Kyle Pitts entered the NFL with great expectations. They'll come with being the No. 4 overall draft pick, being the highest tight end ever taken and being called a generational talent analysts believed would make a profound and immediate impact.
That might weigh a young player down. Not Pitts. He nonchalantly shrugged them off his shoulders well before they formed a large chip.
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The University of Florida product had personal goals he wasn't willing to share other than to say most were team-based. The full list resides on his cell phone, offering regular reminders of what he was working toward this season.
"It's just something that stays on my screen," Pitts said.
Those goals are not visible when social media apps are open. Sky-high expectations from the outside had zero bearing on Pitts before or during the course of his rookie season. He didn't care about what was said about him on Twitter or Instagram because, to paraphrase Pitts: On those platforms...When you're good, you're great. When you're bad, you stink.
"That's why I just keep my head down and, at the end of the year, I can look back at what I've done," Pitts said before the regular-season finale. "My focus is living in the present and keeping my feet on the ground. I don't worry about the statistics or records people thought I would have.
"What is said about me doesn't define me as a player or a person. That's why I go out and put everything into trying to help my team win, by being the best player I can be."
That, right there, is one reason why head coach Arthur Smith said Pitts had the right mindset during his rookie year. Another was a never-ending quest for progress.
We saw wow moments during Pitts rookie campaign. We saw areas of improvement and mastery of a diverse role where he played in-line, outside and in the slot. While he wanted to break Mike Ditka's record for receiving yards by a rookie tight end and fell just short, he did so much in his first season.
Pitts broke Julio Jones’ franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie. He exceeded 1,000 yards and stayed dominant even with profound after attrition hurt the team's receiver corps.
We'll take a deeper look into Pitts' first season, an evaluation we'll conduct with every prominent member of the Falcons' rookie class over three key categories:
A look back: Pitts was awesome, totaling 1,026 yards and one touchdown on 69 catches (110 catches). The touchdown total was lower than expected but focusing on that involves getting nit picky about an excellent season that garnered Pro Bowl honors.
His scores will go up in time, however. His trust built with Matt Ryan was clear, earned by making big plays downfield while improving on precise route running and timing.
What Pitts learned in 2021: Pitts talked several times this season about improving recognition of coverages and how to beat them. He also learned how to deal with attention from several defenders and being shadowed by some of the NFL’s best.
Areas for improvement: Continued improvement deciphering coverages will make him near impossible to consistently stop. He'll also benefit from a true offseason break, something he didn't have while going through the pre-draft process the year before. Smith said that Pitts is just scratching the surface of his ability. If that's the case, Pitts has quite a career in front of him.