The selection of Kyle Pitts with the 4th overall pick is one that, in hindsight, as obvious a selection as you’re likely to find. Even before Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith duo were brought in for an interview, the Falcons brass had made clear their desire to win, both now and moving forward. On the surface, taking (arguably) the best player in the draft is just smart business. Dig a little deeper, however, and it becomes a decision that has been made with that desire at the forefront.
For the Falcons to “win now”, they need players capable of making an instant impact. Kyle Pitts, as has been well established, is a beast. An absolute freak of nature. You don’t often find guys that are 6 foot 4, 240lbs, who can run a 4.4. In 2020, he averaged just shy of 18 yards a catch, and dropped exactly zero passes. Kyle Pitts is a rare blend of size, speed, and talent, that simply doesn’t come around every day. For the Falcons, the last time someone of that make-up became attainable was one Julio Jones.
Without looking to put unnecessary pressure on the kid’s shoulders, you can expect Kyle Pitts to start week one. You may see something of a snap-share with Hayden Hurst (assuming he is still a Falcon) in the early blows of the season, ala Austin Hooper/Jacob Tamme in 2016. Though, once he’s fully bedded in, Kyle Pitts will be an integral part of an already explosive air attack.
In 2021, the Atlanta Falcons will, once again, lean heavily on their offense to win them games. This time around, they’ll have a far superior play-caller under the headset. Regardless of the improvements Dean Pees might bring to the defense, this Falcons side will have to put up points early and often, in order to win games. A player like Kyle Pitts, from day one, is only going to increase your chances of doing that. Moving into 2022 and beyond, however, Pitts is going to be crucial to maintaining that level.
We’re closer to the end of the age Matt Ryan and Julio Jones than any of us really care to admit. Matt Ryan will be 36 years old when the season starts. Julio Jones has played 24 from a possible 32 games over the past two seasons. Whether it’s the contracts they’re on, or their ability to deliver, it’s difficult to argue the case for either player sticking around, on their current terms, for more than a handful of years. Change is around the corner, and Pitts represents an unlikely bridge between eras old and new.
Julio Jones, in particular, is likely seeing out his final days as an Atlanta Falcon. If I had to wager, I’d suggest 2021 is likely his final season in Atlanta. Moving forward, the Falcons are going to need a consistent pass-catcher to help make up for that loss. A season acclimatizing to the professional game, and Pitts will be ready to step in as the team’s secondary target, as Calvin Ridley takes on a more prominent role.
The benefit of spending a season with Julio Jones is that you can learn so much. We saw first hand the effects of “Coach Julio” in 2020, when injury kept him from suiting up. Yet, every week, there he was: on the sideline, getting vital tips, and providing feedback, to his teammates. The quality of information he can bestow on a 20 year old Kyle Pitts can be nothing but invaluable. When the time comes to take on that more prominent role, he’ll have had all the coaching he needs, from one of the league’s best.
With a high level of coaching, and a year or two of natural growth, Kyle Pitts should have evolved into the best version of himself. By that point, Matt Ryan is likely to be 38 or 39 years old, and the Falcons will be looking for their future signal-caller. Assuming that player is a rookie, Kyle Pitts represents the ultimate security blanket. Having a receiving option at the level Pitts can reach takes so much pressure off the shoulders of a rookie quarterback, as they themselves learn the ropes.
With their fourth overall pick, the Falcons have created a clear plan for how they’ll transition away from two of their greatest ever players. All while maximizing, and possibly extending, their remaining window. Whether they were right to opt for Pitts over a quarterback is either here nor there at this point. The Falcons needed a plan to win now, and in the future. In Kyle Pitts, they have that.