The Detroit Lions famously drafted wide receivers with their first-round pick three years in a row (2003-05). But it didn’t stop Matt Millen from doing it again when Calvin Johnson entered the draft in 2007.
Whatever else you say about the former Lions general manager, he got that pick right. You don’t pass on that kind of talent, no matter the potential backlash.
And if Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is there at No. 7 overall in next week’s NFL draft, then the Lions should absolutely take him. Never mind that the team used its first-round pick two years ago to grab tight end, T.J. Hockenson. Never mind that Hockenson made the Pro Bowl this past season.
Quarterbacks may dominate the NFL, but even the most gifted passers need someone to get the ball to. And it’s a lot easier to get the ball to players who are open.
This doesn’t necessarily mean traditional wide receivers. It just means anyone that creates a mismatch, whether an outside burner, a slippery slot trickster, a running back running wheel routes out of the back field, or a 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound human being who just ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash.
Pitts, by all accounts, is a generational talent. Which is another way of saying something much simpler: He is new. He should also be a matchup problem.
And that’s really this is all about. Until the rules change to allow defenses to slow offenses, offense rules the game.
There are plenty of schemes and styles and quarterbacks, and if an offensive line can’t provide a reasonable pocket, well, not much else matters. But the Lions already have a solid front and there are stellar talents at those positions who show up in the draft every year.
But players like Pitts?
Not hardly, not that we quite know what Pitts is.
In title, sure, he is a tight end. But on film? In measurables?
He is someone who gets down the field quickly, who is precise in his routes, who has a catch radius like the circumference of the Uniroyal Tire on I-94 in Allen Park, and who posts up like a power forward on the block waiting for a rebound.
Teams certainly don’t need someone like Pitts to make a postseason run or win a Super Bowl. Mostly because there has never been anyone like him. They do need players who cause similar tension within the defense.
Of the 10 teams that have played in the last five Super Bowls, only two teams didn’t have a serious mismatch in their offensive huddle: Philadelphia and the L.A. Rams.
Though Eagles tight end, Zach Ertz was among the best at his position and caught seven passes for 67 yards a touchdown in Philly’s win over New England in 2017.
As for everyone else?
You’ll find a list of some of the most uniquely gifted offensive players of this era:
Rob Gronkowski, George Kittles, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce.
You could argue that Tampa won its Super Bowl earlier this year with a past-his-prime Gronkowski, and that’s true by metric and speed. But in the red zone, in high leverage moments, his size and skill and hands are still impossibly difficult to check.
Obviously, quarterback play and defense are essential to deep postseason runs, too. Yet recent history tells us those two things aren’t quite enough on their own.
Patrick Mahomes may go down as the best quarterback to ever play, and already you can argue he’s the most talented we’ve ever seen. But he’s also throwing to two of the most electric playmakers in the game, Hill and Kelce.
Tom Brady, meanwhile, won another ring after getting bounced in the wild card round the season before.
The Buccaneers had the kind of skill players the Patriots did not — Gronkowski and receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
It’s true that receivers are becoming the new running backs relative to draft status, and that most years produce plenty of both. What’s indisputable is that playmakers matter more than ever, however you want to label them.
As for Pitts?
His label is there because there isn’t a name for what he might become. So, for now, let’s just call him a difference-maker.
That’s all. And that should be all she wrote if the Lions are lucky enough to get the chance to draft him.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.