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2021 NFL Draft Preview: Tight end sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos may need to add to the tight end room. That may come as a surprise to some out there given they have Noah Fant, a rising star in the NFL, as their primary target and starter at the position. However, it’s about building the best depth you can and adding talent where there is a need and there is value. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see them address the position in the draft.

There’s a strong group of tight ends in this draft class. It features one player who may be selected higher than any tight end in the history of the league. After him, there are multiple options for teams looking for “Y” (all-purpose) or “F” (receivers) tight ends.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the tight end position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2021 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

The only tight end I have in this draft class with a first-round grade is Kyle Pitts from Florida. Not only is he a first-round player, but he’s also one of the five best players in this class regardless of position. Because of the crazy quarterback market, Pitts may not go in the top 5, but he should.

He’s a big-bodied wide receiver who plays at the tight end position. The position has changed and now guys like Pitts can dominate on the field. He reminds me so much of Darren Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller was a converted wide receiver from his college days at Georgia Tech, and Pitts plays just like him.

Pitts is still only 20 years old and has made strides as a blocker over the last two seasons. A team won’t add him with a top-10 pick for his blocking skills, but it is nice to know that he’s worked hard to improve that part of his game. As a receiver, he can gain separation against cornerbacks of all shapes and sizes. Don’t even try to put a linebacker or a safety on him. Pitts is going to be a force to be reckoned with the first time he steps onto an NFL field.

While not first-round picks, I feel that Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) and Brevin Jordan (Miami) should go off the board in the second round. Freiermuth gets a lot of “Baby Gronk” comparisons because the way he can look like a man among boys on the football field – as a blocker and as a route-runner. Jordan is a running back – or at least he looks like one – playing tight end. His game is all about speed and run-after-the-catch ability. Jordan could be quite the weapon if used the right way – think Delanie Walker-ish.

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Sleepers

I saw a few sleepers at the tight end position during the week of practice for the Senior Bowl earlier this year. It was an enjoyable week because of the variety of talent that was featured at the game and in practice.

Kenny Yeboah (Ole Miss) looks like a playmaker for the pro level. At 250 pounds, Yeboah is seen as somewhat of a ‘tweener for the position. He’s not fast by NFL standards, but he does move well at speed and that fluidity will help him get open against linebackers. Yeboah is an effort blocker and needs to improve that part of his game. He did make some catches at practice that had a high degree of difficulty. Yeboah is a late-round or priority free agent guy with upside.

Hunter Long (Boston College) is a good all-purpose tight end. He has speed for the position and can turn short passes into long gains. Long was relied on in college as a receiver, and a pro quarterback might discover that he’s a good security-blanket receiver. He gives good effort as a blocker and presents good value as a mid-round pick in the draft.

Like Long, John Bates (Boise State) can work well as a blocker and a receiver. He doesn’t have the speed for the position, but I can make the argument that Bates was better than Long at hauling in contested catches. Long is still ascending in his skill for the position after playing multiple positions, including wide receiver and defensive back, in high school. He could be one of those mid-to-late round picks who has a better pro career than he did in college.

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Broncos Fits

I feel like the Broncos mainly need a “Y” tight end. Fant is your classic “F” tight end and is so dangerous as a receiver. In fact, I think Fant has only shown us the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he can do in the pros. If Fant one day became a top-five tight end in the NFL, I would not be surprised.

Tommy Tremble from Notre Dame is a player the Broncos have interest in. He’s met with the team via Zoom for an interview, and Tremble fits the bill for what the Broncos need. Tremble is a “Y” tight end, but he could also be used as an H-back or fullback in the right system.

There are some players who run like their hair is on fire – well, Tremble blocks that way. He loves to dominate at the point of attack and is not afraid of any challenge. Even on the move, Tremble blocks his man and stays with the play.

As a receiver, Tremble does drop too many passes. He has great speed and good athleticism for the position, but he was not targeting frequently by the Fighting Irish. In the NFL, I think Tremble is going to be more of a no.2 tight end or even a gadget player – but many teams are going to want a player like him. Because of his unique skill set and untapped potential, Tremble might go off the board in the third round – so the Broncos had better be prepared to spend a premium pick if they want him.