Kyle Pitts Can Become Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones Replacement

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 20, 2021

FILE - Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) tires to get past Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine (16) after a reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., in this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, file photo. Kyle Pitts is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the NFL draft, a versatile tight end who will try to impress league executives in person during Florida's pro day Wednesday, March 31, 2021.  (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Julio Jones, 32, remains the standard-bearer for all wide receivers because he's physically different and is capable of taking over a game at a moment's notice. 

After years of watching Jones record premium production, the Atlanta Falcons can transition to yet another potential standard-bearer at another position. 

Florida's Kyle Pitts, 20, is different than any tight end prospect in recent memory. It's even unfair to designate him as a tight end when he should be viewed as the top offensive weapon in this year's draft class. 

Because of Pitts' enormous talent, the Falcons have a potentially franchise-changing decision with the fourth overall draft pick. 

Atlanta has spent a significant amount of time evaluating this year's quarterbacks, as it should. But the approach is more than just due diligence.

On Monday, the Falcons sent quarterbacks coach Charles London and scouting director Dwaune Jones to Trey Lance's second throwing session after general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith attended the first, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. A Falcons contingent made an appearance at Justin Fields' second pro day as well, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer

Atlanta should be in the quarterback market. Matt Ryan turns 36 next month, and the veteran has salary-cap charges exceeding $43 million in 2022 and '23. Plus, Smith's hire this offseason doesn't guarantee the longtime starter will return to an MVP-level performance. 

NBC Sports' Peter King reported he's hearing "owner Arthur Blank is fascinated by the quarterbacks atop the draft." The time is right for the Falcons to make a bold move and select the next face of the franchise if they are enamored with a specific prospect.      

If not, King added that Blank won't "force a decision."

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Atlanta isn't in an all-or-nothing scenario. The team is sitting at what will become the unofficial start to the 2020 draft in Cleveland. The first three picks are all but guaranteed to be quarterback prospects. The first real uncertainty—beyond which QB the San Francisco 49ers actually want—begins at No. 4. 

Nothing is off the table. Atlanta could take a quarterback, trade down or sit in a prime position to take who it believes is the best position player. The final option appears to grow more likely with each passing day.

Breer discussed the possibility of Atlanta selecting Pitts:  

"One, the asking price for a team to get up to No. 4 is high, as you'd expect it would be after what the Dolphins got for the third pick. Two, it's been pointed out by a few people how the Matt Ryan contract restructure makes it more difficult for the Falcons to move on from him not just this year, but next year too—and how if they were looking to set up a quarterback transition, they'd be more likely to take their cap medicine now."

Once those two possibilities are laid out, the choice becomes obvious. 

Atlanta already has two first-round offensive tackles in Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary. Wide receiver isn't a need with Jones and Calvin Ridley already on the roster. Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Alabama's DeVonta Smith are wonderful talents but don't necessarily make sense. Meanwhile, no defensive player is counted among this year's top five or six prospects. 

Besides, an argument can easily be made that Pitts is the best non-quarterback prospect in the class. 

"Best I've seen since Kellen Winslow out of Missouri. Such a fluid guy," Pro Football Hall of Fame evaluator and NFL.com contributor Gil Brandt told King. "The size and speed will be a huge matchup problem in the NFL."

Think about what Brandt said for a moment. For context, he started as a full-time scout in 1958. He helped shape one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history with the Dallas Cowboys. His impact through the scouting community can't be adequately described. And he hasn't seen a tight end prospect quite like Pitts since Kellen Winslow Sr. entered the league 42 years ago. 

To put that into perspective, a significant portion of the NFL's fanbase has never seen a tight end prospect of this magnitude.  

The aura around Jones' selection wasn't quite the same because the NFL already had its unicorn at wide receiver in Calvin Johnson. Even so, Johnson may be the only prospect to supersede Jones in regard to the wow factor. 

Danny Karnik/Associated Press

Jones is 6'3" and a sculpted 220 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms, a 42-inch vertical and a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He's one of the most physically gifted individuals to ever play the game. His performance reflects his talent level. He's recorded 1,100 or more receiving yards in every campaign he played 15 or more games. 

Like Ryan, Jones is aging and has a significant salary-cap hit. His charges exceed $19.2 million in each of the next three seasons. Six months ago, some around the league wondered if the wide receiver would be shopped during the trade deadline, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler. Those thoughts start for a reason. 

Adding to the uncertainty, the Falcons' all-time leading receiver missed seven games in 2020 because of injury. Eventually, his body will start breaking down.  

Instead of waiting for that to happen, Atlanta can be proactive. 

Pitts would bring a similar presence to the lineup. He's a 6'6", 245-pound target and ran an unofficial 4.4-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. 

"I would just say probably a hybrid-type thing," Pitts told NBC Sports' Brother from Another when asked about how he fits in today's game. "You know, being able to do everything on the field, being able to be in-line, hipped off, backside, playing receiver, in the bunch, outside. So just hybrid means just everybody, everywhere." 

John Raoux/Associated Press

Pitts can do it all. He can plan in-line and not become a liability like other pass-catching tight ends in the past. He's at his best working from the slot or even as the lone receiver to one side. Defensive backs don't have the size to match up with him, and linebackers can't move as he does. He's nightmare fuel for opposing defensive coordinators. 

Eventually, the reigning John Mackey Award winner can become the focal point of a team's passing attack, much like the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce and San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle already are. But a different type of opportunity exists in Atlanta. 

In the short term, a duo featuring Jones and Pitts would be absolutely unguardable. Throw Ridley into the mix, and Ryan could experience a career season thanks to an embarrassment of riches. 

Eventually, Jones would give way to Pitts as the game's greatest mismatch. The Falcons will then be prepared for the franchise's next starting quarterback because the offense will already have its next go-to target. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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