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Analysis: Putting Kyle Pitts' start to the 2023 season in full perspective

The third-year tight end has 11 catches for 121 yards heading into Sunday's matchup with Houston Texans. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Kyle Pitts is an elite NFL athlete. Arguing that point is futile.

There's plenty of debate about his numbers, health and impact on the Falcons through four games of the 2023 season. Most of it is base-level, talk-radio style shouting between two extremes, generally around the crux of whether he was or was not worth the No. 4 overall NFL Draft pick in 2021.

Let's bring some nuance to the discourse and paint a clear picture of the former Pro Bowl tight end at this point in time that dives far deeper than the box-score stats.

Over four games: 11 receptions, 121 yards and no touchdowns.

Those numbers don't mesh with an elite NFL talent who has put plenty of awesome on tape. It wasn't long ago Pitts was torching defensive backs during a season that ended with Pro Bowl honors and the second-highest receiving total by a rookie tight end. Remember when Pitts made that one-handed grab streaking down the sideline in Miami? Or when he went off against the New York Jets and was sipping tea in the end zone in London? Or when he stiff-armed Bills defenders making a big play in the snow?

He's still more than capable of doing things like that, as we saw on a diving 34-yard catch that helped seal a Week 1 win over Carolina.

The frequency of such moments, it's fair to say, has been down. There are a few reasons why. He's still less than a year removed from a knee injury – reportedly a torn MCL – that ended his season early and required surgery.


While Pitts isn't hurt or injured, it's probably fair to say he continues to work his way back.

"I'd hate to put percentages on it, but you have to acknowledge that – I thought (Sunday vs. Jacksonville), there were some things outside where he looked as fast as he did as a rookie," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "So, it's getting close. But, to Kyle's credit, he continues to work and work extremely hard behind the scenes. Never made an excuse out of anything."

That was clear when Pitts spoke to reporters Wednesday. He didn't blame anything for somewhat subpar numbers by his lofty standard, and he certainly didn't go into details about whether he's less than 100%. He also said health doesn't impact what he's doing on the field.

"I'm not thinking apprehensive at all," Pitts said. "I'm just out there playing."

Pitts has made plays over these first four games and is heavily involved in the offense. His 21 targets ranks third on the team and just one behind leaders Bijan Robinson and Drake London. He's averaging nearly three yards of separation from coverage, per Next Gen Stats, so he's getting open.

Desmond Ridder's passer rating when targeting Pitts, however, is 49.9. There is some reasoning behind that low number. A whopping 57% of his targets have been deemed uncatchable. While some of that is letting a playmaker try to go make a play, Pitts isn't consistently getting the ball in places where he can (relatively) easily go make a play.


This isn't a new issue. In 2022, 57% of his targets were also deemed uncatchable. Contrast that to 2021, when 30% were deemed uncatchable. His target share was way higher back then, too, because the Falcons didn't have much depth in the pattern. There are plenty of attractive options this season, so the ball is spread around a bit more. All that suggests he has had fewer opportunities to make plays than he did back then.

The connection with quarterback Desmond Ridder should improve over time. Don't forget that the pair didn't work together in games last year, with Pitts hurt before Ridder assumed the starting role. Reps will certainly help, as will an improved rhythm in the passing game overall.

Time will help his return to top form from last season's injury as well. Pitts isn't focused on all that. As he said Wednesday, "I just control the controllables. I can't do anything else."

That should help him improve in all aspects and realize great potential yet again.

"There's no perfect timetables, but there are certain things that you see him doing really well right now," Smith said. "There are certain things that have been a journey back that he's going to get there."

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