used Harris as a flex tight end due to his receiving ability. But he also did see snaps inline as a conventional blocking tight end. Harris is a willing and able blocker, but will have to add 10-15 pounds of mass to hold up as an inline blocker in the NFL.
Unless the team that drafts him uses him as a big wide receiver due to his speed. That could be in the cards for Tampa Bay either way if they select Harris on Day 3. Harris caught 19 passes for 448 yards (23.6 avg.) and one touchdown in 2019. Last year in 10 games, Harris caught 30 passes for 539 yards (18 avg.) with eight TDs. Harris’ 20.1 career receiving average has the Bucs’ attention, as Bruce Arians loves vertical threats in his offense. Factor in Harris’s 33.5-inch arms and 81-inch wingspan, and he’s the type of receiver that can out-leap and outrun defenders for the football.