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How top-picked tight ends have fared in the NFL

Looking up at 6-foot-5, 240 pound Kyle Pitts, he fills out every inch of a typical tight end frame.

But as a pass catcher and an athlete, he’s transcended the position almost entirely.

Pitts became the first tight end to earn a Biletnikoff Award finalist selection, posted a jaw-dropping 4.4 second 40, and garnered comparisons to Lions legend Calvin Johnson.

On Thursday night, Pitts further established himself as (one of) the most coveted tight end prospect(s) ever after being selected fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons. His rising draft stock leaves the NFL Draft landscape in unfamiliar territory, as just four tight ends have been selected with a top 10 pick since 2000.

Here’s a look at these four early selections at tight end and how their careers have panned out.

Kellen Winslow II (2004, Pick 6)

Like Pitts, Winslow rode an outstanding college career in the Sunshine State — the tight end secured the Mackey Award and a unanimous All-American selection his junior season — to a top 10 draft pick.

Winslow compiled a nine-year career featuring a number of impressive seasons and injury-riddled campaigns. However, the former Miami Hurricane never reached the same heights as Kellen Winslow Sr., who earned three All-Pro selections at tight end.

The San Diego native missed his first two seasons after being drafted by the Browns with a leg injury and a motorcycle accident. Winslow bounced back and led all tight ends in receptions in 2006-07, before making the 2008 Pro Bowl,

Winslow departed for Tampa Bay the following season and enjoyed three exceptional seasons for the Buccaneers. He broke the franchise’s single-season reception and receiving yard record in 2009 and led his team to a 10-6 record in 2010.

A trade to the Seahawks in 2012 derailed Winslow’s career, as he retired following a modest 31 reception season with the Jets in 2013.

Vernon Davis (2006, Pick 6)

Vernon Davis sits atop a very short list of tight end prospects more athletic than Kyle Pitts. While standing two inches shorter than the Florida playmaker, Davis recorded a 4.38 second 40 and a 10”9’ broad jump with a 254-pound frame.

Davis used his remarkable athleticism to great effect for the 49ers, starting every game between 2009 and 2013 and leading the league in touchdown receptions in 2009. This stretch was bookended by a pair of Pro Bowl selections, and broke the hearts of Saints fans in 2012 with “The Catch III”

Davis enjoyed a late-career renaissance with the Washington Football Team, finishing second on the team in receiving yards in 2017 with 648. He retired inside the top-10 among tight ends for total yards, just recently being passed by Travis Kelce.

Eric Ebron (2014, Pick 10)

Ebron fittingly checks in as the lowest pick in this selection, as “Droptimous Prime” started his career with a frustrating first four seasons in Detroit. The New Jersey native upped his production with 711 yards in 2018, but he rallied just one touchdown that season.

A move to Indianapolis revitalized Ebron’s career, as he finished second in the NFL in touchdown receptions three seasons ago. The former Terrapin hauled in 558 yards last season for the Steelers, but struggles with penalties and a high drop rate led Footballoutsiders.com to rank him as the worst among qualifying tight ends last campaign.


T.J. Hockenson (2018, Pick 8)

The Lions selected another tight end with a top-ten pick in 2018, but the jury is still out on second-year T.J. Hockenson.

Hockenson won the Mackey Award after just his sophomore season at Iowa, and he improved in starting role during year two with the Lions. He ranked 16th in ESPN’s PPR rankings for tight ends last season after totaling 732 yards and earning a Pro Bowl selection.