Falcons: Where can Kyle Pitts improve his game heading into Year 2?

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Kyle Pitts had a historic rookie season. There aren’t many first-year players mentioned in the same breath as the former No. 4 overall pick. As the highest-picked tight end in league history, expectations were sky-high. However, he was up for the challenge and is already one of the best in the league at his position.

Pitts hauled in 68 receptions for 1,026 yards, an average of 15.1 yards per catch, en route to the Pro Bowl. He ranked among the league’s best at his position in nearly every stat — tied for seventh in receptions but was third in receiving yards, giving him the highest yards per reception average. For perspective, Noah Fant recorded the same amount of receptions but totaled only 670 yards, which is a difference of over 350 yards.

Pitts also broke a bevy of franchise and league records. He passed Tony Gonzalez for the most single-season receiving yards in team history from a tight end and was the first rookie tight end to make the Pro Bowl since Jeremy Shockey in 2002. Pitts also became the first rookie tight end in 60 years to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and became Atlanta’s all-time rookie receiving yards leader, a title previously held by Julio Jones for a decade.

The former Florida Gator finished the season 50 yards shy of Mike Ditka’s rookie receiving record for tight ends. Despite coming up short, though, Pitts was sensational by every metric. He had the most contested catches of all tight ends, which isn’t surprising given his size and ball skills. Moreover, Pitts ranked FIRST among all WIDE RECEIVERS in yards per route run on the boundary.

However, this is the NFL. There is always room to improve. And Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus has pinpointed exactly where Pitts can do that.

Pitts’ rookie season was really good production-wise. The former No. 4 overall pick recorded over 1,000 yards receiving, becoming just the second rookie tight end to ever go over the 1,000-yard mark. His 82.2 receiving grade was also a top-10 mark for the position. But while Pitts thrived in many areas, the red zone was not his friend in 2021.

While seeing the eighth-most receiving snaps in the red zone among tight ends, Pitts ranked 28th in the NFL in terms of receiving grade there (60.2). His lone touchdown of the season came in the red zone on the goal line against the Jets in Week 5, but outside of that one throw and catch, Pitts failed to convert targets and attention into six points for the entire season.

Whether you call him a tight end or a wide receiver, he must improve in the money area of the red zone to truly achieve the full value of being a top-five pick.

Sikkema couldn’t have been more on point with this one. This may give Falcons fans nightmares of Julio Jones, who was arguably the best receiver in football history outside of the red zone but completely disappeared inside the 20-yard line for most of his career in Atlanta. Pitts only recorded one touchdown on American soil during his first year in the league, and it was in the Pro Bowl. His only regular-season touchdown came in a matchup against the Jets across the pond. However, reports coming out of camp suggest Pitts is just scratching the surface.

The people inside the building know this better than anyone. Arthur Smith, for one, will attest to the incredible ceiling the young man out of Florida possesses. “With all these rookies, everything’s new to them. New environment, new team, new staff and new terminology,” Smith said. “As you’ve seen with Kyle, as he progressed through last season – I’ve said this many times – he’s just scratching the surface. You see a different player and mindset.”

Photographer: Shaun Brooks/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire
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