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Is Falcons TE Kyle Pitts really worth a spot on your fantasy football roster?

Will Kyle Pitts bounce back from a nightmare 2022 season?

For better or for worse, Kyle Pitts is a name that has reverberated throughout the fantasy football community since the Atlanta Falcons made him the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Fantasy managers salivated over the athletic tight end’s potential and immediately tapped him as the savior of the most barren position in fantasy football, and he seemed to be well on his way to that after becoming the second TE ever to tally 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. He shot up draft boards going into the 2022 season and had a campaign which left all who drafted him with an immense amount of regret.

The Falcons’ TE1 will now look to embark on a bounce-back campaign in Year 3, as the runway seems to be clear for his heavy involvement and potential statistical breakthrough within Arthur Smith’s scheme. Let’s dive into Kyle Pitts’ fantasy football profile and see if he’s worth the investment in this year’s drafts.

2022 fantasy performance

If you were to rank the biggest 2022 disappointments from a fantasy football perspective, Kyle Pitts would have a very strong case for being No. 1.

Taken in the second to third round of most redraft leagues, Pitts followed his 68-catch, 1,026-yard rookie season with a campaign which saw him accumulate 28 receptions, 356 receiving yards and just two touchdowns in 10 games before going down to a season-ending knee injury.

Despite being drafted on average as the third-highest ranked TE, in that elite tier along with Kelce and Mark Andrews, Pitts ranked as the 33rd-highest scoring TE in both PPR and standard scoring leagues. He was 22nd in points per game among TEs who played in more than one game in PPR leagues, as well as 20th in standard scoring leagues.

Pitts was plagued by inaccurate quarterback play before his injury. Of his 59 targets, 33 were deemed by PFF to be “uncatchable” which is a 56% clip. In reality, downgrading from Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota was a death sentence for Pitts’ fantasy value, even though he did double up on his rookie year touchdown total of one.

2023 best-case scenario

Kyle Pitts is going to be the focal point of Atlanta’s passing attack, along with Drake London. The question is, how good and how prolific will that attack be? That’s up to the coaching staff and the progression of quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has been given the keys to what has the potential to be a Lamborghini of an offense in Year 2.

In the ideal scenario, Atlanta’s passing attack improves tremendously upon their 2022 performance where they ranked 31st with 158.8 passing yards per game. Pitts should be the primary beneficiary and continue to command something in the neighborhood of the 28.5% target share from last season, which ranked him fifth among all players and first among all tight ends who had a minimum of 200 routes run.

Positive regression and semi-decent quarterback accuracy alone should see the Florida alum have a bounce-back season in the yardage department, but the real upside in an ideal scenario would be a combination of another 1,000-yard season with more prowess in the touchdown department.

Pitts has secured just three touchdowns in 27 career games, but that’s come in two iterations of Falcons offenses where he was clearly the focus of the defense on the field in general and especially in the red zone. With London, Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson all sharing the field, we could see Pitts single-covered and using his size, athleticism and freakishly long wingspan to secure double-digit touchdowns.

In a perfect world where everything breaks right, I could absolutely see Kyle Pitts as the highest scoring tight end in fantasy, even dethroning the great, but aging, Travis Kelce. The opportunity has always been there and will continue to present itself; it’s just up to Desmond Ridder and Arthur Smith to make sure Pitts in put in positions this season to reach his full potential.

2023 worst-case scenario

The good news is that even in the worst-case scenario, I don’t see Pitts’ fantasy output as bad as it was last season, when we saw the fantasy football version of Murphy’s Law transpire, where everything that could go wrong did.

Atlanta’s passing offense is no sure thing. Ridder is very unproven despite the flashes he showed last season, and the passing attack could continue to struggle if the third rounder out of Cincinnati doesn’t take a step forward in his development.

While it would be hard to imagine Ridder being nearly as inaccurate as Mariota was in targeting Pitts, the scary scenario here is that Pitts’ opportunities decrease in favor of teammate Drake London, who enjoyed a monster 32.7% target share in the four games Ridder started last year. In fairness, Pitts was not on the field for these games, but Ridder clearly showcased a rapport with his WR1 and could look his way more often as a favorite target this season. A scenario where Atlanta’s passing attack continues its conservative nature while Pitts sees a decreased target share would be awful for his fantasy prospects.

The Falcons proving to have too many mouths to feed in the red zone would serve as an added nightmare scenario. Patterson has consistently been dialed up by Arthur Smith in the red zone and has 19 combined offensive touchdowns over his past two seasons as a Falcon, Bijan Robinson had 20 total touchdowns at Texas last year, London in one season already has more scores than Pitts does in two combined, and new tight end addition Jonnu Smith enjoyed a robust nine-score season as a Titan in Smith’s last year as offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Pitts could fall into another prolonged touchdown drought, the kind which has plagued him throughout his NFL career thus far.

Pitts being selected where he will be in fantasy redraft leagues this August and delivering another season outside the top 10 in scoring among tight ends is our horror scenario and it would be an outright catastrophe for those who have him in dynasty leagues.

2023 outlook

The following is a list of the TEs who finished 2022 in the top 10 in targets per game (min. 10 games played) and in parentheses is where they ranked in PPR points per game at the position:

Travis Kelce (1st), T.J. Hockensen (3rd), Mark Andrews (4th), Zach Ertz (6th), Tyler Higbee (11th), Pat Freiermuth (9th), Kyle Pitts (22nd), Dalton Schultz (10th), Evan Engram (7th), Dallas Geodert (5th)

Pitts is the clear and obvious outlier here, finishing seventh among TEs in targets per game but 22nd in PPR points per game. Beyond that, he was third behind only Kelce and Andrews in air target percentage indicating that he received plenty of deep looks. The opportunity was always there, and he enjoyed an elite target share, but Mariota’s passes his way were just too consistently inaccurate.

Desmond Ridder is an unknown factor, but he doesn’t have to produce at the prolific pace that we saw from prime Matt Ryan for Pitts to enjoy a monstrous bounce-back. Atlanta’s TE1 will be scripted heavily into the game plan — he remains one of the most talented players on the field at all times and is the focal point of Atlanta’s passing attack. All Ridder needs to do be near league average in efficiency and Pitts’ yardage production will explode (in comparison to last season) even if Atlanta’s offense as a whole remains conservative.

I would also expect some improvement in the touchdown department with more games played, but not quite enough to see Pitts challenge Kelce for the overall TE1 crown. Last year, the University of Florida alum received just five targets inside the red zone and while he did catch three of them (two for touchdowns) he was clearly not a major part of Atlanta’s run-heavy game plan near the goal line.

With so much talent in the running back room and the team maybe not wanting to see Ridder challenge defenses on short fields, I would expect a very run-heavy approach near the red zone this season.

Pitts is also coming off of a season-ending knee injury, but all signs point to him being ready to go by preseason. Currently, Pitts is listed as questionable for Week 1 vs. the Carolina Panthers.

Pitts is the poster child for positive regression this season, and he’s the ideal buy-low target in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts with the fantasy football community having soured on him so much last season. While I don’t expect him to be Kelce, he can be a top-5 option at the position that you don’t have to spend a premium draft pick for — Fantasy Pros currently has Pitts’ PPR ADP at pick 72, which is well worth the value if it remains around there.

2023 season projection: 65 receptions, 876 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns: 117.6 standard league points; 182.6 PPR points

Handcuff options: Jonnu Smith

Tight end handcuffs aren’t generally much of a thing but this may be one of those rare cases where drafting Jonnu Smith late to pair with Pitts makes a lot of sense, if you don’t mind sparing the roster space on a backup TE.

Atlanta’s first move of the free agency period was to trade a seventh-round pick for Smith’s services, with coach Arthur Smith having a lot of familiarity from their days in Tennessee together. Under Smith in 2020, Jonnu finished as a top-10 scoring TE in standard leagues. He is technically the TE2 on Atlanta’s depth chart, but this is an offense which was in the top 5 last season in 12 personnel (two tight ends, one RB on the field) usage rate on passing plays. Smith’s offense is one of the most TE2 friendly in the NFL.

If Pitts were to miss any time with injury, Smith would stand to see an uptick in opportunity, although it would likely be Drake London who is the primary beneficiary in that scenario.

Due to the familiarity with the offensive scheme as well as the track record of success, I would argue that Jonnu Smith even has some real standalone value if you wanted to completely punt on the tight end position and wait for the last few rounds to draft one.