Know who led the NFL in passer rating in 2019? Ryan Tannehill of Tennessee did, as tutored by A. Smith. We’ve written this before, but it’s entirely possible that the new coach has said to Terry Fontenot, the new general manager: “Give me two years with Matt Ryan before we worry about his replacement.” If that’s the case, there’s no reason to spend the No. 4 pick – and the millions that go with it – for a player who, assuming Ryan stays healthy, won’t see serious action until 2023, if then.
But would the Falcons dare to invest in a tight end at No. 4? If they stay put, the field should be clear for any non-quarterback on the board, given that the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers, holders of Picks 1-3, have indicated they’re in the QB market. No designated tight end has gone higher than No. 5 overall, unless you count Ron Kramer, taken No. 4 by Green Bay in 1957, though his position was listed simply as “end.” (He also played defensive end at Michigan. Those were the days.)
Having an All-Pro tight end has become a calling card of Super Bowl champs. Your past four champions and their TEs: Eagles, Zach Ertz; Patriots, Rob Gronkowski; Chiefs, Travis Kelce; Buccaneers, Gronk again. Let’s not forget George Kittle, whose 49ers lost to Kelce’s Chiefs. Now here’s Pitts, whom ESPN’s Mel Kiper has anointed “my highest-graded tight end EVER.”
We have no idea how the Smith/Fontenot tandem will treat the draft, seeing as how neither has run one before. Would they see two/three defenders as a greater haul than one tight end, even if that tight end could become one of the best in the business? Would they dare to sink even more money into a payroll that skews to offense? (Most payrolls do, FYI.)
Would the arrival of Pitts reinvigorate Ryan, who still fits the definition of Franchise Quarterback? Was that the thought in redoing Ryan’s contract and moving the bigger salary-cap hit to next season? (This year’s is now $26.9 million; next year’s is $48.6 million.) That adjustment was an indication that the Falcons are in no hurry to move beyond Ryan, which leads us to the next question: Do they spend a No. 4 pick to strengthen a strength – Hayden Hurst isn’t awful – or to patch a flaw?
Thomas Dimitroff’s 13 years as GM were devoted to bolstering Ryan. That’s not a criticism: Every team builds around its quarterback. Under Smith/Fontenot, the Falcons might choose the same course, either by taking Oregon tackle Penei Sewell to block or Pitts to lend the Falcons a size/speed dimension not many teams have had. That would again put a defensive upgrade on the back burner, but Pitts just ran a 4.44 40. He’s a burner himself.