The Falcons Building Blocks series is a week-long series of stories that focuses in on certain talent that will be counted on throughout the course of the 2023 year in Atlanta, and beyond.
Two years ago, Scott Bair authored this series, and he had certain requirements and marks the players on this list must have. They had to be on a rookie contract. They had to be 27 years old and younger. They had to be thriving already, "with leadership qualities and potential for even better down the road." Though this list follows a similar pattern, like last year, there are no such requirements for the 2023 list.
We're looking at players the Falcons can build around, regardless of age, overall status or contract details. The Falcons have a foundation set. So, who are the main pillars of that foundation?
By: Tori McElhaney
We haven't seen Kyle Pitts in a long time, not since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 11 of the 2022 season. It was an injury that required surgery and a rehab process that will lead him right up to the start of training camp in a couple weeks.
Arthur Smith said the expectation is that Pitts - and others - will be back to 100 percent come the Falcons home opener against Carolina in September. And with it, one can expect to see Pitts return.
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- Finding Falcons rookie series: Bijan Robinson | Matthew Bergeron | Zach Harrison | Clark Phillips III | DeMarcco Hellams | Jovaughn Gwyn
It's a return that changes Atlanta's offense. Even with a splattering of playmakers already well integrated in the offense (players like Drake London, Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Jonnu Smith and Cordarrelle Patterson, of course), one cannot overlook the immediate impact Pitts would have upon his return. Despite a down year in 2022, he's still a mismatch for defenses. He's still a threat. None of that changes because of the 2022 season.
For the last two years, Pitts has been a part of this "Building Blocks" series. It's because Pitts is the one who ushered in the Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith era in Atlanta. He was their first draft pick, making history as the highest drafted tight end at No. 4 overall. He was the first domino to fall to get us to where we are with this team in 2023. So, what are reasonable expectations for Pitts in his third year? That's the question, and it likely lays somewhere in between his 2021 production and his 2022 production.
Pitts burst onto the scene after he was drafted in 2021. With Matt Ryan as his quarterback, Pitts thrived on the veteran quarterback's accuracy and ability to get Pitts the ball. He broke rookie records with his 1,000-plus yard receiving season. His was targeted over 100 times by Ryan and when the two did connect it was for an average gain of 15 yards a catch. The one knock to Pitts was that the Falcons as an offense struggled at times in the red zone. Pitts only had one touchdown catch in 2021, but his overall production was enough to continue to show why the Falcons selected him at No. 4 overall. He lived up to the hype.
Last year, however, was lackluster in comparison to his first year. Pitts finished the season with only 28 catches for 356 yards. The reason for this drop can be explained with two key notes. For starters, there is an argument to be made that very seldom was a truly healthy Pitts on the field in 2022. People forget he worked through a hamstring injury at the beginning of the year, one that kept him out of the Falcons Week 5 game against Tampa Bay entirely. Six weeks later and he was out for the season with an MCL tear. Health factors into someone's performance.
The second reason, though, is more noticeable and it has to do with the way the offense was ran under Marcus Mariota in comparison to the year before with Ryan. The Falcons morphed into a run-first team with Mariota at the helm, something they definitely weren't in the decade Ryan was under center. They did so out of necessity and its a necessity that dealt someone like Pitts a new hand.
It wasn't as though Mariota didn't target Pitts in 2021. He did. Pitts just never had much of a chance to do anything with said targets. As Scott Bair pointed out in our Question of the Week series in June, Pro Football Focus had only 59 percent of Mariota's passes to Pitts deemed catchable last season.
All of this swirling together gives you a clearer picture as to why Pitts second year in the league went the way it did. But now he's back with his third quarterback in just as many years. Pitts and Desmond Ridder haven't seen the field together in a live game setting. But its possible Pitts' production with Ridder as his quarterback could look a bit better if using London as a base point. Three of London's best games in his rookie year came when Ridder was his quarterback. Could an uptick in catchable passes from Ridder (and thus, more production for Pitts) be in the Falcons future? That's the hope.
Either way, Pitts is an important part of not just this offense, but this organization as a whole. He was the first player Fontenot and Smith stuck a claim to three years ago. Despite the fact we haven't seen him since that November day when an injury took him off the field, Pitts is still a major piece of this foundation in 2023.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.