Who-lio Jones? That’s what I say. Yes, bitter Falcons fan here. As most of you know by now the greatest WR in Falcon’s franchise history, (future Hall of Famer) Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones Jr., has departed for the Tennessee Titans. I have mixed emotions about this admittedly. I mean, I still plan to get both him and QB Ryan Tannehill on at least one of my fantasy teams this upcoming season along with Mr. Arthur Juan Brown (A.J. Brown for those of you who aren’t into this cool thing called Google). I still desire to win my fantasy championship(s), but the sting of watching Julio run routes and come out on third down to check his toe with a different team will still stay with me for many years. Did I mention I was bitter?
Nonetheless, all is not lost. I mean, we just paid some young 20-year-old stud enough guaranteed money that it’s the highest in the NFL for TEs. How much you ask? $32.9 million with $21 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo. He was also the highest-drafted TE in NFL history, taken as the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s 6’6″ and weighs over 240 lbs. while also running a 4.44 40 yard dash. At least that’s what his Wikipedia profile says anyway, I’ve never actually met the kid. So far though he sounds amazing and the perfect replacement for Julio Jones. “BUT, JULIO IS A WR” you yell adamantly in your stubborn tone of traditional football. And this fella is clearly billed as a TE. Well, allow me to introduce you to this studly young lad. His name is Kyle Pitts. And one thing you must know, he’s not actually a TE…..
Did I mention that I’m also a Georgia Bulldogs fan? (not a bitter one, at least not yet, although maybe I should be). I’m a sworn nemesis of the Florida Gators which until April 29th also included Kyle Pitts. While I’m elated to have him as a Falcon, Pitts lined up opposite my UGA Bulldogs for 3 seasons in college. All he did in that time was catch 100 passes for almost 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns. Not that impressive right? Did I also mention that in one of those seasons he only played 3 games in which he only caught 3 passes for 73 yards and one touchdown? Do you still think he’s just a TE? My Bulldogs certainly didn’t think so when he went 6 receptions, 137 yards, and a TD against them the past 2 games.
“Well, that was college but with the Falcons he’ll definitely be playing TE” is what you’re saying to yourself anyway as I’m slowly but surely convincing you that the newest weapon for the Atlanta Falcons may not be a TE. So with that, please allow me to introduce you to the actual starting TE for my Atlanta Falcons, Hayden Hurst. See as most people haven’t actually watched the Falcons since their heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs (and yes that’s as far back as I’m going), they have had pretty decent TE play over the past few seasons.
Austin Hooper was a Pro Bowler just 2 seasons ago (now with the Cleveland Browns) and Hurst filled in well as his replacement. Hurst, acquired in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens, recorded 56 receptions for 571 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 3 seasons Hurst has long plays of 32 yards (2018), 61 yards (2019), and 42 yards (2020) which shows he has big-play potential in his own right. The Falcons didn’t draft to replace Hurst, who should be even better in Arthur Smith’s 12 personnel offense. They didn’t pick up his 5th-year option but that was a combination of a new regime and uncertainty around the salary cap situation. But Hurst, a former 1st round pick (25th overall), is a TE. Kyle Pitts is not.
What Kyle Pitts is, is a generational talent. Kyle Pitts is a freak of nature and a Defensive Coordinator’s worst nightmare. Kyle Pitts is a mismatch wherever he’s lined up on the football field. He’s too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. And please understand that they didn’t bring him here to block. The Falcons traded with the Buffalo Bills this offseason to get TE Lee Smith. Smith is 6’6″ 265 lbs. and you know what he does well? Block! And you don’t trade for a guy you don’t plan to use. You also don’t draft a guy 4th overall to have him block for Mike Davis (no offense to Mike).
Who’s the odd man out in this new look Falcons offense then? Well, it could be several guys but none of them are named Kyle Pitts. Mike Davis isn’t exactly Derrick Henry and shouldn’t be featured as heavily in the Falcons offense as Henry was with Tennessee under Smith. He could get more passing work to keep defenses honest but he was signed to be just good enough. He’s not a feature back at this stage of his career, not in the traditional sense anyway. And while I made a very compelling argument for Hayden Hurst earlier you shouldn’t expect him to suddenly become Tony Gonzalez either. But if I had to pick someone and put money on them, my bet would be Russell Gage. While Gage filled in nicely last season, most of his production came from the slot. My guess is that Kyle Pitts lines up there more often pushing Gage to the outside where he won’t benefit nearly as much. Did I just call Kyle Pitts the Falcon’s new slot receiver? Well, I certainly didn’t call him a TE.
Don’t misunderstand me though. Kyle Pitts is still a rookie, under a rookie head coach, with a declining QB and there will be some learning curve. I’m not saying he’s going to shatter records and let’s pump the breaks on the HOF talk for at least another decade. I am simply stating, for the purposes of fantasy football, please don’t project him as a TE. That’s where you’ll have to play him in traditional fantasy leagues but it’s kind of a cheat code as I feel he’ll likely produce WR2 numbers (albeit inconsistent). Think Taysom Hill 2.0 if you will. I think that fits appropriately because just like Hill, he’s not a TE. Have I said that yet?