Welcome back to my annual attempt to build excitement for the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, if you follow Club Fantasy, you probably know by now that I’m our resident Falcons fan. As the great Charles MacDonald says, “They’re my favorite team, and I hate them.” I’ve moved beyond hope for this team. I’m in it for the vibes now, of which there were none last year for fantasy managers of the Dirty Birds.
It also happens to be the one-year anniversary of my first article with Club Fantasy. Yes, 364 days ago, I tried to convince you why Kyle Pitts was worth the hype. So you may be wondering why I decided to talk about him again. Am I unwilling to admit defeat? Do I just like pain?
Consider this a retrospective on my 2022 Kyle Pitts take. I have reread my article from last year to understand where I went wrong and done some research to figure out what to expect this season from the former fourth-overall pick. It boils down to two primary points.
First, last year I assumed his trajectory would be linear. Second, I failed to recognize the context surrounding him. In particular, I did not pay enough attention to Marcus Mariota.
Kyle Pitts 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
Tight End is Hard
Kyle Pitts’ rookie season was historical. He broke Mike Ditka’s receiving yard record for a rookie tight end. Ditka entered the league in 1961, so his record held for 60 years. (Side note, Ditka’s record is all the more impressive when you realize that the NFL did not become a passing league until this century).
There’s a reason that record stood for 60 years. Not even the likes of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Jimmy Graham, and Rob Gronkowski broke it. Being an NFL tight end is hard. We typically expect tight ends to take three to five years to develop in the NFL (as did Kelce). This is also why I’m not drafting Dalton Kincaid as the 11th tight end overall on Underdog, but I digress.
So when Kyle Pitts bucked the trend and had a fire rookie season, I shouldn’t have assumed that would immediately continue, particularly with a change at quarterback from pocket passer Matt Ryan to dual-threat Marcus Mariota. Further, no one could have predicted the extreme shift away from the pass led by Arthur Smith.
So ya, last year was a down season for Kyle Pitts. However, I learned my lesson that I should challenge my prior assumptions and think about how things could go wrong. And while there’s a chance 2022 could be more of the same, there’s been a quarterback change that could be huge for Pitts’ fantasy prospects.
Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by Marcus Mariota—Shout-out to Mean Girls.
Everyone came after Arthur Smith last season for not scheming the offense to utilize Kyle Pitts, but if we’re pointing fingers, they should be at Mariota. Again, I’m not here to slam players, but the differences between Mariota and Desmond Ridder are notable.
Let’s first look at on-target rates for both quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Reference, Mariota had a 22.5% bad pass rate, compared to only 18.2% for Ridder. Now, when you look at the raw numbers, you’ll find that they both averaged five bad passes per game. How is that?
Because the Atlanta Falcons passed the ball more with Desmond Ridder under center. Yes, in 13 games with Mariota, Atlanta averaged 23.1 pass attempts per game. That number increased to 28.8 pass attempts per game in four games with Ridder. That may only sound like 5.7 more passes per game (because it is), but that would result in 96 more pass attempts over a 17-game season. That’s nearly a 25% increase in passing volume!
Atlanta Falcons pass attempts per game in 2022:
Wks 1-13 with Marcus Mariota – 23.1
Wks 14-17 with Desmond Ridder – 28.8
Ridder was on pace for nearly 100 more pass attempts over a 17 game stretch
— Austin Amandolia (@Austin_FFL) June 3, 2023
Projecting Kyle Pitts
Let’s take that pass volume from Desmond Ridder and map it onto Kyle Pitts’ 2022 season. Pitts ended the season with a 47.5% catch rate and a 27.9% target share. He also averaged 6.1 yards per target. If Pitts had played a full 17-game season and maintained those stat lines with Ridder’s passing volume, Pitts would have ended with 65 catches on 136 targets, 838 yards, and five touchdowns. That would have resulted in 178.8 PPR points, landing him as the TE2 overall.
Now, let’s revert to Pitts’ 2021 catch rate of 61.8% and 9.3 yards per target. We’ll keep his TD rate the same because one TD is highly unlikely. This would increase him to 84 catches, 1,273 yards, and still five touchdowns. That would put him at 241.3 PPR points, within range of 2022 Travis Kelce and just behind 2021 Mark Andrews.
What if we are more conservative and say Pitts has a 25% target share? With his 2021 performance, he would still end with 214 PPR points, or 12.6 points per game, which I will more than accept from the tight end position.
Then, let’s imagine a ceiling outcome where Atlanta passes the ball 500 times, Pitts has a 30% target share, and catches eight touchdowns. That would result in a 93-catch, 1,400-yard season. This would lead to 281 PPR points and 16.5 PPG.
Now, a 20% to 25% target share is much more likely, but that would still land him between 10 and 14 points per game, even if he scored only four touchdowns.
The point is Kyle Pitts has a safer floor with Desmond Ridder under center, and his ceiling is the TE1. On Underdog, he is currently going as the TE5 in round six by ADP. Compare that to Travis Kelce, whose ADP is the sixth overall pick. If I told you that you could draft Cooper Kupp over Kelce and still potentially get the 2023 TE1, would you take that opportunity?
Last season was an anomaly for Kyle Pitts. It’s time to draft him at a value and keep the faith in the former fourth-overall pick.
A Look Inside the Atlanta Falcons
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Austin focused on Kyle Pitts in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Falcons by Ryan Weisse.
My relationship with Ridder has been complicated. I really liked what I saw from him coming out of college, but people smarter than me said he was #NotGood. His rookie year did little to help his case, averaging just 10.7 fantasy points per game in 6-PT scoring. That is, in fact, #NotGood. He only threw two TDs, but no INTs, and ran the ball pretty well. He’ll start the year with Drake London, Bijan Robinson, and, of course, Kyle Pitts. He has some sleeper potential in 2-QB leagues, but it is still firmly off the radar in single-QB drafts.
When it comes to rookies, I rely heavily on other’s people’s work. Again, people smarter than me LOVE Bijan Robinson. And I LOVE the landing spot. No team in the NFL ran more than Atlanta last year, and they ran it well. That was with Marcus Mariota, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Bijan Robinson is an upgrade to all three. Yes, I firmly believe he is probably a better QB than Mariota. Robinson will be a top-5 pick in fantasy drafts this year. His comps are Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. They were both the overall RB2 in their rookie seasons. Bijan Robinson is worth the risk.
Read above. He dead.
Considering how run-heavy the Falcons were and how bad their QB play was, London’s WR31 finish as a rookie looks far more impressive. His 12 yards per catch were as advertised, and he scored four of the team’s 17 passing TDs. In fact, he was responsible for 28% of the team’s receptions, 29% of the team’s passing yards, and 23% of their receiving TDs. Of course, his ceiling is capped until we see improvement at QB, but his floor as the team’s only option at WR is pretty damn safe.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.