Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, the top position player available in the NFL draft, was selected fourth overall by the Falcons on Thursday night.
It was the first pick of a new era for the team, with new general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith collaborating on the selection.
In Pitts, the Falcons picked another weapon for the offense and quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons elected not to select their quarterback of the future. Pitts became the earliest tight end selected in NFL draft history.
Denver drafted Riley Odoms out of Houston fifth overall in the 1972 draft.
“I’m definitely humbled,” Pitts said on a virtual call after he was drafted. “It’s a dream come true to even get drafted. To be top five, that’s something special. ... I can’t even put it into words how excited I am.”
Ryan welcomed Pitts to the team on social media. “Let’s get to work,” Ryan tweeted at Pitts with the hashtag #RiseUp.
Pitts was asked about joining the Falcons’ offense.
“I know that there (are) a lot of vets and great minds around that team, in that building,” Pitts said. “To learn from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, the list goes on. But to be able to come in and make an impact is something that I want to do.”
Fontenot discussed Pitts on Wednesday before the draft.
“Kyle Pitts, he is a special young player,” Fontenot said. “I would say there are not a lot of players in the draft like this, he’s also a special young man. If you look at his make-up and him being only 20 years old. He is a very talented player.
“We have to evaluate all of these players, and we’ll say what they are, have a vision for what they are and determine when the right time is. We’ll compare them, but there are a lot of good players sitting right there at that spot. We are going to be looking at a lot of talented players.”
Pitts is a special NFL prospect who blends size, speed and graceful athletic ability of a much smaller man. Florida coach Dan Mullen described Pitts as a “unicorn” during the pre-draft process.
In part, that explains why the Falcons heavily scouted Pitts.
“I know I don’t have to tell you, but the Falcons got a DUDE today,” one NFC scout wrote in a text to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Smith attended Florida’s Pro Day and met face to face with Pitts. Smith came up in the NFL coaching tight ends in Tennessee, first under former Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey before Smith took over the offense.
As offensive coordinator, Smith heavily featured the tight ends. Last season, four 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.
“I know that coach Smith does a great job of getting his tight ends freed,” Pitts said. “I’m eager to see how he uses me.”
The Falcons have Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham and traded for blocking tight end Lee Smith this offseason. In Smith’s attack, there is plenty of room for another tight end.
But the elephant is the room is who is going to block for Ryan long enough to give him time to get the ball to Pitts? The Falcons’ offensive line has given up 133 sacks over the past three seasons.
The Falcons could address the interior of the offensive line with their pick in the second round, which is 35th overall, on Friday.
Jacksonville, the New York Jets and San Francisco picked in front of the Falcons. They are took quarterbacks -- Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Zach Wilson (Jets) and Trey Lance (49ers). At No. 4, the Falcons used their shot to take 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 after his Pro Day. “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 have a need along the offensive line and could have taken Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, who went three picks later to Detroit.
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 and North Cobb High 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.
“Blocking-wise, I feel like I will be ready for when the day comes,” Pitts said. “The first day of camp, I’ll be ready.”
He said that no team had 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. Teams are not taking a player in the top 10 to be a backup tight end. However, the Falcons can also play from two-tight-end formations.
Let’s get to work @kylepitts__ #RiseUp https://t.co/4lEgrwOD0K— Matt Ryan (@M_Ryan02) April 30, 2021
Also, the Falcons have to make a decision on whether to pick up Hurst’s fifth-year option.
“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.
AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION NFL DRAFT SERIES
QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs
RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs
WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs
TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs
OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs
OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs
END RUSHERS: Pass on this draft stock | Top 10 DEs
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: One star among lackluster block | Top 10 DTs
LINEBACKERS: Deep class for position | Top 10 LBs
CORNERBACKS: Plethora of options for first two rounds | Top 10 CBs
SAFETIES: Falcons likely will add position player | Top 10 Safeties
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution