Ex-Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was a highly touted draft prospect out of the University of Alabama in 2011–––that even the Falcons knew exactly what they were doing when they traded up 21 spots with the Cleveland Browns to get him at No. 6 overall.
And despite a new head coach and general manager this season, Atlanta had sort of the same mindset when they took “unicorn” Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick this year.
But hypothetically speaking, where has Pitts been through the first three weeks of the season? Well, we learned on Monday, Sept. 27 that opposing defenses have been shutting down Pitts left and right (literally).
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Ryan Compared Pitts to Julio Jones
Falcons’ team reporter, Tori McElhaney, asked quarterback Matt Ryan during Wednesday’s press conference if there was “another player whose defenses keyed up this early in their career,” similar to what we’ve seen from defenses against Pitts in the Falcons’ first three weeks.
Ryan made the comparison to Jones.
“Defenses were aware of his skillset,” Ryan said of Jones. “If I think of players who I’ve played with, those would be the two.”
But how could this be since these two players play at different positions? It’s the way that opposing defenses respect Pitts enough to do everything they can to shut him down, according to Ryan.
“He’s (Pitts) warranted respect on the other side of the ball from people,” Ryan said. “That’s one thing that I have noticed early on in the first few weeks, is that there is a plan for him and where he’s at.”
When comparing targets, Pitts’ 17 through the first three games isn’t too far off of Jones’ 21 during the first three weeks of his rookie year.
“The ball finds different guys at different times,” Ryan said. “And sometimes it comes in flurries.”
And Jones is a perfect example of this considering McElhaney noted that Jones was targeted a total of 17 times in his fourth game back in 2011.
The Falcons Want Pitts to Get the Ball More
Pitts admitted after the Falcons win over the Giants that he was double, sometimes even tripled teamed. And head coach Arthur Smith was quick to say that Falcons indeed did want to use Pitts more, but credited New York’s defense for keeping him out of Ryan’s sight.
“Yeah, look, those are surface narratives,” Smith said in Sunday’s post-game press conference. “The defense has a say, too. It’s a game of cat and mouse and sometimes these 1-on-1 progressions, they took it away. He’ll go to other places. We try to get all our guys involved.”
Despite not getting a lot of action, Pitts still came through when the Falcons really needed him to.
“Because he didn’t touch the ball early, doesn’t mean he wasn’t called,” Smith added. “But when you come up and the game’s on the line, they change it up and [Falcons quarterback] Matt [Ryan] found him when we needed to, so I was happy to see that.”
And while fantasy football players are frustrated over the lack of plays the “unicorn” rookie has been making thus far, Pitts seems to pride himself as a distraction that gives his teammates a chance to be the star of the game.
“I don’t get frustrated,” Pitts said. “It’s 10 other people on the field who can contribute and make a play. I know if they are double-teaming me or three people are around me, someone else is open.”