The 2021 regular season is in the rear-view mirror as the Atlanta Falcons are shifting into offseason mode. Here at The Falcoholic, we have begun reviewing positions on the roster and grading them for their impact this past season.
Today we’ll be discussing the tight end position, which played a larger role under head coach Arthur Smith. Let’s take a look at each guy and how they contributed to the overall season.
Stats: 17 games, 68 receptions, 1026 yards, TD
It’s tough to imagine a better season for a rookie tight end. Kyle Pitts had high expectations coming into the NFL and that skyrocketed when the Falcons selected him with the 4th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Pitts’ most notable game was likely the “home” game in London, where he caught nine passes for 119 yards and his lone touchdown of the season. Against the Dolphins a few weeks later, Pitts recorded 163 receiving yards which set the franchise record for receiving yards in a single game by a tight end.
Overall, it was a tremendous season for a young tight end, which should only have fans excited for what the future holds. Pitts lacked the touchdowns that many would like to see—likely including Pitts and the Falcons themselves—but it was year one so hopefully the team will figure out a way to get him more involved in 2022. Additionally, Pitts was selected to the 2022 NFL Pro Bowl. Quite the accomplishment for a first year player.
The scary thing is that he should only get better.
Stats: 16 games, 9 receptions, 65 yards, TD
Lee Smith had as good of a season as any could hope for, considering his role and age. He was brought in to be a blocking tight end, and that exactly what he turned out to be. Of his 310 offensive snaps, 189 of them were used for run blocking, the most of any tight end on the team outside of Pitts.
It was announced on Tuesday that Lee Smith is retiring from the NFL, so he will not return to Atlanta in 2022.
Stats: 13 games, 26 receptions, 221 yards, 3 TDs
It was an interesting year for Hayden Hurst in 2021. He played in 13 games and scored three times, which was the most among all tight ends on the roster. With that being said, I don’t think anyone came away impressed with his production.
The Falcons acquired Hurst (along with a 2020 fourth-round pick) via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick. Putting it lightly, he hasn’t provided second round value for this football team. Hurst was viewed as a replacement for Austin Hooper, who entered free agency that offseason, and the Falcons a year later selected a first-round tight end. During the 2021 offseason, the Falcons declined his fifth-year option, making his days in Atlanta numbered. He’s scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, but I would be shocked if he returned in 2022 after such a quiet year and his small role as a receiver despite the injuries and issues that piled up for this offense.
Stats: 8 games, 5 receptions, 43 yards
We didn’t see a lot from Parker Hesse in 2021. But when he did play, he was pretty efficient. According to Pro Football Focus, Hesse graded as the Falcons best run blocking (72.5) and pass blocking (77.4) tight end in 2021.
Obviously, playing fewer snaps than the rest of the tight ends on the roster helps, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
It’s tough to grade them as a whole, just because every tight end on the roster was in a different stage of their career and had very different roles. While Pitts had a phenomenal first season, Hurst left more to be desired in the receiving game. This unit will likely look dramatically different next season, as both Hurst and Smith will likely be gone.
That said, it’s difficult to not be excited about the potential of rookie tight end Pitts, who is nowhere near his ceiling. If the Falcons can add legitimate talent to the group with Pitts and Hesse, things will get interesting in a good way in 2022.