Falcons fans are going to be talking about the Kyle Pitts selection for years. With the 4th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Falcons had numerous options available to them. They could have gone with Micah Parsons to fill out the defense or Justin Fields or Mac Jones to find the successor to Matt Ryan.
By going with Pitts, Atlanta appeared to go with the best athlete available, one who they hope will be a game-changing talent for many years to come. Let’s take a look at his rookie season and see how he fared in year one.
110 targets, 68 receptions
1,026 yards, 15.1 yards per reception, 1 TD
Rookie Year Highlights
Falcons all-time rookie receiving yards record
Modern record for yardage as a rookie tight end
Week 5 against the Jets - 9 receptions for 119 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 7 against the Dolphins - 7 receptions for 163 yards
Week 16 against the Lions - 6 receptions for 102 yards
One could argue that the only other player to come in with this much hype for the Falcons was Julio Jones back in 2011. Kyle Pitts has the speed of a top-tier receiver and the body of a tight end. He is a mismatch no matter who you put on him, and the talk of preparing a bust in Canton for this rookie dominated the preseason. The hype was - to be generous - a little insane.
Realistically, tight end is a difficult position to learn quickly in the NFL. There’s a reason only one tight end had ever broken 1,000 yards in their rookie year (now 2) - the position is not just about receiving. Serving as an inline run blocker or in pass protection is added on top of the various routes you have to master. For Pitts, those routes came from all over. Inline. Out wide. In the slot. That is a very heavy lift for a rookie.
Perception of his rookie season seems to be influenced by how much you bought into the hype. If you thought he was going to be peak Calvin Johnson as a rookie, you might be unimpressed. Setting aside that absurd expectation, what Pitts did in his rookie year was amazing.
He’s now just one of two tight ends in NFL history to go over 1,000 receiving yards in his first season. He’s the first to do it in the modern era. He set the Falcons rookie receiving yardage records, passing guys like Julio Jones along the way. Yes, he only had one touchdown for the year but that’s not surprising when you consider he was one of the only truly dangerous receiving threats for most of the season.
Set aside the insane hype and what the Falcons got from Kyle Pitts was an incredible first year. His potential is just being tapped into and the outlook for 2022 and beyond is massively promising. Comparing him to the guys the Falcons could have drafted is pointless. The guy the Falcons did draft in the first round had a phenomenal first year in what could be a fantastic career to watch.
Final Grade: A