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Question of the Week: What are reasonable expectations for Kyle Pitts heading into Year 3?

Scott Bair and Tori McElhaney discuss.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – We haven't seen Kyle Pitts since Week 11 of the 2021 season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. It was a bitter moment for the Falcons and for their former No. 4 overall draft pick in 2021. After a stellar start to his professional career, Pitts' sophomore season in the league ended on a sour note as he underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL in November.

Though Pitts didn't participate in any of the Falcons OTAs this offseason as he continued to rehab his knee, head coach Arthur Smith said Pitts is on track to return for the 2023 season at full health.

"We fully anticipate everybody being ready to go September 10," Smith said on June 2.


That would - of course - include Pitts, who will enter into his third year in the league, a year that

CBS is calling a make-or-break season for the tight end. So, what should reasonable expectations be for Pitts in 2023? Scott and Tori discuss.


Tori: I'll be honest with you (and don't get mad at me for saying so), I don't think we're going to see rookie Kyle Pitts numbers again. And here's why I don't believe we will: The Falcons are a completely different team than they were his first year. The Falcons offense ran differently under Matt Ryan… It did with Marcus Mariota last year… And it will with Desmond Ridder this year. As much as you maybe don't want to hear it, that makes a difference for someone like Pitts.

However, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing.

In 2021, Pitts averaged about four receptions per game with a 60-yards per game average. Those numbers were cut in half in 2022. The reason for that is two fold: For starters, I am none too sure we saw a healthy Pitts at all in 2022 like we did in 2021. People forget that Pitts battled a nagging hamstring issue through the first months of the season. This well before the knee injury that kept him off the field. Second off, the Falcons became a run-first offense under Mariota instead of pass-heavy with Ryan.

Ryan had over 560 attempted passes in 2021 with a completion percentage of 67 percent. Through 13 games in 2020, Mariota only attempted 300 passes. His completion percentage sat right above 61 percent. If you're Pitts, that makes a difference. It just does.

And now, here sits Pitts in Year 3 with his third quarterback, Ridder. We don't yet know what that dynamic will look like because Pitts and Ridder haven't seen the field together since last year's training camp. I do think it bodes well that Drake London's production in 2022 saw an uptick with Ridder as his quarterback. I think the expectation could be that Pitts sees a similar trend, but we just don't know yet, especially considering the other offensive weapons the Falcons have gathered in two years' time.

Either way, I do think we need more from Pitts in 2023. It doesn't have to be his 2021 production, but getting it back to that general level should be a goal.

Scott: Kyle Pitts and Marcus Mariota never quite clicked. That's not to say that last year's primary starting quarterback didn't throw a ton to the tight end. Mariota targeted Pitts a ton. He just didn't complete many passes to him. That's due to accuracy, not route running.

Here's proof of that. According to Pro Football Focus, only 59 percent of Mariota's passes to Pitts were deemed catchable. That's really, well, not good. To make things worse, some of them weren't even close. Pitts was often Mariota's choice for under-pressure desperation throws as well, so Pitts' stats (28 catches, 356 yards and two TDs) would've been far higher with a more accurate quarterback, even with him blocking for the run more often than his rookie season. 

Catchable passes will go up with Desmond Ridder. You can bank on that despite the fact they've never worked a game together. As a reminder, Pitts went down with a knee injury before Ridder got promoted to the starting gig. Head coach Arthur Smith has full confidence the two will build required chemistry and timing once Pitts returns, and that will help his stats and overall production go up.

I agree with Tori, though, that 2021 totals will be harder (though not impossible) to collect in 2023. That's because: A. the Falcons will remain run heavy, though balance is the goal, and B. there are more reliable targets in the pattern. There will be times where a mix of Pitts, Drake London, Cordarrelle Patterson, Bijan Robinson, Mack Hollins and Jonnu Smith will be working downfield. That's a lot of good options for Ridder, who will likely spread the ball around or work to get playmakers the ball in space.

There is a possibility, however, that Pitts becomes a dominant force who demands targets and becomes a true No. 1. He has that kind of talent. If that ends up being the case, his stats could go sky high.

This is ultimately a conversation about numbers, but let's take the stats out of it for a second. Pitts' value to the team will be immense. There's little doubt about that. He's more versatile than people think, able to help in the run game and be impactful as a receiver, someone who attracts coverage and gets schemed against. It will be interesting, though, to see how he's used in 2023 and how he and Ridder work together.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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