Falcons looking at a ‘unicorn’ in Florida’s Kyle Pitts

Kyle Pitts (84) of the Florida Gators celebrates a touchdown against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Gainesville, Florida. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/TNS)
Caption
Kyle Pitts (84) of the Florida Gators celebrates a touchdown against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Gainesville, Florida. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is a special NFL prospect.

“I was in a meeting one day, a guy came up to me and said the guy is like a unicorn,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “The only way you can defend a unicorn with another unicorn.”

In part, that explains why the Falcons, who have the No. 4 overall pick in the coming NFL draft, are heavily scouting Pitts.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith attended Florida’s Pro Day on Wednesday and met face to face with Pitts. Smith came up in the NFL coaching tight ends in Tennessee, first under Mike Mularkey before he took over.

As offensive coordinator, Smith heavily featured the tight ends. Last season, four different tight ends played more than 200 snaps for the Titans and helped pave the way for running back Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard season.

The Falcons have Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham and traded for blocking tight end Lee Smith this offseason. In Arthur Smith’s attack, there is plenty of room for another tight end.

“Yes, sir, I did talk (with the Falcons) on Zoom a couple of times, and I talked to them out here,” Pitts said Wednesday. “They were saying that they have interest in me. After today, we’ll get on another Zoom, and they’ll try to learn more about myself. I feel like they are pretty interested.”

Jacksonville, the New York Jets and San Francisco pick in front of the Falcons. They are all projected to take quarterbacks. At No. 4, the Falcons have a shot at taking the No. 1 overall position player.

“It would be a dream come true to even be top five or the first non-quarterback to come off the board,” Pitts said. “That’s something that I look forward to in the draft.”

Pitts finished his career at Florida with 100 catches for 1,492 yards (14.9 average) and 18 touchdowns. He became Florida’s all-time leader for receiving yards by a tight end and ranked second in career receptions at the position.

Back to the unicorn description. Mullen tried to explain.

“If you don’t have one on defense, you’ve got problems,” Mullen said. “If you’re going to put a corner on him, here’s this 6-6, 245-pound guy. ... If you’re going to match a linebacker on him, then he goes and flexes out. The ability to move him around. ... You have this piece that you can move around and create a matchup advantage against most defenses that you play.”

Pitts started his career at Florida working with the receivers and learned how to run routes. He’s a willing blocker when he’s on the line.

“I think his ability to create matchup problems is key,” Mullen said. “I think he’s an elite wide receiver, and I think he’s an elite tight end. When you are that, that’s what causes the problems.”

The Falcons, who have a need along the offensive line and could take Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, would break a few hearts in Miami and Detroit if they take Pitts.

“Me and him (Miami coach Brian Flores) we did talk,” Pitts said. “We talked for a little bit. He said that we’ll get back on the phone this week.”

Pitts doesn’t like comparing himself with NFL tight ends.

“Jimmy Graham, he was one of a kind,” Pitts said. “There are a lot of tight ends like him now. (Kansas City’s) Travis Kelce and (San Francisco’s) George Kittle are being utilized in very different positions.”

Some compare Pitts with former Georgia Tech standout Darren Waller, who’s blossomed with the Raiders over the past two seasons.

“I have watched a lot of Darren Waller film,” Pitts said. “That is someone that I feel like we have similar body structure and similar playing styles. That is someone that I like to take parts of his game and add it (to mine).”

More on that unicorn analogy.

Pitts has a longer wingspan – 83-3/8 inches -- than any wide receiver or tight end in the NFL over the past 20 years.

“With my wingspan, that gives me an advantage versus people, (defensive backs) that maybe have shorter arms,” Pitts said. “That gives me the chance to go up and make a great play.”

While Pitts’ skills as a receiver are elite, his blocking will need some work.

“I would say my weaknesses is hand placement in the run game,” Pitts said. “I try to keep my hands inside to help me out in the run game as well.”

He said that no team has mentioned him playing wide receiver.

“But they have mentioned utilizing me in different areas,” Pitts said. “Not just specifically receiver.”

Pitts believes he could fit in with the Falcons, Dolphins or Lions, who all have established tight ends in Hurst, Mike Gesicki and T.J. Hockenson, respectively. Gesicki has caught more than 50 passes in each of the past two seasons, and Hockenson caught 67 for 723 yards and six touchdowns last season and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

“If I got to play with a great tight end in front of me, it would be great for me being a young kid learning from somebody who’s already been in the spotlight before at that position,” Pitts said.

Teams are not taking a player in the top 10 to be a backup tight end. However, some will play from two-tight-end formations.

“That could cause a lot of problems because you would have two great tight ends who can run routes, block,” Pitts said. “So, that makes it kind of hard for the defense to scheme it up. But when you use two tight ends who can do different things in different areas, that’s something that is kind of difficult for a defense to guard.”

In high school in Philadelphia, Pitts started his career as a quarterback, but he said he wasn’t very good at the position.

“Actually quarterback was never my thing,” Pitts said. “... I ran option occasionally, naked (bootlegs), I was running it. I wasn’t throwing it.”

After consulting with his father, he transferred and moved to tight end.

Then-Temple coach Matt Rhule offered him a scholarship in the 10th grade. Rhule is now the Carolina Panthers’ head coach. Pittsburgh and Penn State started recruiting Pitts, too.

“I started to get national exposure, and that was when I found a love for it around that time,” Pitts said.

When Mullen took over at Florida, Pitts already had committed to the Gators.

“When I turned on the film, I was like holy cow this guy is a dynamic player,” Mullen said. “I started watching him, and he was rushing the passer. I was like holy cow, he can rush the passer. He can do a lot.”

But rushing the passer was not in the plans.

“Here’s this big guy, he might not look like your prototypical tight end just yet,” Mullen said. “But, we can create the matchups with him. What he actually did, his first year, he came in here and played mostly wide receiver as a true freshman.”

Pitts worked on his releases and route-running.

“Then as he put the weight on, he moved into being the most dominant tight end in college football,” Mullen said. “We took the time to let that grow and let that develop.”

Pitts is expected to be the first Florida tight end/receiver selected in the draft. They also have wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes among the draft prospects.

“As a trio, me, Kyle Pitts and K.T., we all made each other better,” Grimes said. “Day-in and day-out. I’m looking forward to see where they go. Blessing to them, and I hope they go as high as they (can).”

So, how does Pitts feel about being called a unicorn.

“I feel like people calling me unicorn is kind of a specialty nickname,” Pitts said. “Being able to do other things that other tight ends can’t, it’s kind of special.”

Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the top nine picks in D. Led’s Mock Draft 3.0:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, (QB, BYU)

3. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)

4. Denver Broncos (trade with Falcons): Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)

6. Miami Dolphins: DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)

7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)

8. Carolina Panthers: Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)

9. Falcons (trade with Broncos): Micah Parsons, (OLB, Penn State)

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