- Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
- Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts is out for the season after having surgery on Tuesday to repair the MCL in his right knee, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday.
Pitts had injured the knee in the second half of Atlanta’s win over Chicago on Nov. 20 and missed Sunday’s loss to Washington. Smith said when they initially had the diagnosis of his injury, they thought it would be close regarding whether he could return this year, and then sent him to specific knee experts to make further determinations.
Pitts posted a picture in his Instagram story late Tuesday night of him with a brace and wrap on his right knee after surgery, with “Day 1” written on the image.
Smith said he believes the injury will not have impact on Pitts’ 2023 season, and they expect him to be good to go by then. Whether Pitts will be ready for the start of offseason workouts remains a question.
“We’ll just have to see,” Smith said. “Nothing that concerns us for real games in the season.”
The 22-year-old Pitts was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2021 and became the second rookie tight end in NFL history to have over 1,000 yards in his first year in the league.
Playing in a different style of offense in his second season, Pitts’ numbers dropped. He had 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games in 2022, and even before the knee injury in November, he had been dealing with a hamstring injury that cost him one game in October.
Smith, after Pitts was injured, said his star tight end had been playing through a lot in the 2022 season, something evidenced by how he could — or could not — open up at top speed on outside routes.
“He had obviously bigger statistical numbers in the passing game a year ago,” Smith said. “We were a much different team in a different place. Where you saw a lot of growth in a lot of other jobs we asked him to do. Certainly there are things that you wish would have gone different, I think that’s probably every year, but you can see that growth as a player as he’s become a more complete player.”
A lot of that had to do with how Atlanta has played this season — much more reliant on the run than the pass — and the desire of both Pitts and the coaching staff to make Pitts a more complete tight end instead of a pass receiving-only tight end.
In the offseason, Pitts worked heavily on his blocking. It was something the second-year player took immense pride in, telling ESPN earlier this season that blocking is “something that I take personal because it’s always, ‘He’s just a receiver. He doesn’t want to block.'”
Atlanta ran behind him this season much more than it did a year ago. And it’s part of why Smith was pleased with the season Pitts had, even if the statistical numbers didn’t show.
Pitts showed that more in 2022 in a scheme that can ask more of tight ends that some others in the NFL. It’s the combination of what Pitts showed in 2021 in a more pass-heavy offense and in 2022 in a more run-heavy one that helps give Smith confidence for Pitts’ future in 2023 and beyond.
“The best thing is you’re not wishing or hoping,” Smith said. “You know he’s done it and you know he’s made other gains in different areas of what we’ve asked him to do, so you’re very confident and positive about predicting the future.
“You can’t predict everything, but you’ve got evidence and he’s made so much growth and he’s such an impactful player, whether he touches the ball or doesn’t.”
With Pitts out for the season, Atlanta has looked to a combination of tight ends MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser and Parker Hesse along with fullback Keith Smith and running back Cordarrelle Patterson, among others, to help fill the various roles he had within the team.
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