Kyle Pitts was quickly one of the biggest names coming through the 2021 NFL draft. After an excellent college career, he emerged as a generational prospect at tight end. But by the end of his first season, the fantasy football narrative around him could be boiled down to the number “1”.
No, not the TE1. One touchdown. Yes, Kyle Pitts ended the 2021 season with only one receiving touchdown to his name. Typically in fantasy football, tight ends rely on touchdowns to be relevant. So unless you are riding with one of the big three, you often pray on Sunday for one measly touchdown from whichever tight end you took a dart throw on for the week.
Will Pitts take the big step forward into the endzone and elite fantasy TE status in 2022? The Falcons and their fans certainly hope so…he’s all we have! So let’s look at Kyle Pitts and his fantasy football value in 2022.
A Look Back
To look forward on Kyle Pitts, we must look back on other elite tight ends. Let’s go back to 2010 when two big-name tight ends entered the league. That year was Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham’s rookie season. By the end of the year, Gronkowski finished as TE11 and Graham as the TE27. Both benefited from an absurd amount of touchdowns as rookies, with Gronk recording ten and Graham adding five. However, in terms of receiving, they combined for 902 yards, fewer than Pitts alone in his rookie season.
Fast forward one season later, and they were the top two tight ends in fantasy football. They combined for over 2,600 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2011. The gap from Graham, at TE2, to the third-place TE was 80 fantasy points. That was more significant than the gap between TE3 and TE18. However, that level of a jump from a tight end is not typical.
Take Travis Kelce, who entered the league in 2013, but didn’t play until 2014. That season, Kelce finished as TE6, with similar numbers as Kyle Pitts in 2021, although with more touchdowns. Kelce followed with a TE8 finish in 2015, finishing with nearly 900 yards and five touchdowns. It wasn’t until 2016 that Kelce took over the TE1 spot; even then, he only finished with 230 PPR points, just 40 more than his previous season.
Kelce did not reach the Gronk/Graham height until 2018, when he finished his third consecutive season as the TE1. This time he scored an elite 290 fantasy points. In short, it took Kelce five seasons to hit the heights we’ve come to expect from him.
Lastly, George Kittle lacked any fantasy relevance during his rookie season, finishing TE19 in 2017 with just over 500 yards and two touchdowns. However, by 2018, Kittle was solidly in the Top 3, recording nearly 1,400 yards on 88 targets.
Rookie tight ends rarely have elite seasons. And yet Kyle Pitts managed a top-6 performance in 2021, hitting a level of receiving yards not seen since Mike Ditka. So while the Falcons’ offense will be bad this year (and yes, I can say that because I’m a Falcons fan), that should be no matter for Pitts, who will continue to be a primary target in that offense.
A Look Forward
The narrative on Kyle Pitts in 2021 was, at times, overly pessimistic. But, as often happens with rookies, expectations were through the roof with Pitts, with some analysts predicting an immediate top three season. And while that didn’t pan out, Pitts nevertheless ended as TE6 on the season, recording a 1,000-yard season on 68 receptions.
We shouldn’t disparage Pitts’ rookie season because of the lack of touchdowns. Touchdowns can be an incredibly random aspect of football, and if Pitts had recorded the same number of touchdowns as the Top 5 TE average of seven, he would have ended his first season as the third-best tight end in fantasy football.
Pitts still managed to break Mike Ditka’s record for the most receptions by a rookie tight end and Julio Jones’ record for the most receiving yards by a Falcons rookie. Pitts managed a historic rookie season for a player who entered the league with out-of-this-world expectations and only has room to grow.
While the Gronk/Graham jump may be something we rarely see from second-year tight ends, it’s incredibly reasonable to assume Pitts manages an 80-catch 1,200-yard season with six touchdowns. Under that scenario, Pitts would finish the season with 237 fantasy points, nearly 14 points per game. That is plenty to warrant elite tight end status.
Fantasy managers should feel comfortable taking Pitts within the first five rounds in redraft leagues and in the first three rounds in tight-end premium leagues. For dynasty leagues, consider sending a trade offer to any managers who are low on Pitts. His value is only going to rise from here.
A Look Inside the Atlanta Falcons
Editor’s Note: While we asked our writers to focus on one player, we don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Austin focuses on Kyle Pitts in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the rest of the Falcons, prepared by either Josh Hudson or Ryan Weisse
Marcus Mariota: The Falcons will be a different team in 2022, starting at the QB position. For the first time in 14 years, someone other than Matt Ryan will be taking the QB1 snaps. To start the season, that will be Marcus Mariota. After two seasons backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas, Mariota takes a starting role in Atlanta. He will run the ball far more than Ryan did, which will provide a nice fantasy floor but could hurt some other playmakers on this offense. Also, there is no way he starts all 17 games. -Ryan Weisse
Desmond Ridder: Mariota will undoubtedly lose a few starts to the 3rd-Round rookie QB, but Ridder is unlikely to win the job on day 1. Ridder was my favorite QB in this draft class, but the Falcons, and every other team, let him slip to day 2 of the draft. That does not inspire confidence. For fantasy purposes: Ridder will sling the ball, which is excellent for Drake London and Kyle Pitts. He also has solid mobility, which is great for fantasy upside. You cannot draft him, but he may be worth a waiver stash when Mariota starts to struggle. -Ryan Weisse
Cordarrelle Patterson: Expecting a repeat of last year would be foolhardy but pay no attention to those saying he will be a bust. Patterson is probably the best TD scorer on this team. This year, he will be RB eligible while playing more WR. Targets are far more valuable to fantasy running backs than carries. About 2.5 times more valuable, to be precise, and Patterson could easily match, maybe even outpace his 69 targets from last season. He may not be a top-10 RB again, but top-24 is still likely. -Ryan Weisse
Tyler Allgeier: The team added Damien Williams in free agency but also spent a 5th-Round pick on Allgeier. With 138 carries vacated by Mike Davis, there is some .but not a lot of, work to go around. Williams is not the picture of health, and by season’s end, Allgeier should be the 1B back to Patterson. That could bring some fantasy upside. He’s another player you cannot draft but should monitor on waivers. -Ryan Weisse
Drake London: Heading into the draft, London was my favorite rookie wide receiver. This was partly due to him reminding me of one of my current favorite WRs, Mike Evans. London isn’t quite as big as Evans but comps well in speed and other measurables. He also doesn’t have Tom Brady throwing him the ball, so don’t expect immediate WR1 production. However, putting it bluntly, London is all the Falcons have at WR. He could easily see over 100 targets and don’t be surprised if he is the best of the rookie WRs in 2022. -Ryan Weisse
Bryan Edwards: With Calvin Ridley suspended, the Falcons cupboard was bare at WR. In May, they traded for former Raiders 3rd-Round pick Bryan Edwards. Edwards is familiar with Marcus Mariota and should win the 2nd outside-WR job opposite London. He will likely be 5th in the pecking order, behind Pitts, London, whoever plays the slot, and Patterson. However, the Falcons will be playing from behind A LOT, and Edwards could have some decent games. He is more of a best-ball dart throw than someone you’re looking for in redraft. He could end up as an interesting waiver add later in the season. -Ryan Weisse
We hope you enjoyed our look at Kyle Pitts for fantasy football this season. You can find all of our A Look Inside articles here!
If you’re prepping for your dynasty drafts, you can also find our rookie consensus rankings here if you’re preparing for your dynasty drafts!