Dallas Cowboys: Draft Kyle Pitts? Why you don’t (and do) draft TEs early

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

You don’t draft tight ends early in the draft. By now, everyone is, at the very least, aware of that philosophical draft guideline. If positional value is important to you (and it should be, Dallas Cowboys fans), you target high value positions earlier and low value positions later.

The idea is that it makes little sense to invest premium draft capital on a position that is low in wins above replacement (WAR) and low in average annual salary because those indicate “low value.” The first speaks to replaceablity and the second is all about savings incurred by the rookie contract.

That’s why we see teams target quarterbacks, offensive tackles, receivers, cornerbacks, and pass rushers so often in the first round. Those positions have the biggest impact on the game (in terms of WAR) and cost the most to re-sign (thus the rookie contract savings advantage). The tight end position…not so much.

As it stands right now, there’s about a 50/50 chance tight end Kyle Pitts is there when the Dallas Cowboys go on the clock at Pick 10. So it seems appropriate we broach the “don’t draft a tight end in the first round” topic.

Why the Dallas Cowboys should consider Kyle Pitts at Pick 10

Since 2011, eight TEs have been drafted in the first round of their respective drafts. The low number indicates their perceived positional value in the NFL and shows these specific specimens were considered “exceptions to the rule” by their respective teams.

Despite being exceptions, only half of them have made the Pro Bowl.  And even more telling is none of them made the Pro Bowl more than once. Again, that’s going back 10 years. That’s why an exception can be a dangerous thing to make.

Travis Kelce (round 3), George Kittle (round 5), and Darren Waller (round 5) are some of the most highly regarded tight ends in the NFL these days and none of the three were found particularly early in the draft. In fact, if we look at PFF’s top-16 TEs in the NFL (AKA those who rated as above average starters), two were drafted in round 1, three were found in round 2, six were picked in round 3, and five were picked on Day 3 or after (undrafted free agents).

Unlike the quarterback, cornerback, and offensive tackle position, you don’t need to pick one in the first round to find a great tight end. In fact, the third round seems to be money round when it comes to drafting tight ends these days.

As we touched on earlier, tight ends don’t rate particularly high in the positional value index. Of the 11 main position groups, tight end is fifth in WAR and in positional pay scale, tight ends are dead last (11th), indicating very little cap savings on their rookie contract*.

*Note: teams gain an advantage when they have elite players at high value positions playing on rookie deals. The cheapest of the top-11 positions to re-sign on second deals is the tight end position, so they offer the smallest financial advantage when drafted in the first round.

For more on positional value, check out: The importance of positional value in the NFL Draft

Exceptions to the rule

The caveat we always need to keep in mind is that no rule is hard and fast and there are exceptions to every rule. So even if tight ends are highly replaceable and Pro Bowlers are routinely found in the later rounds of the draft, if someone projects as a “generational talent” he could very well be worth drafting in the first round to some people.

Which brings us to Kyle Pitts.

Many draft analysts view Kyle Pitts as just that – a generational talent. While that overused label seems to pop up every year, this time it may actually be applicable. Instead of doing my own prospect review I’ll just direct you to search on your own. The best draft analysts in the NFL hardly agree on anything, yet they all generally agree Kyle Pitts to be a can’t miss superstar in the making.

So is this the time to invoke the exception to the rule and draft a tight end with a first round pick?

Pitts is a WR more than a TE – essentially busting the entire debate of whether you draft a TE or not in the first round.

That’s a hard question to answer but if you are willing to relabel Pitts, this may not be hard at all. What if you call Kyle Pitts a receiver? WRs are second in WAR (just behind QBs) and third on the pay scale. Receivers have tremendous positional value and are therefore well worth a first round investment.

Looking at his body of work and skill set, Pitts can just as easily be viewed as a receiver. He lined up split wide and in the slot 36% of the time at Florida. He’s not your traditional in-line TE but rather a hybrid. He’s a “joker” or “big slot” more than he is a tight end.


He’s a pass-catcher who can block. He’s a receiver more than a tight end – essentially busting the entire debate of whether you draft a TE or not in the first round. He’s not really a TE.

What does this mean for the Dallas Cowboys?

Kyle Pitts is a fairly polarizing topic in Cowboys Nation these days. The Dallas Cowboys offense is already loaded and the defense is abysmal. It’s hard to justify an investment on offense given the circumstance.

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But you rarely go wrong drafting the best player available at positions of high value and if Pitts is available, he’ll be the BPA by a country mile. And if you consider him to be more WR than TE, his value is clearly there as well.

Depending what the Cowboys plan to do with Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and Blake Jarwin long-term, they could easily have a place for a blue-chip prospect like Pitts. This is something I’ll dive into in coming days (teaser alert).

Right now let’s keep the debate on track and compartmentalized: You don’t draft TEs early in the draft and you should avoid make exceptions to rules because they rarely work out.

At the same time, Kyle Pitts isn’t necessarily a TE. Depending on how you use Pitts, he could very well be the most impactful player available at Pick 10 – even if the Dallas Cowboys need a massive injection of defensive talent.

The Dallas Cowboys clearly need a starting cornerback and some pretty worthy options figure to be available when they go on the clock. I’m in no way saying pass over a high value position like CB when a player like Patrick Surtain II is worthy of the draft slot.

But I’m also not saying don’t do it, just for the sake of stubbornly upgrading the defense. Doing so is short-sighted and something they very well could come to regret. What I’m saying is we must consider positional value and we shouldn’t consider Kyle Pitts “just a TE” because he may be the best WR in this draft class if you’re willing to categorize him differently.

Related Story. Patrick Surtain II: The Favorite to be the Cowboys pick. light

Next. Why you should be very excited about Blake Jarwin this season. dark

So yeah, don’t draft TEs in the first round. They can be found later in the draft and it makes little sense to invest in low value positions when high value options and needs are staring you in the face. But also, don’t call Pitts a tight end because he’s something else and so much more. The Dallas Cowboys will need to keep that in mind. Debate…

  • Published on 03/29/2021 at 11:01 AM
  • Last updated at 03/28/2021 at 23:18 PM