Draft Debate

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2021 NFL Draft: Who should be the first pass catcher off the board?

The 2021 NFL Draft class is absolutely loaded with offensive talent. After a presumed early run on quarterbacks, pass catchers are poised to fly off the board early and often in Round 1, which will take place on Thursday, April 29.

Wide receiver is the draft's deepest position group, with Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle possessing game-changing traits. But let's not forget Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who's viewed by some as the best pass catcher in this class.

Given all of that, one question comes to mind when scanning this year's group of offensive weapons:

Who should be the first pass catcher selected in the 2021 NFL Draft?

Brian Baldinger: Ja'Marr Chase will be the first pass catcher off the board. When we last saw him play in a game, the 2019 national championship, Chase absolutely torched the Clemson defense with nine receptions for 221 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In that magical LSU season, Chase played the X receiver spot on the outside, while Minnesota's rookie sensation Justin Jefferson moved inside to the slot. Chase, who ran an unofficial 4.38-second 40-yard dash at 201 pounds, can separate and keep plays alive after the catch as a physical player who's very difficult to tackle. Look for Chase to come off the board early and have an immediate impact for whichever team selects him.

Adam Rank: The first pass catcher off the board should be Kyle Pitts. He's a unicorn. I know there are a lot of great receivers in this draft class, but Pitts is a generational talent like Tony Gonzalez. If the Falcons can't find a suitor to take the fourth overall selection, I would have no hesitation grabbing Pitts in that spot. And if he were still available at No. 5 for the Bengals, I would have to make that move, too. I know the Bengals need to protect Joe Burrow, but the good news is they have other picks.

Joe Thomas: I don't care about DeVonta Smith's size (6-foot, 170 pounds) -- the Heisman Trophy winner is the top receiving weapon in this draft class. Great football players find a way to succeed no matter their physical stature. Just look at guys like DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker or my colleague (and future Hall of Famer) Steve Smith Sr. The Alabama prospect will find a way to get it done.

Marc Ross: Kyle Pitts is the most talented player in the draft regardless of position. He's also the best tight end prospect I've scouted since the 1997 draft (see: Tony Gonzalez), as a rare and unique talent who'll immediately create serious problems for any defense. In this year's draft, there is a deep group of quality wide receivers (as there has been in several of the recent draft classes) who are close in ability, but there is no pass catcher who compares to the incomparable playmaker out of Florida.

Charley Casserly: An argument can be made for Florida TE Kyle Pitts, who is comparable to Travis Kelce, but I would go with Ja'Marr Chase, whom I liken to Julio Jones and Mike Evans in talent. To me, a great wide receiver impacts the game more than a great tight end, and Chase can do it all. The LSU wideout can run by you to get deep or catch the tough passes inside. One of Chase's greatest attributes, to me, is his route-running ability. Also, his acceleration and ability after the catch is top notch.

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