It seems that not a day goes by without someone on Cowboys Twitter explaining why they think Dallas should go after Florida tight end Kyle Pitts in the draft. And it’s not just the fans who feel this way, it was reported earlier in the week that Jerry Jones is “infatuated” with Pitts as well.
And I get it. Pitts is an easy prospect to get excited about. He played tight end at Florida but was basically a monstrous wide receiver, frequently wrecking SEC defenses on a weekly basis. His measurables compare best to that of Calvin Johnson, unlike any tight end we’ve seen, and Florida head coach Dan Mullen accurately described him as a unicorn.
But the Cowboys cannot afford to take Pitts in this draft, and for many reasons. First of all is the fact that Pitts likely won’t be available by the time the Cowboys are on the clock, meaning they’d have to surrender some draft capital to trade up for him. And given the high bust rate on tight ends drafted in the first round, coupled with the fact that star tight ends like George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and even Jason Witten have all been drafted in the later rounds, it doesn’t seem like a smart investment to trade up for a tight end.
However, even in the scenario where Pitts does fall to the tenth overall pick, Dallas still shouldn’t take him. Proponents of the Pitts-to-Dallas train have argued that this would be a classic best player available (BPA) approach, similar to the move that netted them CeeDee Lamb just year. But the reality is that this comparison doesn’t quite hold up because Lamb also represented a need, just not the top need.
Tight end is not nearly as much of a need this year as receiver was last year. In fact, tight end isn’t really a need at all this year. Blake Jarwin is set to return as the starter, and Dalton Schultz’s breakout year in 2020 - in which he caught 63 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns from four different quarterbacks - proved Dallas has a potent tight end tandem. The recent addition of Jeremy Sprinkle, a blocking tight end who effectively fills Blake Bell’s spot, was the finishing touch on this position group.
In contrast, the Cowboys entered last year’s draft with no clear third receiver after Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They lost Randall Cobb to Houston in free agency and briefly pursued Emmanuel Sanders before he joined the Saints. It wasn’t a pressing need for Dallas, but they did need to find a viable third option. And that’s why Lamb was worthy of the pick, filling that need. Pitts doesn’t fill a need, but merely beefs up an already good position group.
That brings up the second point here, which is that the value added by Pitts to this specific offense is largely outweighed by the value added by taking a top defensive player, like Patrick Surtain II or Joe Horn. Pitts has the ability to be a dominant receiving threat at the next level (assuming he doesn’t bust as many other first round tight ends have), but how much can he actually do in this offense?
Partially because of the Lamb pick last year, Dallas fielded a great passing attack even without Dak Prescott, as they finished eighth in passing yards and fifth in first downs by passing. Schultz ended up fourth on the team in targets, catches, and yards and rightfully so considering the trio of receivers this offense has. The question that needs to be asked is how much more action a player of Pitts’ caliber would actually see, and the answer is likely not a significant increase from what Schultz produced last year.
Meanwhile, this defense needs a lot of fixing. There’s no shortage of ways to express how bad they were last year, and despite some solid under-the-radar additions so far this offseason, there is still work to be done. The first five games of last year showed that great offenses still need at least middle-of-the-pack defenses to yield a win. The Cowboys were averaging just under 33 points a game in that span, but they were allowing 36 points a game at the same time.
Sooner or later, the Cowboys need to invest serious capital into this defense in a meaningful way. We know at this stage it won’t be a marquee free agent signing, which leaves the draft as their best chance this offseason. Whether it’s Surtain, Horn, or my personal favorite Christian Barmore, the Cowboys need to upgrade this defense before the start of the season if they want to be Super Bowl contenders. We know the offense will be great with or without Pitts, but the defense will not.
Which brings up the issue with the BPA conversation. People tend to think it simply means the best player remaining regardless of position. In reality, it means the best player for the team that is still available. If the Cowboys get on the clock and one of the coveted quarterbacks is still available, basic positional value makes him the best player available. But there’s no reason for Dallas to draft a quarterback tenth overall right after signing Dak Prescott to a big contract. The correct move would be to either trade down with a quarterback-needy team or select another player.
It’s a similar case in this Pitts conundrum. The Cowboys know, having admitted as much during Prescott’s contract press conference, that the focus of this offseason has to be improving the defense. Taking Pitts at 10 doesn’t accomplish that no matter how good he may end up being. And if they don’t like any defensive talent available when they’re on the clock? Don’t reach for a player and trade down instead. But Pitts won’t move the needle in a meaningful way for this Cowboys team, which is why they can’t afford to draft him.