The Falcons are a much improved team from a year ago, and a lot of that can be attributed to the veterans added this offseason.
David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Jessie Bates III, Bud Dupree, Jonnu Smith, etc. are experienced as any in the league and will provide immense value on the field as well as leaders.
However, this roster is comprised of several young franchise pillars. A.J. Terrell is among the best cornerbacks in the league; you could make an argument that Chris Lindstrom is the best guard in football. Even though they haven’t had as much time to establish themselves, Drake London and Bijan Robinson are on their way to being regarded in the same tier as Terrell and Lindstrom.
None of them represents the Falcons on The Athletic’s top players 25 and under list. That honor goes to Kyle Pitts.
The list was created with only two rules — players must be 25 or younger before this year’s Week 1 games and rookies are ineligible. Normally, these lists are trivial, but this one is interesting. They polled five NFL coaches and seven front office executives to form it. Here’s what they had to say about Pitts, who ranked 21st.
Pitts put up elite numbers as a rookie (68 catches, 1,026 yards) and had it not been for injury in 2022, he very well may have had another 1,000-yard season. The Falcons will lean heavily on Pitts this season with young Desmond Ridder taking over at QB.
Somehow, people are discounting Kyle Pitts’ record-breaking rookie campaign because of a disappointing second season. He broke the franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie, broke Julio Jones’ rookie receptions record, became the first rookie tight end to surpass 1,000 yards since Jeremy Shockey, and nearly broke Mike Ditka’s all-time receiving record.
Yes, Pitts’ 2022 campaign wasn’t great. He only logged 356 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions then a knee injury ended his season prematurely. However, a lot of those shortcomings can be attributed to his circumstances.
Marcus Mariota was flat-out bad last year, regularly missing open pass catchers, including Pitts, who led the league in uncatchable targets. Moreover, the opportunities were few and far between. Arthur Smith regularly took the ball out of Mariota’s hands.
So, Pitts received fewer targets and when he was targeted, it was regularly off-target. That’s a recipe for a letdown. I fully expect a different version of Kyle Pitts in 2023.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire