Way back in the summer of 2012, a tiny lifetime and a significant amount of hair loss ago for me in particular, The Falcoholic asked fans who the year’s breakout player would be. It was more or less unanimous at the time that it would be one Julio Jones, then a second-year wide receiver on a loaded offense.
I wrote at the time that “Jones is the one player on the Falcons today with a limitless ceiling,” something that was obvious to just about everybody. Jones was coming off a 54 grab, 959 yard rookie season with eight touchdowns, and he made the leap into superstardom in 2012 for a great Falcons team, reeling in 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 scores, an improvement of 25 receptions, over 200 yards and two touchdowns. From there, all he did was spend the better part of a decade putting together one of the finest careers in NFL history.
I write all this both because my appreciation for Jones has not been diminished by his exit or his lackluster 2021, and because there’s an obvious comparison on this Falcons roster. Like Julio Jones, Kyle Pitts is entering his second season in Atlanta. Like Julio Jones, Pitts enjoyed a stellar first season that highlighted how great he can be without coming close to that seemingly limitless ceiling. Unlike Julio, Pitts will head into the season as the clear #1 option in the passing game, and without a lot of certain high-end players around him.
There are some question marks with the larger team that Julio was not facing, but Pitts is very much in the same stratosphere as #11 as a tantalizing talent. He led the league in yards per route run lined up outside last year, and that was in an offense that didn’t do much of anything well. The offseason drama around the quarterback position, the excitement over the draft class, Arthur Smith thrilling or angering fans by calling them front office cosplayers, and larger questions about this team’s direction have conspired so that we haven’t spent a ton of time talking about Pitts and what he can be this offseason. As we get closer to the season, that likely will and should change.
Who was the best outside WR in the NFL last year? Technically it was Kyle Pitts— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 19, 2022
YPRR (Routes Out-Wide)
1 Kyle Pitts (2.95)
2 Deebo Samuel (2.86)
3 Justin Jefferson (2.78)
4 Davante Adams (2.56)
43 Travis Kelce (1.55)
53 Mike Gesicki (1.41)
Last/89 Demarcus Robinson (0.57)
One of the things that makes following a team fun is the appearance of a truly great player on your roster. We pine for championships as we should, but guys like Julio, Matt Ryan, John Abraham, and peak Michael Turner who provide multiple years of ludicrous terrific play are what we really remember years down the line as fans. There’s zero question in my mind that Pitts has the talent to be this team’s top receiving option for a decade and potentially threaten some of Julio’s franchise records, and that journey is going to be worth following no matter what the team is doing, just the same as it was for the other players I listed above.
If you’re more concerned with 2022, which I understand, we should be talking about Pitts because he’s the key to the whole thing. Defenses having to reckon with him can’t put all their attention on stopping Drake London, which will potentially give the rookie more favorable looks. More than that, defenses having to reckon with him will be in hell on a weekly basis so long as he’s taken even a modest step forward from an excellent rookie campaign, because players of that size with that speed who can line up anywhere are a nightmare to deal with. The stellar, well-rounded offense we saw in 2012 isn’t going to be here this year, but it will take considerable ineptitude from this coaching staff and whoever’s under center to make Pitts anything other than one of the league’s most dangerous weapons.
If the Falcons’ passing attack isn’t so awful that it limits his effectiveness, Pitts feels like a virtual lock to deliver a tremendous season for Atlanta. Given that it will either help propel this team to a better-than-expected finish or make a forgettable season less forgettable, it’s definitely time to get excited about what 2022 holds for Kyle Pitts.