Habib: Gators' Kyle Pitts could be the type of tight end the Miami Dolphins have never had

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post
Gators tight end Kyle Pitts tries to fend off Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine.

On the evening of Thursday, April 29, if the Dolphins draft LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the sixth overall pick, we’ll immediately wonder why September can’t hurry up and get here. We’ll envision Chase toasting defensive backs and catching rainbows from Tua Tagovailoa. We’ll no longer think of first downs as gifts from above.

If the Dolphins instead land Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, we’ll start wondering, well, the same thing.

The same applies if it’s Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith.

While any of the three would add pizazz to this offense, it doesn’t mean they’re created equally.

That’s what Wednesday was all about.

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Pitts checked in at 6-feet-5 3/8, 245 pounds, with a wingspan of 83 3/8 inches and a pair of legs that carried that large frame over 40 yards in 4.44 seconds. Making sense of numbers like that requires no scouting expertise, no comparison figures. Social media’s personnel gurus have been tripping over one another, concocting ways to quantify what we’d just witnessed.

In the end, all roads lead to one conclusion: Pitts is special.

Here in South Florida, we can appreciate that, for two reasons.

1. The trouble elite tight ends have given the Dolphins for ages.

2. The inability of the Dolphins to do unto others what has been done unto them.

That’s not a knock on Miami’s current featured tight end, Mike Gesicki. He’s good. At times very good. But he’s not elite. He’s not Travis Kelce or George Kittle or Darren Waller.

Sometimes it seems Gesicki can’t be covered.

Never does it seem Kelce can be.

Even Jim Mandich was a second-rounder

And guess what: The same limitations apply to any other Dolphins tight end you could name. The explanation for that is simple. Throughout their history, the Dolphins have never drafted three things in the first round: a kicker or a punter (makes sense) or a tight end (honest). The only time a tight end was their top pick was 1970, but Jim Mandich was a second-rounder. Miami had traded its first-round pick for receiver Paul Warfield.

There were eras when minimizing the importance of an elite tight end might be justified. This isn’t one of them. Today’s game is all about mismatches, and these masquerading power forwards are causing headaches for defenses, both in matriculating into the red zone and then in grabbing rebounds in the end zone. They’re blockers, possession receivers and game-breakers rolled into one.

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts had 43 catches for 770 yards (a 17.9 average) and 12 touchdowns in 2020.

Pitts’ coach, Dan Mullen, laid out the quandary Pitts presents. You want to assign a cornerback to cover him? Fine.

“What are you doing with that corner when he comes in to be a blocker?” Mullen said.

Maybe you match up with size, meaning a linebacker. Then what happens when the tight end is going to release off the line?

“What do you do at that point?” Mullen said. “How are you rolling coverage?”

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2 Pro Bowl tight ends in Dolphins history: Jackson, Edmunds

The Dolphins have had good tight ends, but never an elite tight end, not for any length of time. Only two tight ends have ever made the Pro Bowl in Dolphins colors: Keith Jackson (1992 and ’93) and Ferrell Edmunds (1989 and ’90).

Although Jackson, obtained via free agency, checks in as the best tight end in team history, his All-Pro years actually were not while playing with Dan Marino, but with his first NFL team, Philadelphia. His most productive scoring season was his final year, in Green Bay. Of his three seasons in Miami, Jackson's best year statistically was 1994, when he had 673 yards and seven TDs.

The best receiving performances by Dolphins tight ends show how far they have to go.

Kansas City’s All-Pro, Kelce, is on a seven-year run with a minimum of 862 yards per season, including 1,416 in 2020. The most any Dolphin has ever chalked up: 791 by Randy McMichael in 2004. McMichael caught 73 passes that year, which also is a record for a Dolphins tight end. And the high-water mark for touchdowns was seven by Jackson in 1994.

In case you’re wondering, Gesicki had career highs last season of 53 receptions, 703 yards and six TDs. As attention turned to the draft, the notion of Miami taking a tight end was on nobody’s radar. The Dolphins already had Gesicki, who’s entering his prime. They had greater needs at wide receiver and running back. If the first mock drafts had the Dolphins taking Pitts at No. 3 (their original drafting position), laughter might have ensued.

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But Pitts gained momentum, leading to Wednesday, when Brian Flores made sure he was in Gainesville to see what the buzz was about with his own eyes. Afterward, the two talked. Flores said he’d be back in touch. Interesting.

Should the Dolphins go with Pitts, the logic would be clear. Wide receiver is a greater need, but the wide receiver pool is infinitely deeper. Pitts is a generational talent. Grab him now, take a wide receiver later.

Of course, there’s one problem. After trading down from No. 3 overall to No. 6, the Dolphins opened the door for Pitts to be off the board when they choose. Atlanta could take him fourth as a target for Matt Ryan. Cincinnati could select him fifth and pair him with Joe Burrow, which would be a statement itself since doing so would mean eschewing the temptation of reuniting Burrow with Chase.

At any rate, picking sixth assures the Dolphins will have the chance to add a playmaker to their offense.

The question is whether he’s a generational talent.

2021 NFL Draft

April 29-May 1