What kind of impact will the rookie first rounder have?
Figuring out potential stats for a rookie can be very difficult. Most rookies tend to struggle in year one, but a player like Kyle Pitts may flourish based on his raw physical tools alone. That said, his potential as a receiver may be off the charts, particularly for someone slotted to play tight end.
Let’s take our best guess at how things may play out for the uber-hyped rookie.
Undoubtedly, Pitts figures to become the immediate primary tight end in this offense. If we look at what Hayden Hurst did in 2020, we can see that he netted 571 receiving yards under an inferior play-caller. Given that Arthur Smith will be calling plays and he’s a tight-end friendly offensive coordinator, looking at the yardage totals for Jonnu Smith might make more sense. In 2020, Smith had 448 receiving yards and 439 in 2019. Ugh, these stats seem somewhat underwhelming.
How did some greats at the tight end position fare? Well, Rob Gronkowski pulled in 546 yards as a rookie and Travis Kelce hauled in 862 in 2014 (he missed his rookie year). Gronk averaged roughly 34 yards per game with Kelce pulling in 54. Kelce may be the better comparison here—Pitts is certainly in his class as a receiver based on his physical traits and college track record—so we’re going to use those numbers as our baseline. If we assume 54 yards per game for Pitts, that sets the baseline at 918 receiving yards.
The case for the over
Julio Jones is no longer with the Falcons. After Calvin Ridley, Pitts may end up being the second most targeted player in this offense. No disrespect to Kelce, but Pitts is a superior athlete and may be more pro-ready. While Jonnu Smith didn’t exactly light things up with the Titans, that may be as much about having guys like Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown eating up attention.
Simply put, if Pitts is the second option in this Falcons offense, 54 yards per game should be very doable plus some. Given his incredible hands and insane catch radius, Matt Ryan should quickly learn to trust the young tight end as the season progresses. The potential for Pitts is unlimited.
The case for the under
The tight end position is one of the hardest to transition to in the NFL. Pitts may be an athletic monster who looks more like a receiver than a tight end, but even Gronkowski struggled to make an immediate impact as a rookie. While Pitts may have incredible long-term potential, Matt Ryan already has time on the field with guys like Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. It may take some time for the QB to develop the right timing and rapport with the first rounder.
Pitts may get closer to the yardage total but only as the season progresses. Coming into a new offense with a new head coach may be too much to overcome in year one. There’s also the small matter that while 918 yards seems reasonable given the focus he’ll get as an option in the passing game, it would also easily be the rookie tight end yardage record.
Let us know your thoughts. Can Pitts break past our baseline?
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