FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When he was younger, Kyle Pitts envisioned himself as a football player. Quarterback, receiver, running back, safety ... every year he would create himself in the Madden video game, put himself in different places and often end up in the same place: the Pro Bowl.
As he grew up, he had less time for Madden because he was working on his real-life football dream, one that got him to the NFL, to the Atlanta Falcons as a tight end and now to the place he ended up virtually so often back then.
The Pro Bowl.
One of two NFC Pro Bowl tight ends this season, Pitts is the first NFL rookie tight end to be named to the Pro Bowl since Jeremy Shockey in 2002 and the sixth to make the Pro Bowl since 1970, joining Shockey, Keith Jackson (Philadelphia, 1988), Junior Miller (Atlanta, 1980), Charle Young (Philadelphia, 1973) and Raymond Chester (Oakland, 1970).
Pre-1970, future Hall of Fame tight ends Charlie Sanders (Detroit), Mike Ditka (Chicago) and John Mackey (Baltimore) all made the Pro Bowl as rookies.
“It would be a great accolade, I would say, in my rookie year,” Pitts said last week, prior to Wednesday's Pro Bowl announcement. “That’s something everyone wants to reach. So if God blessed me and they select me, that would be pretty exciting.”
Pitts managed the feat by putting together one of the better rookie seasons for a tight end ever with 58 catches for 847 yards and one touchdown. He still has three games remaining to become the second tight end to eclipse 1,000 yards as a rookie, joining Ditka’s 56-catch, 1,076-yard season in 1961.
As the weeks went on, Pitts wasn’t paying too much attention to the possibility of the Pro Bowl. He led fan voting among NFC tight ends, which accounts for one-third of the vote along with players for a third and coaches for a third, for the majority of the voting period. In fan voting, San Francisco’s George Kittle passed him in the final days, leaving Pitts to finish second among fans.
In a position where the transition to the NFL is difficult, Pitts has managed to break through. His 847 yards are fifth for a rookie tight end behind Ditka, Shockey (894), Jackson (869) and Young (854). His 58 catches are fourth, behind Jackson (81), Shockey (74) and Evan Engram (64).
So it has been fairly impressive even with the bumps throughout the year.
“It is exactly what I thought it was going to be, a steady grind,” Pitts said. “Just getting better every day, trying to be the best player I can be.”