The NFL landscape has spoiled the masses with talents in abundance enjoying first-year success. Justin Herbert, Nick Bosa, Justin Jefferson, Joe Burrow, D.K. Metcalf, the names go on and on over the last few seasons. And while the current talent flowing into the pro game is at an all-time high, where prospects’ floors have been raised to the point where any struggles deem a selection a “bust”, like anything, the best things in life come with time. That can’t be stressed enough for Atlanta Falcons tight end and 2021 No. 4 overall selection Kyle Pitts.
A prospect with as high a performance ceiling of any player out of the college ranks last fall, Pitts’ arrival to Atlanta ushered in expectations from many to take the league by storm from his first snaps. Through five weeks, while he’s taken his time in arriving onto the NFL scene, totaling 15 catches his first four weeks of play, Week 5 represented Pitts’ arrival to the pro stage in a victory over the New York Jets in London.
Currently in the top five in targets (36) and receiving yards (308) among all qualified tight ends, Pitts’ “slow start” has been a bit of a folly considering the amount of attention he’s drawn since padding up in Arthur Smith’s offense. Often deployed both in single-TE sets and in 12-personnel opposite Hayden Hurst, Pitts has become Matt Ryan’s hot-read early in his career following the departure of Julio Jones to Tennessee. And while Calvin Ridley is still in town, a minimal run game and weapons lacking true impact talent have placed the onus quickly on Pitts to serve a major role for Atlanta’s offense.
A trip across the pond to the home of the Premier League’s Tottenham Spurs saw Pitts record a massive nine-catch performance for 119 yards, including his first career touchdown. On a day where New York Jets head coach and defensive guru Robert Saleh simply had no answers for the 6-foot-6 ball magnet in Pitts, labeling his performance as a “break out” is fitting considering the halfway point of the season is rapidly approaching.
While you could say it was long overdue, and it may sound silly, it comes with the territory after Pitts became the highest selected tight end in the modern draft era.
His first career touchdown was a prime example of the extreme mismatch Pitts provides not just between the 20s, but in the red area as well. Inside the 2-yard line with a favorable goal-to-go distance, the Falcons bring in Jason Spriggs here as an extra lineman, which in turn places John Franklin-Myers over Pitts as his primary defender on the opposite side. As Ryan sends Lee Smith in motion to the strong-side to further sell the run, the Jets quickly find themselves with their hands tied. By no means am I convinced the Jets wanted Franklin-Myers, a 290-pound edge defender, covering Pitts 1-on-1 toward the pylon, but as the Jets send Jamien Sherwood on a run blitz, Franklin-Myers is hung out to dry with Pitts in space. An easy pitch and catch, it’s amazing the results you obtain when targeting Pitts in the red zone after four prior weeks of failing to do so. Whether it’s a sign of the future remains to be seen, but a 119-yard day with 10 targets is nothing to scoff at.
A unit with minimal expectations moving forward into the winter months, if the Falcons plan to remain competitive as they set their focus on the horizon and toward future campaigns, the rapid progression of Pitts will be paramount as the Falcons endure their rebuild back to relevancy. An offensive threat who should develop into one of the league’s top in-line talents in due time (if he hasn’t already) Pitts’ performance in Week 5 was just an appetizing slice of the true impact the former Florida Gator will have for years to come.