Kyle Pitts saw other high profile players around the country opting out. He saw the projections that he will be a high pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And the tight end knew the concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. But he also knew how he felt about the season.
“[Opting out is] something I never really thought of. I only was thinking about this season and how I can get better from last year to this year.”
Pitts had a pretty good 2019 season, to the tune of 649 yards (second on the team) on 54 receptions (first on the team) and five touchdowns. He averaged 49.9 yards per game, only 0.6 behind Van Jefferson’s team-leading average. He was shamelessly left off the Mackey Award Watch List because he had the nerve to catch as many passes as he blocked for. But just to be safe, Pitts wants to work on that latter aspect of his game.
“I’d say that, just blocking and knowing the game from the defensive side, knowing how they’re gonna play and how I can maneuver in certain situations.
“Just to get heavier and hands inside, like stepping on my in-step, like you know, the my balls my feet, just things like, small details of my hand placement and hat placement is something that helps at the line of scrimmage.”
The desire to do that is of course born in even the most docile of competitors. Pitts though has the advantage of preparing through his last season of college for the NFL with a new appreciation for the position in the National Football League.
San Francisco 49er’s tight end George Kittle, signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the 49ers with an $18 million signing bonus, making him the highest-paid tight end in the league. The 49ers Super Bowl opponents—and eventual SB Champs—took care of their star tight end as well, signing Travis Kelce to a four-year, $57 million contract extension through the 2025 season.
Tight ends evolved as a hodgepodge of roles; a fullback, an offensive lineman and a receiver. As such they have largely been utilized as lithe blockers who had decent enough hands to catch short passes if needed. But Kittle and Kelce have changed the game, proving that a tight end can be an effective blocker but also become a wildcard in the passing game. The duo has proven a tight end can be elite at all three of the original positions it was molded after.
Pitts knows that as teams shift to add more guys like Kittle and Kelce, his skill set will be at a premium. So as he’s preparing for the upcoming college season, he’s doing so by studying—and hopefully emulating—that duo.
“I watch those guys a lot. Those guys, I sit up in the office and watch with the coaches and try and critique their game and add certain pieces that they do in the game to add to my game because I see we kind of do a lot of things similar. But, those guys obviously - they've been in the league, and they know how to do certain things. But, seeing those contracts really just opened my eyes because years ago tight ends weren't getting those type[s] of contracts so, now that they're changing the game it's really interesting.
"Being a student of the game. They know in certain coverages, do certain things. In the run game, they put their face on people and every ball that's thrown to them, they catch it.”
If Kyle Pitts has the sort of year for UF that is expected, he could be well on his way to a future like Kittle’s and Kelce’s. For the time being though, he can be a game changer for the Florida Gators.