Skip to main content

Assessing Hayden Hurst's future, Kyle Pitts, tight ends — Falcons Breakdown

Just over 37 percent of the Falcons offense came from formations with two tight ends in 2021. Having a reliable pass catcher along with Kyle Pitts will be crucial moving forward.


Editor's note: This story is a part of the Falcons Breakdown series, which evaluates each position group and how it will it look for next season.

Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith nailed their first-round selection in tight end Kyle Pitts.

The Unicorn was as advertised in his first year. He set the Falcons rookie receiving record, gaining the second-most yards ever by a rookie tight end, all while defenses were focusing on taking him away as the Falcons top target.


Pitts has credited some of his success to Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith, the other players in the tight end room who have helped give him advice and guidance through his first season. Smith, Hurst and Pitts were inseparable during the 2021 season, playing games after practice, taking funny pictures, among many other shenanigans.

With Smith hinting at 2021 possibly being his last season and Hurst a free agent, there is a good chance that Pitts will have to build new bonds in the tight end room next season.

Primary 2021 production:

Kyle Pitts: 68 receptions, 1,026 yards, 1 touchdown, 15.1 ypc

Hayden Hurst: 26 receptions, 221 yards, 3 touchdowns, 17 ypc

Lee Smith: 9 receptions, 65 yards, 1 touchdown, 7.2 ypc

On the chopping block: Hayden Hurst

Biggest offseason question: Who will be the Falcons' other pass-catching tight end in 2022?

Even with Kyle Pitts' record-breaking season, Hurst proved to be another reliable pass catcher in a Falcons offense that needed it. Hurst missed four games due to injury, which caused him to have the second lowest yards this season of his career.

Still, Hurst showed promise in moments this season. In the season finale against the Saints, Hurst burst through the defense to catch a 33-yard reception on the sideline. He also found the end zone twice in the final four weeks,

"Not exactly what I dreamed up in April," Hurst admitted of his performance in the 2021 season following the Saints game. "All I can do is make the best of my opportunities whenever they come, and I think I showed that this year, flashes, especially today, but all I have to do is control the controllables.

"I know the type of player I am and what I can bring to the table and what I can bring to a team," Hurst said. "All I ask for is opportunities."

Just over 37 percent of the Falcons offensive plays in 2021 came out of formations with at least two tight ends, per TruMedia. If the Falcons cannot resign Hurst — the team declined his fifth-year option last May — his replacement will likely play a prominent role in the offense.

Some of the top tight ends in the league will be free agents this offseason, players like Mike Gesicki and Zach Ertz, though it is unlikely that the Falcons will look – or able to afford – to snag a top tight end off the market with Pitts. There is also Parker Hesse, who saw limited time this season. He shined against the Buffalo Bills after Pitts went down with a lower leg injury, reeling in a season-high three receptions for 31 yards.

As for the 2022 NFL draft, there is no Unicorn at the top of draft boards like Pitts was last year. has Jalen Wydermyer from Texas A&M as the No.1 ranked tight end and the 52nd best player available. Other top tight ends include Trey McBride (Colorado St.) and Cole Turner (Nevada).

Related Content