Why Kyle Pitts and Drake London are primed to improve in 2023

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The Falcons expect big things from their top 10 pass catchers. Kyle Pitts was the highest-drafted tight end in history and lived up to the billing during his rookie campaign, and Drake London ended up breaking his counterpart’s franchise record.

Both had exceptional rookie seasons, but Pitts certainly produced at a pedestrian rate last year. After a 1,000+ yard season in 2021, he put up a lousy 356 yards in 10 games. Disappointing is an understatement, but it was to no fault of Pitts. It takes two to tango.

Atlanta’s quarterback play was atrocious for the most part and was the driving factor in Pitts’ struggles. Marcus Mariota was dangerous with his feet but dangerous to the Falcons with his arm. It’s rather apparent when looking at Drake London’s splits as well.

In 13 games with Mariota throwing him passes, London received 81 targets, hauling in 47 for 533 yards and four touchdowns, good for 11.34 yards per reception. With Ridder, London was targeted 36 times, catching 25 of them for 333 yards, 13.32 yards per catch.

On average, London received six targets per game with Mariota as quarterback compared to nine targets with Ridder under center. Moreover, London had a 69.4% catch percentage with Ridder, compared to 58.7% with Mariota.

In every metric, London’s connection with Ridder was much stronger than the one he had with Mariota. And the Falcons pass catchers were among the league leaders in off-target rates in 2022 — Pitts leading the league by a large margin.

What’s even more funny is how large these targets are that Mariota was missing.

The former No. 4 overall pick is 6-foot-6 with an NFL Combine record-breaking wingspan. Pitts is a freak of nature, and London is no shrimp. He stands 6-foot-4 with an even wider wingspan. The catch radius on these two is among the largest in the NFL, yet Marcus Mariota continually missed them.

Desmond Ridder doesn’t even have to be Peyton Manning accurate; he just has to be better than the least accurate quarterback in the league. That’s an extremely low bar to surpass.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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