How Kyle Pitts fits in Arthur Smith's Atlanta Falcons offense

(Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 13, 2021. The Falcons drafted tight end Kyle Pitts in the first round on Thursday night.)


Kyle Pitts made history on Thursday night going to Atlanta. What that

Kyle Pitts made history on Thursday night going to Atlanta. What that might mean for the Falcons. Video by Michael Rothstein

In a league that loves comparisons to other players to help make projections and predictions about a prospect’s future success, with Kyle Pitts there are none.

At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds and an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds, there are few players like him. It’s the easy reason to explain why he’s in the conversation as one of the top prospects in the draft and potentially the No. 4 spot Atlanta possesses.

“That’s tough,” ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen said. “I go back to guys I played with, the best tight ends I played against, Tony Gonzalez, right? Hall of Fame tight end. But, you know, there’s not a perfect comp for him at tight end, that’s what I’m getting to. There’s not a perfect comp. There’s not.

“Is Kyle Pitts a young Jimmy Graham with more speed? More vertical ability? Maybe. As I’m thinking of a tight end with high-end athletic traits and physical tools that are rare. But I keep tending to lean more toward wide receivers because a lot of his traits kind of mesh with a wide receiver skill set.”

It's what makes Pitts attractive, particularly in an offense run by new Atlanta coach Arthur Smith. If the Falcons were to select Pitts – one of the many potential options Atlanta could choose, including a quarterback to be the successor to Matt Ryan, or dynamic offensive lineman Penei Sewell – he would be a player who could create havoc for opposing defenses.

Consider Atlanta’s offensive receiving options if Pitts were taken: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage at receiver along with Hayden Hurst and Pitts at tight end. Every target 6-feet or taller with different dynamic traits.

“With that personnel down there, that gives you a lot of options, too. You can go three-by-one with Julio as your backside receiver and then inside you have Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts to the trips side of the formation,” Bowen said. “That gives you a lot of options to stretch people vertically. To create throwing windows. To create catch-and-run opportunities.

“So I think the possibilities really multiply when you have a player with that type of talent level and size and route-running traits of a Kyle Pitts.”

A player like Pitts, combined with those other options, could leave endless options for how Smith might devise a passing offense. Yes, he’s known for being a run-heavy coach – Derrick Henry’s production is evidence – but he can use play-action and sets to create opportunities for everyone.

Through the full-field, Pitts can be used as an option on vertical routes as well as crossing routes because of his skill set. Inside the red zone, he offers more options, too. In talking about comps, Bowen mentioned Plaxico Burress and DK Metcalf as possibilities – big-bodied receivers who could make plays all over the field.

Bowen said Pitts is not the type of tight end who would stay in-line all the time, another potential advantage to Atlanta if it were to take him. Bowen said Arthur Smith moved Jonnu Smith around the formation – particularly in the red zone – last season with the Titans. It could provide a preview for what he would do with Pitts if the Falcons selected him.

“What you want to do with matchups and creativity with him inside the red zone, inside the 10 or the 20-yard line, especially the 10 to the goal line,” Bowen said. “You can put him out as your backside wide receiver and say we’re going to throw slant fade. Tell them it’s coming, who cares if they know because he can beat them with both.”

The personnel grouping where Pitts could be most dangerous for Atlanta would be 12 personnel, which consists of one running back and two tight ends.

Tennessee ran 1,028 offensive snaps last season. Over one-third of the time (350 snaps), the Titans lined up in 12 personnel. Tennessee threw 149 times out of that formation, leading to 14 touchdowns. Of those 149 attempts, 128 of them were to tight ends, according to ESPN Stats and Information – leading to 83 catches and six touchdowns.

The Titans had a good tight end room, led by Jonnu Smith, and Arthur Smith is a former tight ends coach. But having a pairing of Hurst and Pitts could be a boon for Smith as he starts to build his plan for the Falcons. It will force opponents to make choices – risk a nickel corner against a potential run play or a bigger-bodied tight end or run base defense and have the Falcons split Hurst or Pitts out in pre-snap and then a linebacker or safety is in a tough position.

"You tell us, you show us with your counter. We’re going to keep countering off you,” Bowen said. “I think he gives you schematical advantages when you have 12 personnel with two tight ends who can impact the pass game and that’s what that would be in Atlanta.”