The transition from the collegiate level to the NFL for tight ends can be extra challenging, however former Atlanta Falcons great, Tony Gonzalez, has a lot of faith in rookie Kyle Pitts.
“I anticipate him having a better than average rookie year because Matt (Ryan) has that history with good tight ends,” Gonzalez told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Obviously, myself, Austin Hooper, he knows how to get the ball to the tight end. He knows how to draw up a play to get a tight end open, especially utilizing Matt strengths. Where does Matt like to throw the ball?”
As a dual-sport athlete out of Cal Berkley, Gonzalez was a top-ranked tight end heading into the 1997 NFL Draft. The Kansas Chiefs ended up trading up from the 18th to the 13th selection with Tennessee to draft Gonzalez.
“When I first came into the league, people were saying wow, look at the athleticism at the position,” Gonzalez said. “This guy runs a 4.6, 40. He jumps 36, 37 inches. He’s athletic as hell. Then you look at Kyle Pitts, and he’s 6-6, runs a 4.4 and jumps 40 inches. It’s kind of like when Julio Jones came in, it was like ‘oh my God.’ It’s the evolution of the position.”
Gonzalez played 16 games with zero starts and caught 33 passes during his rookie campaign but he believes Pitts will make a much bigger impact.
The Rules Are Different
Gonzalez gave a handful of reasons outside of Pitts’ athletic ability as to why he’s going to pop off in year one. For starters, the NFL rules are different nowadays than when Gonzalez played.
“When I came in you had to block a lot,” Gonzalez said. “It was expected that you had to block that defensive end or that 3-4 linebacker. They don’t have to do much of that blocking anymore.”
He added, “You don’t get hit anymore like you used to get hit. Thank God. The rules are set up for the offense to have a lot more success than it was when I was playing.”
All in all, Gonzalez played 17 seasons in the NFL and was selected to 14 Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro six times. During his first year of eligibility in 2019, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As for Pitts, he has a long way to go. We saw him make a brief debut in the Falcons’ preseason finale where he played just two downs and caught a short pass that turned into a 27-yard gain. But he will have a lot more opportunities to make even bigger plays beginning in Week 1.
“I think Kyle is going to have an outstanding year,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got Calvin Ridley on the other side to take the pressure off because he’ll be the No. 1 option it looks like. He’ll get a lot of one-on-one match ups and when he’s covered, he’s not covered. It’s kind of like when I played there. Matt, the first thing he said, was where do you like the ball. I like it up here. Throw it high. Let me go get that thing.”
Pitts Has Arthur Smith & Justin Peelle Leading Him
Another big reason that Pitts is destined for success is because of who is leading him.
Gonzalez’s former teammate Justin Peelle is Pitts’ position coach. Peelle played nine seasons in the league, including the 2010 season with Gonzalez on the Falcons. He also helped the Falcons clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2004.
“For me Justin Peelle, that makes me happy that he’s going to be in that room with Kyle,” Gonzalez said. “Kyle is in for a great career. I think a big thing that’s really important is how you start your career. Who do you surround yourself with at the beginning kind of sets the tone.
“You learn how to do it the right way from the beginning. You’ve got a guy who’s going to hold you accountable. Justin Peelle will hold Kyle Pitts accountable. There’s going to be no Diva treatment there. It’s going to be like this is how you do it. I’m not here to baby you. You’re going to be better for it. That gives me a lot of confidence that Kyle is going to be great.”
Not to mention that the Falcons’ new head coach Arthur Smith was a tight ends coach for several seasons before moving up in the ranks.
“Then Arthur Smith is a play-calling guru,” Gonzalez said. “I love the way he came in and established himself right away, making an unpopular decision in trading away Julio Jones. I think he’s a guy, who’s going to do it his way. He’s going to go out there and have great success.”
Of course, Pitts’s mindset is going to take him the furthest.
“It’s about being the best player you can be,” Gonzalez said. “If he has that attitude, the sky is the limit for him. He’ll be one of the best tight ends in the NFL in a short amount of time.”