Why Kyle Pitts should be as unique a weapon as there is in the SEC
I imagine that when Tim Brewster got the offer to become Florida’s tight ends coach last month, there was a moment when thought about what/who we’d be working with if he left UNC.
That wouldn’t be surprising. After all, it’s important for any coach to make sure that they’re walking into a favorable situation and not to a dead-end job. If you’re a tight ends coach, it’s probably smart to make sure you’re going to a place where the tight end is more than a glorified 6th offensive lineman.
So, like anyone would do in his position, Brewster probably searched for some clips of Florida’s returning tight ends and how Dan Mullen used them. During that process, Brewster surely saw dozens of clips of Kyle Pitts making plays all over the field. He watched Pitts win matchups against elite defenses like Georgia, LSU and Auburn in a way that perhaps reminded Brewster of his Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger.
And as fast as he could say “Florida is Tight End U,” Brewster made up his mind.
Spend a minute watching Pitts’ 2019 highlights and anyone would probably have the same reaction. The well-traveled Brewster will work to develop someone who returns as arguably the top tight end in America. As a sophomore, Pitts was a 1st-team All-SEC selection ahead of the likes of preseason favorites Albert Okwuegbunam and Jared Pinkney.
Now with an entire offseason to work with Kyle Trask combined with a new energized tight ends coach, and yes, a Mackey Award could be in Pitts’ future. He’s as unique a weapon as there is in the SEC for a few reasons.
There are more prolific returning weapons in the SEC like Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris. Nobody is discounting them. But they don’t present mismatches quite like Pitts does.
What do I mean by that?
Here’s what happens when you try to cover Pitts with a linebacker. He’s deadly in the seam, as Tennessee true freshman stud Henry To’o To’o found out the hard way:
Kyle Pitts – early favorite for 2021 TE1 pic.twitter.com/vQFBXUju6B
— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) January 11, 2020
The guy is 6-6, 240, but he gets in and out of his breaks like a receiver. That’s exactly how Mullen liked to use him. Pitts spent his freshman season and the spring of 2019 also working with the wideouts, which should come as no surprise. He looks like someone who picked up a thing or two from watching an elite route-runner like Van Jefferson.
Speaking of how well Pitts got in and out of his breaks, here’s what happened when LSU All-American cornerback Derek Stingley tried to cover him:
This has becoming a bit of a weekly thing, but once again, if you aren’t subscribed to @MurfBaldwin on YouTube, you’re missing out. Love the Kyle Pitts breakdown – cannot wait to watch this guy continue to develop! https://t.co/Yal7zOkUjX pic.twitter.com/jZTg2QJk26
— libgator (@lib_gator) October 15, 2019
Florida fans remember how Pitts looked like he was ready to take over that game. He made a grab over Jim Thorpe Award winner Grant Delpit on the left sideline that showed just how much trust Trask had in him.
Even when Pitts is used in more of a traditional tight end look — and not like an oversized slot receiver — like he was here in the flat against Florida State, look at what he did to not 1, but 2 Seminole defenders:
Kyle Pitts getting a brick in 2020 pic.twitter.com/w8RlAuG9GR
— DISNEY+ STAN ACCOUNT (@AshGotJuice) December 1, 2019
For the “Pitts isn’t the most unique weapon in the SEC” crowd, are you starting to see what I’m getting at?
You should. It never seemed like he could get enough targets last year even though he had 80, which was 23 more than the SEC’s next-closest tight end, Thaddeus Moss (via SECStatCat). In Florida’s lone losses to LSU and Georgia, Pitts had a combined 9 catches for 186 yards. He had at least 3 catches against every FBS opponent Florida faced in 2019, including an average of 78.3 yards on 5.3 catches against the likes of Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee. There definitely wasn’t a “he disappears in big game” knock against Pitts.
The knock against him is the blocking. It’s the thing that, as Florida fans knew all too well last year, Mullen’s offense as a whole struggled with far too often. Part of that comes back to Pitts. The need for him to provide extra protection instead of doing what he does best — run routes and give Trask a go-to target — could depend on the strides made from the Florida offensive line, which returns 4 starters.
Can Pitts become one of the reasons Florida improves its blocking? Absolutely. Go ask George Kittle about how catch-first tight ends can master the art of blocking. It’s a mindset. Pitts has always wanted to play tight end and not make the permanent move out wide to receiver.
That’s good for Florida because it makes him that much tougher to defend. He has to be accounted for at all times.
The question in 2020 is how well defenses will account for him. Pitts already put together the best season from a Florida tight end since Aaron Hernandez when he won the Mackey Award in 2009:
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Even though the game has shifted to more pass-heavy offenses in the past 10 years, Hernandez’s numbers still hold up. His 68 receptions is a mark that no SEC tight end has matched in the 21st century. In fact, only 5 FBS tight ends since 2009 exceeded that mark.
Could Pitts be next? That could depend on a few things.
Besides the obvious (staying healthy), the aforementioned improvement of the more-experienced Florida offensive line would give Pitts more routes to run. It’s hard to get too much more accurate than Trask was last year in the intermediate passing game — he was No. 10 among Power 5 quarterbacks at 66.9% — but an even more efficient starting quarterback would bode well for Pitts.
It would also go a long way if Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney put it all together for an entire season (and stayed healthy). Pitts is going to be at the top of every scouting report this year, and with good reason. That much seems obvious coming off the year that he had.
There’s the possibility that Pitts is used as more of a decoy to cause attention the middle of the field so that a guy like Toney can get space on the edges. That would actually result in Pitts’ 80 targets going down, though just the idea of that would seem insane to Florida fans. I wouldn’t bet on that.
What I would bet on is Pitts continuing to make strides as a game-changing tight end. He’s not just a red zone target. Actually, that’s an area that he can probably be utilized a bit more. That’ll fall on Mullen and Brewster.
Something tells me Brewster has no problem with priority No. 1 of his new gig in Gainesville — help Pitts become the best tight end in college football.