The Falcons made quite the investment in Kyle Pitts when they selected the former Florida tight end fourth overall in the 2021 NFL draft, which made him the highest-drafted tight end in the modern football era — since 1967. Inside and outside the organization, he’s expected to make a major impact in his rookie year with Julio Jones no longer a member of the team. Unfortunately, I believe ESPN’s statistical predictions for the top rookies underestimate the effect he’ll have in this new-look Falcons offense.
Mike Clay wrote the article, but he also makes projections for every NFL team, and the projections have discrepancies. For example, Pitts is projected to finish with 780 receiving yards, fourth-most among rookies and behind just the three top receivers taken in Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle. That number would have ranked him third among NFL tight ends in 2020. But in Clay’s projections for every team, 809 receiving yards was the figure in the final stat line for Pitts.
Those figures would place Pitts fifth all-time for a rookie tight end. Even though those numbers are incredible when looking back at other first-year tight ends, I believe there is a gross underestimation of his ability.
Clay also predicts Pitts will score six touchdowns, which is third-most among rookies behind Najee Harris (eight) and Ja’Marr Chase (seven). This projection doesn’t seem to consider Pitts’ 1.5 touchdowns per game average in Gainseville. He recorded 770 yards in just eight games in 2020, but Pitts found the end zone 12 times in those eight games; he’ll be Matt Ryan‘s top red zone target.
I expect the unicorn to easily receive north of triple-digit targets. At Florida last season, Pitts was targeted 65 times and caught 43 of them while being credited with zero drops. That completion percentage will surely be above 70% with a much-better quarter in Ryan than Kyle Trask, which would put his receptions somewhere between 70 and 80. He averaged 8.12 targets per game in 2020, which would’ve been the third-highest rate among NFL tight ends last year.
With Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator, the Titans’ tight ends saw 28.6% of the team’s total targets, good for the fourth-highest rate over those two years. So it is not only probable that Pitts will receive over 100 targets; it’s almost a guarantee that the Falcons will be one of the league leaders in percentage of targets going to tight ends. Multiple teams had at least two players see more than 100 targets last season, including Kansas City (Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill), Detroit (TJ Hockenson and Marvin Jones), and Washington(Logan Thomas, Terry McLaurin, and J.D. McKissic).
Arthur Smith will have to change his offensive scheme to adjust to the superior tight ends he has in Atlanta compared to Tennessee. I believe the Falcons will center the entire offense around attacking the middle of the field with intermediate routes. Pitts will receive the second-most targets on the team, behind only Calvin Ridley. As a result, my final stat line projection for Pitts’ rookie year is 110 targets, 79 receptions, 925 yards, and eight touchdowns.