clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How does Kyle Pitts fit on the Falcons’ roster? Flawlessly

By selecting Pitts, the Falcons may have unlocked its offense’s final form - which should terrify defenses.

Kentucky vs Florida Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

In his introductory press conference, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he would adjust his scheme to fit the players on his new team’s roster. What he didn’t say was that his new team would draft a player that would allow Smith to run the exact type of offense he had success with in Tennessee.

The Falcons did just that when they selected tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Rarely is there so wide a consensus about the top non-quarterback in a draft class, but Pitts has essentially been unanimously touted as the clear top option. He dominated players in college with freakish size, athleticism and ball skills to the extent that its hard to envision even NFL players slowing him down.

So, establishing that as the foundation from which Pitts will begin his career in Atlanta, let’s get to the really exciting part. In the same way one unlocks the final power up in a video game, Pitts takes this Falcons offense to its final level – but not just because of his talent, alone.

No offense in the NFL ran more 12 personnel than Smith and the Tennessee Titans. Defenses often adjust their personnel to match the look that an offense is given, and 12 personnel packages more often than not indicate a run. However, the Falcons can now operate out of 12 personnel with Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Hayden Hurst and Pitts as receiving options.

Perhaps no team has a better quartet of receivers, and the Falcons can deploy them in a way that greatly benefits the run game.

The central dilemma facing defenses who play Atlanta is now this: Do you deploy a base defensive package against this offense or go to a nickel look? By staying in base, a team is better suited to defend a run play with bigger linebackers on the field, but those linebackers are likely also a greater liability matched up against Pitts and Hurst. Switching to nickel might allow a safety or even a corner to cover one of the tight ends, but the defense then gives up size against the run game.

The above play was a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown. Note the formation, though. If you’re a defense, why wouldn’t you think it was a run to the strong side of the formation on the left. Instead, Tennessee dictated a one-on-one matchup for its top receiver and held the single-high safety for an easy touchdown. Smith will bring this to Atlanta, and he just supercharged his offense’s threat level.

So, before the ball is even snapped, the defense already has to either tip their hand or set itself up to be disadvantaged. Smith has the upper hand from the jump. On top of that, with an experienced veteran like Matt Ryan running the show, the Falcons can easily audible the play depending on the look shown by the defense. Kyle Shanahan often used motion to reveal a defense; Smith may be able to do that before breaking the huddle.

This advantage is quantifiable. By the end of the 2020 season, Tennessee had a running back, tight end and wide receiver ranked in the top five of their respective positions in net yards over average. Derrick Henry ranked first, A.J. Brown ranked second – and Corey Davis ranked 11th – and Jonnu Smith ranked fifth.

That indicates that the unpredictability of Smith’s offense, which gave his offensive players a little bit of a head start against their defensive counterparts. Now, imagine players like Jones, Ridley and Pitts getting that little advantage.

One of Smith’s best lines during his introductory press conference was that Henry was like Shaquille O’Neal, and that there weren’t many of those players around. Well, if Henry is Shaq, Pitts may well be the NFL’s version of LeBron James or (whispers) Wilt Chamberlain.

It seems like the peak for this Atlanta offense is to become the NFL’s first version of the Harlem Globetrotters, but we all know things don’t turn out as rosy as they might first appear. Still, Pitts feels more like a prospect in the mold of Jones or Calvin Johnson – a truly special athlete who seems tailor-made to succeed in the NFL.

If Pitts never advances past his talent floor, the Falcons should still get a potentially impactful starter. Anything more than that, however, and he quickly creeps closer to league-changing potential.

Perhaps, like many previous “Best Picture” winners, in five years it will be impossible to imagine a player like Pitts wasn’t the clear and obvious choice at the time. For Falcons fans, that should be the most exciting thought possible.