How Arthur Smith can make Kyle Pitts even more dangerous

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The tight end position has evolved as NFL offenses shift toward a more pass-happy approach. The position has become a focal point for some coordinators to find mismatches because, in general, corners are too small while safeties and linebackers are too slow to cover tight ends. The Falcons have one of the most dangerous receiving threats in Kyle Pitts.

The pass-catching phenom has been dubbed a receiver by some and a tight end by others; there’s good reason for that. Pitts ranked FIRST among all WIDE RECEIVERS in yards per route run on the boundary. Football Outsiders did an excellent job elaborating on the unicorn that is Kyle Pitts.

His 82.5% of targets coming from non-tight positions is strange on its own, but not unique; Mike Gesicki actually had more targets away from the line than Pitts did. But a tight end having over 20% of their targets come when they’re lined up wide? That’s worth stopping to stare at. Pitts had more wide targets than players such as Chris Godwin, Mecole Hardman, Cooper Kupp, Christian Kirk, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jakobi Meyers—and, while we’re at it, teammate Olamide Zaccheaus. We’re perfectly happy calling all of them wide receivers even though they live in the slot.

The former Florida Gator hauled in 68 receptions for 1,026 yards en route to his first Pro Bowl, making him the first rookie tight end to do so since Jeremy Shockey in 2002. He ranked seventh among all tight ends in receptions, third in receiving yards, and first in yards per reception. He had the most contested catches of all tight ends, which isn’t surprising given his size and ball skills. Pitts set the single-season receiving yards record by a tight end in franchise history and became Atlanta’s all-time rookie receiving yards leader, a title previously held by Julio Jones for a decade. Moreover, 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.”

For the Falcons to maximize Pitts’ abilities, Arthur Smith has to find a way to get him more matchups against linebackers and safeties — i.e., lining up in the slot and attached to the line of scrimmage. And we have already started to see a shift in his alignment.

67.8% of Pitts’ snaps came lined up in the slot or out wide, but that is likely due to the Falcons’ lack of options on the boundary. Calvin Ridley was the only option last season, and when he left the team for personal reasons, Pitts assumed most of the snaps out wide. The Falcons just didn’t have a receiving core that enabled Pitts to play more in-line. Cordarrelle Patterson and Pitts were second and third in targets when aligned on the boundary.

To maximize Pitts’ skillset, Arthur Smith must get creative and use him in different ways. Thankfully, the team drafted Drake London and traded for Bryan Edwards. Now, Pitts can be used all over the formation, wherever the defense is most vulnerable. But it won’t really change that much; Kyle Pitts is as effective attached to the line as he is out wide or in the slot.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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