The records just keep on coming for Kyle Pitts. One week after breaking the tally set by Tony Gonzalez for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end in Atlanta Falcons history, Pitts established two more marks during Week 17’s 29-15 defeat to the Buffalo Bills.
One of those marks was the first set by a player in Pitts’ position since the 1960s. Meanwhile, the other put Pitts above the all-time leading receiver in Falcons’ franchise history. At least in one category.
Not bad for a rookie still learning his trade.
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Pitts Has Already Surpassed a Falcons’ Legend
There wasn’t much Julio Jones didn’t do during a decade in a Falcons uniform. He made the Pro Bowl seven times and was named All-Pro five years running.
Significantly, Jones laid down a marker and started his dominance early by setting a new franchise record as a rookie in 2011. The Falcons will be happy Pitts has followed suit after his two-catch, 69-yard effort against the Bills made franchise history.
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein provided the details:
The Falcons’ official Twitter account also relayed a highlight from Fox Sports of the spectacular catch that shattered Jones’ record:
Jones, who was traded to the Tennessee Titans during the offseason, had left his record-setting days behind him even before the deal was struck. Pitts has quickly offset the loss of the main weapon on the Falcons’ offense.
The rookie’s production is one reason why some, including Pastor Erik Vance, believe Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith deserve praise for offloading Jones:
However, not everybody is convinced Pitts has been upgrade over Jones. In fact, some see a worrying similarity between the two.
Pitts’ Jones-Like Scoring Woes Continue
He may be setting all kinds of records at an impressive pace, but Pitts isn’t finding the end zone often. The fourth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft has just one touchdown to his credit this season.
That lack of end-zone trips has Bleacher Report’s NFL Associate Editor Ian Kenyon remembering Jones’ own scoring struggles:
Kenyon’s not alone in his criticism. Pro Football Focus analyst Jarad Evans also sees shades of Jones’ weaker points in Pitts’ game:
It’s not easy to pinpoint why Jones struggled so much inside the 20, but the numbers don’t lie. He scored just nine touchdowns over his last two seasons in Atlanta.
Before the 2020 season, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure noted how “Jones has 11 red zone TD catches the past three seasons, which ties him for 11th among all wide receivers. He’s tied for 19th the past three seasons in TD catches, with 17.”
Pitts is already falling foul of the same problem. He’s quickly become the receiver who gets the Falcons in position for other people to score.
It’s an anomaly in the play-calling of offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, who can surely make more use of a 6’6″, 245-pound target with other-worldly athleticism as a mismatch in the red zone.
Perhaps Pitts’ innate flair as a playmaker is the problem. He draws too much attention from defenses without more supplementary talents to take coverage away from him.
It’s something Falcoholic writer Allen Strk believes is an issue for both Pitts and his quarterback:
Not everybody is concerned by Pitts not finding pay dirt with any frequency. Guru Fantasy World creator David J. Gautieri still believes the tight end is a must-have for serious owners:
Honestly, griping about Pitts’ lack of touchdowns is a minor quibble compared to the other numbers he’s putting up. Numbers that have him on the trail of a Hall of Famer.
Pitts Has Hall-of-Fame TE Firmly in His Sights
Jones may be headed to Canton someday, but Mike Ditka has already been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His exploits as a revolutionary tight end included topping 1,000 yards as a rookie for the Chicago Bears in 1961.
It’s taken a while, but Pitts has ensured Ditka finally has some company in the record books, something the Hall was quick to acknowledge and celebrate:
Naturally, the Falcons also hailed Pitts’ remarkable achievement with a video package highlighting some of the best plays from his debut season in the pros:
Pitts is now a mere 59 yards away from breaking Ditka’s record of 1,076 yards. Yes, there’s the disclaimer of Pitts having three more games to do it than Ditka had in ’61, when the league only played 14 games during the regular season.
Context is king, but there’s no denying what Pitts has done this season has been incredible. He’ll be hoping fate doesn’t deal him a cruel blow in pursuit of yet another piece of history.
Pitts left the game against the Bills with a hamstring injury, and Smith was initially unable to provide an update on the player’s status for Week 18, per Tori McElhaney of the team’s official site:
Whether Pitts breaks Ditka’s record or not, he’s already firmly established himself as the focal point of the Atlanta offense. He’s the player opponents must first plan to stop.
As Go Long founder Tyler Dunne put it, Pitts is also the receiver the Falcons should constantly feed with targets:
Instantly earning a place in that select category of go-to receivers is a better indication of Pitts’ talent and value than any records.