The link between Atlanta and the coveted tight end prospect continues to strengthen.
A grand total of 116 days – nearly one-third of the year – separate the Atlanta Falcons’ last game of the 2020 season and the 2021 NFL Draft. We have lived all but one of those days, and yet we are no closer to know what the Falcons will do with the fourth pick.
It’s a cliché at this point to say all options are on the table for Atlanta, but that appears to be the case, at least publicly. The Falcons’ front office has done a deft job in concealing its intentions, letting the media run with differing narratives. Still, there are those who have connections within the industry, and recent reports indicate the Falcons may have decided on their guy.
Tony Pauline, an NFL Draft Analyst and league insider at Pro Football Network, is among those plugged into the rumor mill, and he believes that Atlanta will select former Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4.
“I continue to hear it’s Pitts,” Pauline told The Falcoholic during a media conference call. “They’d like to trade down. The conversation I think will include a quarterback.”
It’s the first part of that sentence that matters, because, as a whole, that’s essentially been the conversation these last few months. The feeling that Pitts will be the selection has seemed to gain steam in the immediate lead-up to the draft, and Pauline’s sources back up that sentiment.
Atlanta is at a sliding doors moment for the franchise, and the central decision at hand is whether to draft and groom Matt Ryan’s eventual successor or to add an elite player and use to draft to restock the roster around Ryan as quarterback.
“If they get someone like Kyle Pitts, that gives you an indication that maybe we keep the band back together and get the last few three or four more good years out of Matt Ryan before we think about moving on to his successor,” PFN Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo said.
Pitts is widely considered to be a generational player at the tight end position and arguably the top skill position prospect in this class. It’s here we note that head coach Arthur Smith coached tight ends for seven years and that Tennessee used more 12 personnel groupings in his final year as offensive coordinator than any other team in the league.
With Pitts on their roster, the Falcons could operate out of 12 personnel with a lineup that features Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at receiver and Hayden Hurst and Pitts at tight end. That’s a lot of firepower for the passing game, and it can be packaged in formations that typically indicate a run is coming.
However, even the thought of that offensive weaponry – which also includes Russell Gage, by the way – isn’t enough to make people think the Falcons will turn things around.
“Somebody said something interesting to me yesterday,” Pauline shared, “and I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s something that I’ve heard a number of times and they say, ‘Well, even if the Atlanta Falcons take Pitts this year, we don’t expect them to be a very good team and they could be one of the teams that are drafting near the top of the board in 2022 and grab their quarterback then.’ I personally don’t agree with that. You can’t be drafting in 2021 for what you expect to be doing in 2022, assuming that you’re a terrible team, but that seems to be a prevailing thought.”
The internal expectation is that the Falcons won’t be this high in the draft again, which is a key component in the argument for selecting a quarterback at No. 4. Even if Atlanta goes in a different direction in the first round, though, there is always the possibility they select a quarterback in later rounds to groom behind Ryan.
Once again, Pauline has a little bit of information on that.
Draft Rumor Update
The second-tier QBs are catching fire.
Per @TonyPauline, it would be a surprise if UF QB Kyle Trask made it out of Round 2 and interested teams are the #Falcons, #Saints and #Buccaneers. Each of whom has to replace veteran signal-callers one way or another.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) April 28, 2021
Of course, the third option for Atlanta is to find a trade partner and move back in the draft in exchange for a bundle of extra picks.
While some believe the phone will be ringing nonstop in Atlanta, Pauline is not as convinced. He thinks that the presumptive feeling that the Falcons won’t be taking a quarterback, coupled with Cincinnati and Miami not selecting a passer, will lead teams to view the seventh or eighth picks as the preferred spots to trade up.
“The asking price is going to be steep,” Pauline said. “There are going to be multiple quarterbacks there. I don’t think that anyone will be in such love with any of the two remaining quarterbacks when Atlanta is called to the board that they have to get up to get one of those signal-callers.”
One of the most interesting pre-draft periods in Falcons history is nearing its conclusion, and the decision at the center of much speculation will finally be made. It’s a decision that could ultimately come to define this regime, much in the way Thomas Dimitroff’s first draft selection did, and it will be the first bit of key information about Atlanta’s future.
This team is at a crossroads. It has publicly stated the goal is to start winning now while also building for sustained success, but on Thursday night we’ll get a much better idea of the plan they are putting in place.