Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ Rob Gronkowski was once a highly touted tight end but ever since then, Kansas City Chiefs Travis Kelce and San Francisco 49ers George Kittle have stolen the spotlight.
But, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know a rising star when he sees one. Gronkowski is super confident that the future is very bright for Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, even after he notched just four receptions for 31 yards in his rookie debut.
“I’ve seen him, and I’ve been hearing a lot about him since he was coming out for the draft. He’s just an athletic freak – he for sure is,” Gronkowski said of Pitts during Wednesday’s press conference, via Sports Illustrated.
“I’ve seen some highlights of him and he can play. It’s just unbelievable – his build, his speed, his size, his route running – the capabilities that he has are just second to none. It’s going to be a fun ride to watch him play ball throughout the years.”
In Gronk’s Week 1 performance, he reeled in eight receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, the two tight ends will collide for a Week 2 showdown in Tampa.
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Pitts Has Time to Prove Himself
As a 6-foot-6, 245-pound TE with the lightning speed of a wide receiver, Pitts was deemed the 2021 draft’s unicorn by his former head coach Dan Mullen, as The Draft Network’s Trevor Sikkema revealed.
In just eight games, Pitts finished the 2020 season reeling in 43 catches for 770 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Now he’ll make the tough leap to the NFL, which many talented tight ends have struggled to do.
It’s rare to see tight ends post All-Pro or Pro Bowl seasons right out of the gate because it normally takes a year to adjust to such a faster-paced game, since they’re tasked with honing their blocking, catching, and route-running skills.
Bucs’ Gronkowski is proof of the tough transition after he was drafted out of the University of Arizona in 2010 and didn’t see his first Pro Bowl or All-Pro year until the following season. During his second season, he had 1,327 receiving yards and broke the previous NFL record for a tight end of 1,310 set by Jimmy Graham of the Saints earlier that same day. He finished the year with 18 total touchdowns, 17 receiving—both NFL records for tight ends. His 18 TDs were the second-highest total in the NFL and his 17 receiving touchdowns were the most of any NFL player that season.
Despite a disappointing Week 1 performance by the entire Falcons squad, Pitts has plenty of ball left to prove himself this season and a lot of people who believe in him.
Smith Plans to Involve Pitts Earlier
Pitts played 49 of the 72 offensive snaps (just 68%) in the Falcons’ 32-6 loss to Philly.
Many wondered why he wasn’t in the game, especially in teams’ first red zone trip.
Head coach Arthur Smith plans to get Pitts and wide receiver Russell Gage going a lot earlier against the Buccaneers this Sunday.
“I have to do a better job of getting (Pitts) and Russ (Gage) into the game early,” Smith said per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Russell Gage, there were some opportunities.”
However, what he doesn’t want, however, is Matt Ryan forcing the ball to either Pitts or Gage.
“Now, you could force some things to somebody in certain ways, but if that’s not the best play, you don’t want to force it to somebody and all of a sudden, it’s second-and-10 right there,” Smith said. “So, like I said, my challenge is to get everybody involved earlier.”
We’ll see if he sticks to the plan.