FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – For a play, at least, the reason Kyle Pitts was lauded as a potential tight end of a generation appeared. A third down deep in Atlanta territory and lined up in the slot, Pitts took off.
He broke for the middle of the field on a slant route. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball and it looked to be behind Pitts. Not a problem. Pitts, mid-stride, had already beaten his defender and reached back one-handed. He grabbed the ball as he turned upfield for a 24-yard gain.
It extended a drive and gave a glimpse into what Pitts is capable of.
“It’s kind of like instinct,” Pitts said. “Just trying to make a play on the ball and when the ball comes my way, make something of it.”
The instincts are starting to take over. Pitts has played 98 snaps in two games. He has run 68 routes and been targeted 14 times. He has caught passes on 13.2% of his routes run: nine receptions for 104 yards.
The Falcons have also moved Pitts around, which was the plan. He has run his most routes out of the slot on the right side (17), where he has been targeted three times for two receptions. In the slot to the left, he has run 10 routes and been targeted four times, with two catches.
He has run 11 routes when lined up as a receiver to the right, with three targets and two catches. He has run nine routes lined up as a receiver to the left, with one catch on one target.
In-line to the left he has run nine routes as well, with two targets and one reception. In-line on the right side, Pitts has run 12 routes, with one target and one reception.
“Learning multiple positions, he works at it,” tight ends coach Justin Peelle said. “And it does, it helps out our offense to be multiple, because that’s what we want to do. That’s what Coach [Arthur] Smith’s past is.
“He gives us that flexibility, him and Hayden [Hurst], to move those guys around.”
The flexibility and treating him as more than a strict, old-school, in-line tight end is what made him the Falcons' pick.
Atlanta hasn’t been in the red zone often -- just six drives so far -- and Pitts wasn’t used often in those situations. He ran seven red zone routes, five of them coming against Tampa Bay, and was targeted twice with one reception.
But Pitts will have more opportunities. There’s no reason to think he won’t be the true No. 2 option behind Calvin Ridley as early as, well, now.
Pitts sees his own evolution through how he’s able to recognize coverages opposing defenses are going to throw at him. It’s something he knew he knew he’d need to improve when he got to the league.
He has studied daily on his own along with the coaching he has gotten from Smith, Peelle and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone. They are asking him to block like a tackle, run routes and play a bit of everywhere. It has led to what Pitts has done so far and what they have planned for him -- which could end up being a lot -- down the road.
“What you are seeing, Smith said. “Is why we brought Kyle in here."