2021 Fantasy Football Absurdity Check: What Do We Do With Kyle Pitts Down the Stretch?

NFL Draft Kyle Pitts Florida Tight End

A unicorn. He’s just “built different.” He’s a wide receiver in a tight end body. You’re just being a hater. You can’t ever draft him cheaper than you can this season. These are all things that were said to anyone who dared say that Kyle Pitts might not be a transcendent fantasy football commodity in his rookie year. I was poo-pooed as early as February, told that Kyle Pitts is going to be different, he’s not going to fit the mold of a typical rookie tight end. Well, where did that get us? Kyle Pitts has been good and Kyle Pitts has been useful but Kyle Pitts also wasn’t worth his draft day price. But, at this point, that doesn’t matter. Let’s figure out of we can continue to start Kyle Pitts, or if we should mercifully move on from the talented-yet-ineffective rookie.

First, let’s talk about his situation. There are certain parts of the Falcons that we should have seen going into the season that would have precluded a massive Kyle Pitts rookie campaign. First, Arthur Smith. Smith came from Tennessee, where he engineered an offense where the passing game was an afterthought. Granted, that was because of Derrick Henry taking every football as far as a human could possibly take it whenever he touched it. But, the Falcons also run an unusual amount of their offense through their running backs (if you classify Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back). They’ve run 672 plays this year, with running backs getting a carry or a target on 50.9% of those plays.

The league average this year is 44% of plays going to the running back. That tells you that despite the roster being bereft of RB talent behind Patterson, the Falcons still prioritize the position. That’s a massive problem that limits Pitts’ rookie upside and is something we should have seen coming.

There’s also Matt Ryan’s ineptitude, which again, we should have seen coming (but we didn’t want to see it coming). Per PlayerProfiler.com’s Kyle Pitts profile, he ranks first in air yards share, among tight ends, but just 24th in catchable target rate. That’s likely why his yards per reception (14.8) is elite, but his yards per route run (2.2) are just the middle of the pack. Pitts also hasn’t seen great balls, ranking eighteenth in target accuracy at tight end, and he carries just a 38.9% contested catch rate. Probably because Matt Ryan can’t throw a good ball to save his life this year. Again, we look to his PlayerProfiler.com page.

Matt Ryan is dunking and dunking his way down the field. He has a nice pressured completion rate and a nice deep ball rate, both ranking in the top-five, but he just… doesn’t throw that many balls downfield. On average, about 17% of QB passes travel at least 15 yards (according to sharpfootballstats.com). For Matt Ryan, that number sits at just 12%. Also, Ryan’s intended air yards per pass attempt sits at #32 in the league, with his average pass going 6.8 yards downfield. That’s tied with Trevor Siemian and Ben Roethlisberger this season. But, this isn’t a Matt Ryan article. Let’s take a look at what this has all meant for Kyle Pitts.

Earlier this offseason, I took a look at tight end production and determined that 10 PPR fantasy points is a good baseline for a “TE12” week, or the last tight end you want to start. Obviously, dinguses and jabronis will pop up with random touchdowns to muss this up, so looking just at top-12 TE games isn’t useful (because of the aforementioned dinguses and jabronis). Jeremy Shockey and Evan Engram are the record holders for useful rookie year tight end fantasy weeks, as both had eight useful fantasy football weeks their rookie years. As of right now, Kyle Pitts isn’t bad at this, notching eight such weeks. He just… isn’t even the best rookie tight end. That would go to Pat Freiermuth, who has six such weeks on his ledger.

The clubhouse leaders in 10+ fantasy point weeks are mostly who we expected, by the way, with Travis Kelce leading the way with nine games, Mark Andrews with eight, and T.J. Hockenson and Darren Waller both with seven. George Kittle has just five of these games, but he also missed three games with an injury. Kyle Pitts, unfortunately, has just four such games. This ties him with Rob Gronkowski, who has played more than 6 snaps in just five games.

So, Pitts hasn’t been great but he hasn’t really been a disaster, either. Let’s pull back the numbers a bit more to see if there’s anything we can glean about his under-the-hood numbers and his matchups going forward. First, no rookie tight end has as many of their QB’s air yards as Kyle Pitts. In fact, he leads all TE in air yards share, with about 29% of Matt Ryan’s passing yards going toward Pitts. That’s something we really want to see for a potential breakout; he’s getting a lot of opportunities. From a pure, raw unrealized air yards perspective, he also has some room to grow, ranking fifth in unrealized air yards. But, that has more to do with his raw volume than anything else. He sits third in total TE air yards this year, but among the top-fifteen TE in air yards, he ranks tenth in percent of air yards that remain unrealized.

Kyle Pitts, unfortunately, doesn’t have that much room to grow in terms of realizing unrealized air yards. Among the top-fifteen tight ends in total air yards, about 39% of their air yards remain unrealized. Not every pass is a completion, and every incompletion has unrealized air yards. Kyle Pitts’ 33% is actually better than the average in this particular statistic. If you blow it up to literally every tight end to receive a target this year, that still puts Pitts well above average (40% unrealized air yards). That doesn’t leave a lot of room for him to grow, because he’s already taking extreme advantage of his air yards.

So, let’s take a look at his opponents going forward. Between week thirteen and week seventeen (the fantasy finals), Pitts plays: versus Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at San Francisco, versus Detroit, and at Buffalo. Over the last five weeks, these teams allow an average of 10.3 PPR fantasy points per game to tight ends, with four of the five ranking in the bottom ten in fantasy points allowed to the position. That’s not great.

These teams have locked it down against great tight ends lately, with the Panthers shutting down Kyle Pitts himself, allowing him just two catches for thirteen yards on six targets. The 49ers allowed touchdowns to Zach Ertz and Tyler Higbee over the last five weeks but blanked Dan Arnold (and Higbee & Ertz combined for 58 yards on eight targets). Detroit gave Cole Kmet (8 catches for 65 yards on 11 targets), and Dallas Goedert 6 catches and 72 yards on seven targets decent days. Those two teams seem to be the weak links in the chain coming up and even then, they aren’t that great of matchups. What of the last two teams on the list? Tampa Bay and Buffalo?

Tampa Bay and Buffalo have completely shut down tight end recently. Over the last five weeks of tight ends, they combined to allow one 10 point PPR day, and it was exactly ten points from Dan Arnold (4 catches, 60 yards). Over the last five weeks, tight ends average 9.2 fantasy points against them, short of the 10 fantasy points for TE12 on the week.

But, here’s the thing at this point in the season: none of this matters. Kyle Pitts is too good and you’re pot committed with him. He ranks third in tight end targets over the last five weeks, fifth in receptions, and second in yards. The only problem? No touchdowns. That’s the major difference between him and everyone else around him. Over the last five weeks, eleven tight ends have at least 25 targets. Four of these don’t have touchdowns: Kyle Pitts, T.J. Hockenson, Darren Waller, and Dallas Goedert. If you’re telling me that my bad luck, high volume tight end is sitting in that group, I am very happy to have him going forward. There’s nothing you can do to drop Kyle Pitts, you just have to ride him out.

But maybe think a bit more before taking a rookie tight end before established players. Sometimes it’s okay to be out on a player at their price, and Kyle Pitts bucked that trend, leaping to TE4 before the season. It was his ceiling that got him onto your roster, but his floor will keep him there for the rest of the year. You just have to ride this wave, there aren’t any reinforcements coming anytime soon.

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Image Source: Kyle PItts on Twitter

About Jeff Krisko

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