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Fully vaccinated and given the green light, Roger Goodell is ready to wrap his arms around Kyle Pitts during Thursday night’s NFL Draft.
The commissioner might be one of the few people able to contain Pitts as the unique and ubertalented tight end makes his much-anticipated jump to professional football.
How highly Pitts will be drafted might be the only intrigue surrounding the Gators’ record-setting star this week. He is certain to be early in the rotation to receive one of Goodell’s famous hugs reserved for first-round selections.
Once he exits the stage in Cleveland, the next step for the 6-foot-5⅝, 245-pound Pitts seems to be a foregone conclusion.
“The mismatch he creates is just awesome,” said veteran draft analyst Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com. “Who’s going to cover him in the NFL?”
Pitts asks the same thing.
The 20-year-old plans to take the league by storm.
“I feel like, at the end, I’ll be the best to ever do it,” Pitts said.
Pitts boasts the track record in college and NFL potential to back up his bold Hall of Fame claim and likely become the first non-quarterback selected Thursday. In the process, Pitts could be chosen higher than any tight end in NFL history.
Future Hall of Famer Mike Ditka was selected with the fifth pick in 1961 by the Chicago Bears, the same spot the Denver Broncos secured eventual four-time Pro Bowler Riley Odoms in 1972.
Pitts is projected to go to Atlanta with the No. 4 pick or Miami at No. 6, but whoever grabs him could land a generational talent.
“He’s a unicorn,” UF coach Dan Mullen said.
Pitts was a first-team All-America last season at Florida, averaging 17.9 yards per catch and recording 12 touchdown grabs during just 7½ games.
Pitts then put on a show March 31 during UF’s Pro Day, covering 40 yards in 4.46 seconds, bench-pressing 225 pounds 22 times and checking in with a wingspan of 83⅜ inches, or a smidgen under 7 feet.
Those freakish numbers drew comparisons between Pitts and Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was .08 seconds faster at the 2007 Scouting Combine but also 15 pounds lighter at 6-foot-5.
Draft analyst Tony Pauline of profootballnetwork.com said to not overlook the level of competition Pitts faced while producing his eye-popping numbers last season.
“It’s not only what he does, but who he did it against,” Pauline said.
Pitts dominated Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain during the SEC title game, recording seven catches for 129 yards and a leaping 22-yard touchdown to give the Gators a shot during the final minutes of a 52-46 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Pitts caught two touchdowns against South Carolina lined up man-to-man against Jaycee Horn. Before leaving the Georgia game with a concussion following an illegal hit, Pitts had two catches for 59 yards, including a 34-yard score as he was blanketed by Bulldogs cornerback Tyson Campbell.
Surtain and Horn are sure to join Pitts during the draft’s first round Thursday; Campbell’s name is expected to be called on Day 2.
Pitts’ success against the SEC’s top coverage guys along with his ability to move outside to inside requires constant attention and adjustments from a defense.
“If he becomes what he can become, you’re going to have to game-plan the heck out of him,” said the New Jersey-based Coyle, now in his 30th year analyzing the draft. “You’re going to have to chip him, you’re going to have to box him, high-low him. He’s a red-zone nightmare.”
In Gainesville, Pitts was a coach’s dream due to his skill set, football IQ and work ethic.
“I got to be around it for three years, so I’ve seen it all,” Mullen said. “I’ve been wowed by it all for the last three years. So I’ve gotten to see it in meetings, in practice, how he trains, how he works.”
Pitts’ presence and impact expanded the Gators’ play book and elevated the performance of his teammates.
Quarterback Kyle Trask threw for a school-record 43 touchdowns during 2020, with wide receivers Kadarius Toney catching 10 and Trevon Grimes nine. While Trask, Toney and Grimes are a talented trio generating high NFL interest themselves, Pitts opened up opportunities whenever on the field.
Pitts sat out with an undisclosed injury during the Gators’ crushing 37-34 loss to LSU during the regular-season finale, highlighting his value to one of the most explosive offenses in college football. A week later, UF played Alabama more tooth-and-nail than any team during the Tide’s unbeaten national championship season.
“I’m gonna tell you,” Mullen said, “when you’re in the meeting room and you’re designing a game plan, he’s awful fun to have and to have that little spot that you can go put up on the board and say, ‘That’s him and how are we going to move him around?’”
On Thursday, one lucky NFL team will get to find out for itself.