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This is the second edition of my new article series titled, “Dynasty Breakdowns.” If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of dynasty football, I went more into detail in the first article of the series on Javonte Williams. This article will attempt to reach the same goal, describing Kyle Pitts’ value in the current dynasty landscape as well as determining if it’s worth holding onto/acquiring him.
Kyle Pitts, a generational tight end talent from the University of Florida, was selected 4th overall by the Falcons in the 2021 draft; this is the highest a tight end has ever been drafted into the league. Due to his incredible size, talent, and athleticism, many saw it more valuable to utilize Pitts as a wide receiver. Regardless of which position he was classified as, teams wanted him and his seemingly unlimited potential. This NFL draft hype translated to dynasty draft hype as the community wasted no time to label him as the TE 1. Over the course of his first two seasons, Pitts has averaged 9.34 PPR points in 27 games. Although this is definitely serviceable, it’s not nearly the level of production dynasty owners had hoped for when taking Pitts at his ADP of 2.6 in 2021 rookie drafts. Despite Pitts’ lack of production in his first two seasons, the dynasty community still has him ranked as the TE 1.
Graphs courtesy of KeepTradeCut
While his ranking among other tight ends has fluctuated very little, his dynasty value has taken a major hit, more accurately reflecting his true desirability.
Tight End Production
In order to assess the tight ends, let’s take a look at the current state of the position. The graph below shows the yearly fantasy points per game (FPPG) of 2022’s top 10 tight ends (PPR) as well as Kyle Pitts.
A couple of quick notes: Kelce didn’t record any points (nor snaps) in his first season; I’ve labeled him as 125 just to better represent his rank. I’ve also purposely excluded Taysom Hill (10th) because he frequently plays other positions outside of tight end making his fantasy production much different from other players at the position; also, I hate Taysom Hill (Kamara should’ve had seven touchdowns on Christmas Day, 2020). Getting back to the main point, there seems to be a visible trend of tight ends beginning their career poorly and, over time, climbing the ranks to their current position as a top tight end. Pitts finished in his rookie season as the TE 6, while falling in his second season to TE 33. Of course, Pitts’ MCL tear was a major reason for his lack of overall fantasy points, but his FPPG also took a major hit, falling from 10.39 in 2021 to 7.56 in 2022. This is an outlier among the other tight ends shown, none of whom finished anywhere near top five in their rookie campaign except for Evan Engram (5).
Why do Tight Ends Lack Production at the Beginning of their Careers?
The responsibilities and roles of a tight end, as we are constantly reminded by Charles Davis when playing Madden, have changed drastically in recent years. In the past, tight ends were mainly utilized as a sixth lineman, rarely running routes. This background information led me to question the variation in the utilization of tight ends on a per-snap basis. The graph below shows the percentage of snaps the same eleven tight ends ran routes on each year.
Many of the tight ends depicted in the graph above were drafted for their blocking abilities to help in the rush game. This is especially true for day-three picks such as Dalton Schultz, Tyler Higbee, and George Kittle, for whom the graphs correlate very closely. Over time, teams found it more advantageous to use tight ends for their superior size as receivers, translating to more routes run. However, Kyle Pitts wasn’t drafted at fourth overall to be a pass-blocker; rather, he was drafted to be a play-making franchise cornerstone to build the offense around. His rookie finish as the TE 6 and near-70% of snaps running routes is much more reflective of his high draft stock than his poor totals in each of the categories in year two. Therefore, the question presents itself: ‘What changed for Kyle Pitts from 2021 to 2022?’
His quarterbacking situation changed substantially, transitioning from 13-year Falcons veteran, Matt Ryan, to the much younger and less acclimated Marcus Mariota. On many different scales for measuring quarterback passing efficiency such as earned points added (EPA)/pass and yards/pass, 2021 Ryan and 2022 Mariota line up pretty close. Though as will be discussed later in the article, the offensive play-calling had to change in order to accommodate Mariota’s style of play, completely changing the offense. Regardless of the stats, the Falcons have seemingly seen enough of Mariota, cutting him this past Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons look to move forward with Desmond Ridder or opt to select another quarterback in the upcoming draft (or give Feleipe Franks a chance for all of you true football fans).
In a late November matchup against the Bears, Kyle Pitts suffered a grade three MCL tear. According to UCSF Health, it generally takes around four-to-eight weeks to recover from the injury. It doesn’t seem like the injury is too severe and Pitts will have had ample time to recover from surgery by the start of the 2023 season.
The Falcons went right back to the pool of offensive skill-position players in the first round of the 2022 draft, taking USC receiver Drake London with the eighth overall pick. Although it was expected that London would take away targets, his addition was also seen to be a positive for Pitts, adding another weapon to keep drives alive longer and open up scoring opportunities. London commanded a massive 29.4% target share, fifth-highest among wide receivers in the league. Pitts actually had an increase in target share with the addition of Drake London, taking on 27.3% of the Falcons’ targets. This was second-highest among tight ends and a 7% increase from 2021.
Although London and Pitts both retained extremely high target shares, neither of them were too impactful for fantasy. This is because the Falcons seemingly abandoned the pass in 2022. In 2021, the Falcons passed the ball 60.93% of the time, eighth in the league. In 2022, this number dropped down to 44.71%, 31st in the league. Before this season, the Falcons had not passed below 57% of the time in the last decade.
What do these Differences Mean for the Future?
As far as quarterbacks go, we won’t truly know how the situation will pan out until after free agency begins and the draft is completed. Falcons general manager, Terry Fontenot, has expressed satisfaction and optimism of Desmond Ridder’s play in the back half of the season, with the intent to bring in another quarterback in the offseason. We haven’t seen a whole lot of Ridder and Pitts playing together outside of any preseason work; in four games with Ridder at quarterback, Drake London averaged nine targets and 13.58 FPPG. This may be a good sign for the fantasy futures of Falcons receivers if Ridder ends up with the starting job. Light rumors of the Falcons potentially cashing in as the winners of the Lamar Jackson sweepstakes have also surfaced. It’s hard not to imagine Jackson would have a similar chemistry with Pitts as he did with Mark Andrews in Baltimore. As mentioned before, Pitts’ injury doesn’t seem to be too detrimental to his future, and he should be healthy and ready to play by week one. Drake London joining the team did not have a negative impact on Pitts’ target share, and therefore, I do not see it as an issue for the future. Finally, I do not see the 2022 changes in play-calling sticking for the long-term. The Falcons have always been a pass-first team and have made the passing game a major part of their culture. A team doesn’t draft two incredible receivers like Pitts and London to focus its offense around the run. I perceive the massive change in play-calling as an attempt to ease Marcus Mariota into the new system while adjusting for his mobile style of quarterbacking. We could see similar play-calling in the short-term future as an attempt to accomplish the same goal with Desmond Ridder or an offseason quarterback acquisition, but I do not see this continuing in the long-term once the Falcons have established their QB room.
Buy or Sell?
I’m buying Kyle Pitts wherever I can. Much of his loss in value this past season was a result of temporary issues separate from his talents and abilities. He is a player whose value will vary greatly among different leagues. In some cases, owners may continue to hold onto him with a death-grip, trusting in his talent and potential. Oppositely, some owners may be petrified of losing anymore value on their already failing investment. He’s currently going for the equivalent of pick 1.04 in 2023 rookie drafts, but this may be much less depending on your league. It never hurts to check in with your league’s Pitts owner and throw out a couple of offers. His recent fantasy struggles, uncertainty at quarterback, and injury scare may be enough to grab him at a major discount.
Check out other Dynasty Breakdowns here!