Falcons: Kyle Pitts will be the centerpiece of Arthur Smith’s offense

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Before the offseason really began and Arthur Smith was just being introduced to the Atlanta media, the first-year head coach mentioned Matt Ryan, Chris Lindstrom, Younghoe Koo, and Calvin Ridley as players that stood out during his film review. Without mentioning Julio Jones, he complimented the Falcons’ WR2, and now Jones will be playing in a different uniform in 2021. Ridley did step up in Jones’s absence — finishing tied for fifth in the league in receiving yards and scoring nine touchdowns in just 15 games, resulting in a second-team All-Pro nomination.

Without knowing it, Smith had basically complimented his soon-to-be WR1, and Ridley is certainly up for the task. According to Pro Football Focus, no receiver had more deep targets (36) or receptions (16) in 2020 than Ridley. Fontenot already picked up his fully-guaranteed fifth-year option, so it’s safe to say that Ridley will replace a majority of the production lost from a Julio Jones trade, but it shouldn’t be ignored how effective Kyle Pitts will be in an Arthur Smith-led offense; in fact, I believe he’ll be the centerpiece of this offense.

He’s the highest tight end drafted in the history of the league, and Pitts has the ability to lead an offense in every major receiving statistic effectively. With Julio Jones essentially gone, Pitts has all the room in the world to flourish in Smith’s offense. Jonnu Smith showed exactly what an athletic tight end could do in [Arthur] Smith’s offense, averaging 8.1 yards per target over their two-year span in Tennessee together. But much of that yardage can be attributed to [Jonnu] Smith’s after-the-catch ability.

According to Sports Info Solutions via Charles McDonald, “Jonnu Smith was 26th in intended air yards (378) and 14th in yards after the catch (243) a.mong the 35 tight ends to record at least 40 targets last season. Among that sample, Jonnu Smith was 34th in average depth of target (5.7).”

[Arthur] Smith used his tight ends completely differently in Tennessee than he will in Atlanta because Pitts is unlike any tight end in the league, even as a rookie. He’s able to do everything [Jonnu] Smith can do in terms of YAC, but he’s also able to do much, much more. With Jones gone, Pitts can align on the boundary more so than he would’ve been if Jones was on the team, but he can still line up as the X, Y, or Z positions. He can run virtually any route, out of any formation, in any alignment.

Pitts will be the focal point of Smith’s offense, even if Ridley is the team’s leading receiver because the former Florida Gator will draw more double-teams than his Alabama counterpart. Regardless of the alignment, Pitts will be draw double-teams against zone and man-to-man defenses. On the boundary, he’s much too strong and long for a cornerback but also too fast and agile for a linebacker or most safeties. With his hand in the dirt, it’ll be difficult for the defense to prevent a free release, enabling Pitts to be used in more ways than just traditional routes.

Falcons fans can expect a heavy dose of Pitts in this offense. It’ll depend on the situational matchups, but he’ll be attacking defenses at every alignment in the offense and running the entire route tree, inevitably opening up the offense for guys like Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Hayden Hurst.

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