FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Kyle Pitts' second year in the league has officially come to a close because of a knee injury that required surgery on Tuesday.
Pitts finished his second season with 356 receiving yards on 28 catches (59 targets). He played in 10 games and scored two touchdowns. Pitts averaged 12.71 yards a catch.
This final stat line for Pitts in 2022 is very different from what it was a year ago, when Pitts cemented himself in league and franchise record books with a 1,000-receiving yard season.
Compared to his rookie season, Pitts offensive production in his second year leaves something to be desired upon his untimely exit. No one knows this more than fantasy football team owners who happen to have Pitts on their roster. Jokes aside about fantasy football, Arthur Smith understands how these two seasons for Pitts looks when comparing one to the other.
"Obviously bigger statistical numbers in the pass game a year ago," Smith said of Pitts, "but we were a much different team and in a different place."
In layman's terms? The numbers are comparatively different because the Falcons offense is comparatively different, even at a fundamental level.
Coming into the 2022 season, it was never a question that the Falcons would have a different offensive operation with Matt Ryan in Indianapolis and Marcus Mariota under center in Atlanta. It was going to change, likely drastically so.
A potential dip in production for a player like Pitts was to be expected because of this change. However, the extent of that dip left many on the outside looking in frustrated with Pitts' usage and lack of targets. But that perception is flawed because through 10 games in 2021 Pitts only had 10 more targets than he did at the same point in 2022.
The difference? The completion rate between Pitts and his quarterback.
In the same 10-game span of both seasons, Pitts connected with Ryan on 62 percent of his 69 total targets. That equaled 43 catches for 635 receiving yards. In 2022, Pitts connected with Mariota on 47 percent of his 59 targets. This connection equated to half of the stat line it was at the same time a year before, landing on 28 catches for 356 receiving yards.
So, yes. A change at quarterback did affect Pitts, but so did the Falcons run game. As it evolved from what it was in 2021 to what it has been in 2022, Pitts role as a tight end evolved, too.
"Where you saw a lot of growth was in a lot of other jobs that we asked him to do," Smith explained. "Certainly there are things that you wish would have gone different, and that's probably every year, but you could see that growth as a player as he became a more complete player."
In Smith's offense, the role of tight end is a complex one. It's a role that Smith said is "probably" a bit more extensive in what they ask their tight ends to do than what it is in other offenses. Smith has said on a few occasions that Pitts' run blocking has improve the most from Year 1 to Year 2. The Falcons are able to run the ball behind Pitts this year in a way they weren't able to last year, Smith said. That's a testament to Pitts' growth. It's evidence that doesn't show up on Pitts' individual stat line, though.
It's that growth that gives Smith confidence in Pitts' overall trajectory.
Even if the Pitts' touches and total yards don't look how they did a year ago, Smith has confidence in his young tight end and the progress he's made as a run blocker and pass catcher.
Why? Because Smith said you're not wishing and hoping about Pitts' production.
"You know he's done it," Smith said. "And you know he's made other gains in other areas of what we've asked him to do. You're very confident and positive about … his predicted future. You can't predict everything but you've got evidence."
Pitts is entering into a new world of his professional career, one that involves rehabbing to get back to it.
For Smith, he is not concerned with the Pitts that will return to him in 2023. The evidence shows him there's nothing to be concerned about.
"He's made so much growth," Smith said of Pitts. "He's such an impactful player whether he touches the ball or doesn't."
We take a monochrome look at the game against the Washington Commanders on November 27, 2022.