The Atlanta Falcons have been an NFL team in need of a singular reason for hope since their devastating collapse in Super Bowl LI, a game in which their 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots vanished in what became a signature comeback for the most decorated NFL quarterback of all time.
Selecting Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, as they did on Thursday night, might help — Pitts, after all, has the tools, traits, and temperament to make his goal of being the best tight end in NFL history seem realistic.
Pitts came to Florida as part of the Gators’ 2018 recruiting class and as a tweener wide receiver-tight end prospect whose future seemed tied to his ability to carve a niche for himself with his versatility. He left Gainesville in 2020 as the Mackey Award winner for the nation’s best tight end, a fringe Heisman candidate, and a terrifying and respected prospect who is now the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history.
Standing 6’6”, gifted with long arms and enormous hands, and capable of both leaping for passes and contending with defensive ends as a blocker, Pitts represents what is likely the new prototypical NFL tight end: A fast, tall player whose athleticism will be a mismatch no matter where he is deployed on the field, but one smart enough to be adequate or better even when not being targeted.
Pitts went from intriguing freshman to steady rotational piece as a sophomore to the showcase of Florida’s 2020 offense as a junior, exploding for 170 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the Gators’ season opener against Ole Miss and putting together a season compelling both on the stat sheet and highlight reel. While a serious facial injury sustained against Georgia kept Pitts out of two regular-season games — including Florida’s fateful loss to LSU — in 2020, he still had 770 receiving yards on just 43 catches and a fantastic 12 touchdowns in the nine games in which he did play, and starred in his farewell against Alabama, hauling in seven passes for 129 yards and making eyes pop with a twisting catch for his only touchdown.
That season of excellence propelled Pitts from first-round lock status to the stratospheric height of being the first non-quarterback selected in a league perpetually thirsty for signal-callers. His fourth overall selection makes him not just the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history but the second-highest selection in Florida history, behind 1945 No. 2 pick Paul Duhart and a smattering of stars — Steve Spurrier, Gerard Warren, and Dante Fowler Jr. among them — taken No. 3 overall.
Pitts possesses one of the brightest futures of any Gator to leave the Florida football program for the NFL ever, and Gator Nation cannot wait to see what he does as a professional.