This Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons are back on a professional football field. After a tumultuous- season that saw Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff fired and Julio Jones traded, the organization is now preparing to move on in the 2021 season.
First up on the ledger? A home opener from Mercedes Benz Stadium against the last team to defeat them in the postseason: the Philadelphia Eagles. This game is significant for two reasons: the Falcons have a chance to finally end their futility in openers (losing their past four) and also, a brand new weapon is set to properly showcase his talents in the red and black.
The Atlanta Falcons cannot wait to get rookie tight end, Kyle Pitts, on the field
That weapon is none other than tight end Kyle Pitts, the fourth-overall selection from the University of Florida in the 2021 draft, and the highest tight end drafted in NFL history (the previous was Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who was selected by Chicago fifth overall)
Much like his new quarterback, grizzled veteran Matt Ryan, Pitts hails from the Philadelphia area, so he has some history with the emerald green and black-wearing Birds who are so vicious with their fans, the team literally had to build a jail cell under the stadium.
Of course, that’s his previous history. Now, he focuses on the right team: our Atlanta Falcons. So that does raise the question: how will a player of Pitts’ caliber perform in his rookie campaign?
When looking at previous incarnations of rookie tight ends in their first season, the numbers don’t necessarily showcase outright dominance. Keep in mind, when Ditka did his first-year total of 1,076 receiving yards in 1961 to go with 12 receiving touchdowns, that was completed in 14 games. Pitts most likely can surpass the yardage total, especially with three extra contests to achieve such. The touchdowns, however, that’s another story to be seen.
However, what about all the other tight ends? Who else has had a notable season in their first year at the position?
Well, ironically enough, two of the top five most prolific receiving yards by a tight end are Philadelphia Eagles: Keith Jackson in 1988 and Charle Young in 1973. Two guys who were part of the enemy this week, and played for the team Pitts grew up a fan of, are part of this elite company for rookies. Furthermore, there’s one other NFC East team with a prolific tight end season: Jeremy Shockey, who gained 894 yards in his campaign all the way back in 2002.
Now, let’s focus on Pitts’ debut matchup against Philadelphia. Entering Sunday’s game (1:00, FOX), the Falcons are going to be wanting him to make a spark against the 13th best defense according to The Athletic. With players like Eric Wilson in the middle, it’ll be up to Pitts to not only provide some blocking protection from time to time but also exploit the one-on-one matchups over the middle of the field.
That said, there is a small catch when it relates to Pitts in this Falcons offense: the team possibly might use him outside the numbers. At first glance, that sounds absurd: a tight end lining up like a wide receiver? That’s what makes Pitts so special: before he converted into this generational tight end talent, he came to Florida as a wide receiver. Furthermore, while this stat has been beaten into the ground, his height, weight, wingspan, and 40-yard dash times were all comparable to one Calvin Johnson, affectionately known as “Megatron”.
Should the Falcons offense regain its form, Kyle Pitts most likely should start off his career in Atlanta with a bang. At the worst, look for him to have anywhere from 7-8 targets, five completed, with about 40-78 yards. Perhaps a touchdown is also in play, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there Falcons fans.