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The Atlanta Falcons selected Kyle Pitts as the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is the highest ever selection for a tight end. He is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash. He is arguably the best tight end prospect in NFL history. Full stop.
Is He Worth the Hype?
If we're being optimistic and logical, he probably is. However, when will that hype translate to success, and more importantly, fantasy production? That's the big question. Can he be productive in his rookie season while other notable sure-fire rookie tight ends struggled to produce early? There are two sides to the coin. One that rewards the decision to take a chance on a generational player who happens to occupy the traditional tight end role, and one that exercises caution because historically, rookie tight ends rarely pan out.
If we compare him to other rookie tight ends in Pitts' case, he would need to perform well over what even the best rookie tight ends have ever done to justify his current average draft position (TE4). But what if he does? He may be a tight end on your fantasy roster, but who's to say he won't perform like a wide receiver? If his skill set and the Falcons usage are more like a wide receiver, we would be more inclined to buy into the upside. Plenty of rookie wide receivers have dominated in Year One; most recently Justin Jefferson.
He is listed as a tight end, so we will group him as such. Let's look at some historical statistics of rookie tight ends and their success.
Since 1990, seven tight ends have been drafted in the Top 10 overall, Pitts being the highest at fourth. The highest fantasy finish for any of those seven rookies was Rickey Dudley's TE12 finish way back in 1996.
Rookie Performance of the Highest-Drafted Tight Ends since 1990
Greatest Rookie Performance of All Tight Ends since 1990
The greatest rookie performance (since 1990) was Evan Engram's 2017 season, where he finished 3rd with 173.6 PPR points. On average, the best rookie tight ends finished with 50.3 receptions for 607.9 yards and 5.7 touchdowns, ranking 8th at the position. Kyle Pitts is being drafted as the 4th tight end after Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle. Those three are proven veterans with top finishes to back up their ADP. Kelce has five consecutive finishes in the Top 2, Waller is coming off two successive top-4 finishes, and Kittle has two top-3 finishes in the last three years. Pitts hasn't done anything yet.
Can he be a top-3 tight end this season? His quarterback checks all of the boxes.
Matt Ryan Accolades and Accomplishments
- 10 consecutive years of 4,000+ yards passing
- 12 consecutive years of 20+ touchdown passes
- career 26.6 touchdown passes per year
- 2016 - won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year
- 5x Pro-bowler
- Most passing yards in first 10 years of NFL history, 11 years, and 12 years.
- Missed one game since 2009
Pitts is slated to replace Julio Jones in Atlanta and play a majority of snaps lined up wide versus in-line. He may be a tight end in positional designation, but that will not stop him from lining up as a wide receiver. In college, Pitts lined up outside 42.6% of the time. Expect him to function more as the WR2 opposite Calvin Ridley than someone taking over Austin Hooper’s former role. In his last year at Florida, he accounted for nearly 38% of the team's receiving touchdowns. He finished with an outstanding line of 7 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in his last game as a college prospect at just 20 years old. Be prepared to hear all of the accolades in training camp. There will be no shortage of awe and excitement for the young phenom.
What if we treated Pitts like a rookie wide receiver? He would occupy a position of scarcity in the tight end role, but he's a wide receiver. He may be Calvin Johnson. That's a comparison that has been floated around the analyst community. If that's the case, then yes, he is worth the hype, and he could be a trendsetter and pioneer that other NFL franchises will soon copy. Perhaps a more fitting comparison is Marques Colston. Remember him? In his rookie year of 2006, he totaled 70 receptions for 1,038 yards and 8 touchdowns (237.8 PPR fantasy points). In some leagues, he had tight end eligibility, which made him a league-winner. If Pitts can put together that level of performance, his appeal and value will be through the roof. In time, bigger wide receivers will transition to tight end, and teams will look for the new, shiny version of Kyle Pitts in the coming years.
People have varying opinions on Kyle Pitts. Here are some that cover the full spectrum of excitement and concern.
In the past 10 years, only 3 1st rd TEs finished in the top 5 overall TE production. None did it more than once. Hockenson, Engram, & Ebron.— Nick Zachery (@zachery_nick) July 20, 2021
The odds of him landing in the top 3 TEs this year are very slim. See @MikeTagliereNFL article— Jesse Morse, MD (@DrJesseMorse) July 20, 2021
In 2020 36% of Pitt’s snaps weren’t as an in-line TE, supporting his ability to line up everywhere.— Wyatt (@WyattB_FF) July 20, 2021
He’s the first TE to finish top-10 in Heisman voting since 1977— Addison Hayes (@amazehayes_) July 20, 2021
What if I told you it was possible to draft Calvin Johnson and play him at TE. Would you do it? In 30 years of playing fantasy football, Kyle Pitts is the best fantasy tight end I've ever seen. 1/— Mark Ringo âŽ (@MarkRingo12) July 20, 2021
To paraphrase the line from A League of Their Own, "I know the goods when I see it. And he's the goods." When his career is all said and done Kyle Pitts will rewrite the record books at TE. Pitts is my #1 ranked TE in 2021.— Mark Ringo âŽ (@MarkRingo12) July 20, 2021
The outlook for Kyle Pitts varies across the board of the Footballguys panel of projectors. Sigmund Bloom is the most optimistic for success with 78 receptions for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Justin Freeman believes that the rookie tight end curse (if we want to call it that) will preside over Pitts in his rookie season. Freeman projects 51 receptions for 672 yards and 3.5 touchdowns.
No matter how you look at it, the rookie tight end rule will be tough to break. However, if you treat Pitts like he's a wide receiver, you break the mold for that rule. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck - guess what? It's a duck. Suppose Pitts plays a more traditional role of WR2 replacing Julio Jones in Atlanta's offense and becomes a productive red-zone threat. In that case, he could give us wide receiver production from the tight end position, which is the most scarce in terms of production in fantasy football. That's where logic and hype meet. It's logical to expect greatness if you block the notion that Pitts will act and perform like a typical rookie tight end. His size, speed, athleticism, and previous success.
- One dropped red zone target in his college career
- He averaged 4.91 yards per route vs. man coverage in college this past season
- He was the 1st tight end named as a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s top wide receiver
- He scored 18 touchdowns in 24 games at Florida including 1.5 scores per game in his last season.
- Top cornerback in the 2021 draft, Jaycee Horn said Pitts was one of the toughest receivers he had to cover in college, and he also played against Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, and Elijah Moore
All of those accolades, plus the perfect storm of need, quarterback talent, and opportunity with Atlanta, makes him one of the most widely anticipated players in recent memory. If you want Pitts, you'll have to pay a hefty price with a fourth-round pick or higher. It's possible he won't live up to the enormous expectations, but if he does, it will be worth the gamble.
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