"The best tight end prospect in history".
Those were the things being said of tight end Kyle Pitts before the NFL Draft last year.
The Atlanta Falcons selected him No. 4 overall out of Florida, making him the highest drafted tight end ever. Those were exceedingly high expectations to place on the shoulders of a 20-year-old rookie.
Did Pitts live up to the hype?
He finished 2021 as the Falcons' leading receiver, setting a franchise record for yards by a rookie with 1,026 yards.
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He finished just shy of the NFL rookie tight-end record of 1,076 yards, set by Chicago Bears' Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka in 1961. It’s often justifiably mentioned that Ditka’s record was set in the era of the 14-game season while Pitts played 17 games. What isn’t talked about as much is that Ditka's rookie yardage was also a his career high. It’s a different era, but 1,000 yards-per-season should be the expectation for Pitts, not a high-water mark like it was for Ditka.
Pitts was selected to the Pro Bowl and will participate for the NFC Feb. 6th.
The only glaring, obvious hole in Pitts' rookie resume: Touchdowns. Given his immense size and skill - and the absences of receivers Calvin Ridley (mental health) and Russell Gage (injuries) - Pitts was obviously quarterback Matt Ryan's No. 1 target in the Red Zone.
But of the 110 passes thrown to him in 2021, only one resulted in a touchdown. Before the season, Las Vegas oddsmakers established an over/under of seven Pitts' touchdowns.
Becoming more efficient and effective near - or preferably in - the end zone is the next step in Pitts' evolution.
After a record rookie season in which he flashed his dominating potential, Pitts is likely just getting started.