New coaches, tight end for Falcons in 2021

Kyle Pitts (8) is Atlanta’s high profile offseason acquisition. The tight end was a star at Florida, and looks to add a new dynamic to an offense that already has some strong pieces. // Photo courtesy of Brynn Anderson AP Photo

The Atlanta Falcons march into the 2021 season, the 55th in team history, without the greatest receiver in team history by many metrics, Julio Jones. After a myriad of salary cap adjustments over the years to accommodate his and Matt Ryan’s massive contracts, the Falcons were left in a spot on draft day where they did not have the space to sign any of their picks. Of the options they had on the table to resolve this, trading Julio became the most plausible and likely better long term option for the team.

What goes around comes around and the cliché will by all expectations be a tangible reality very quickly for Atlanta. New GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith held the reins over the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Of the top four picks, Atlanta was the only team that did not need one of the promising quarterbacks that could have been available to them, which slotted them to draft one of the surest tight ends the draft has ever produced, Kyle Pitts from the University of Florida.

Pitts, if he remains a Falcon the majority of his career, easily could amass team records in a way Julio and Ryan did throughout their tandem. Physically, his wingspan is one of the biggest in the NFL already, near 7 feet. His listed weight and height on the official Falcons website is 6’6’’ and 246 pounds.

During his three seasons at Florida, Kyle went for 1,492 yards on 100 receptions and 18 touchdowns, 12 of which were during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season. Those 12 touchdowns put him 3rd in the NCAA in total receiving TD’s that season, and 2nd in the SEC only behind Philadelphia draft pick DeVonta Smith.

Atlanta’s schedule is the 3rd easiest in the NFL measured against last year’s records, trailing only Dallas and Philadelphia, who Atlanta plays in week ten and one respectively.

They potentially could play against all four of the standout quarterbacks that were drafted this year (Mac Jones at New England, Trey Lance at San Francisco, Trevor Lawrence at Jacksonville, Zach Wilson vs. NY Jets in London).

Minus the loss of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan’s receiving core will be mostly the same with Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage out wide. The Todd Gurley experiment at running back is over, with the historically reliable Mike Davis taking over the primary rushing duties.

The perennial reminder of Super Bowl LI will continue to loom over the team and its fan base until they actually get a ring. In this darkest timeline that has yet to end for the Falcons, Atlanta plays Tom Brady twice this year since he’s now within the NFC South, but also hosts New England.

It may not be as doom and gloom as last year for Atlanta. The other quarterbacks in the NFC South outside Brady are still massive questions coming into the year. Jameis Winston takes over in New Orleans for the retired Drew Brees, while Sam Darnold took the starting job for Carolina after it was held by Teddy Bridgewater for a season.

In one-score games last season, Atlanta went 1-8, including four straight such losses in the week 13-16 stretch, and at least one against every division opponent. Head coach Dan Quinn was fired after starting the season 0-5.

Because of that and the general reset the team is going through under Smith, there is a lot of buzz in the football world that Atlanta could be a sneaky wild card playoff team.

Ryan did throw for 4,500 yards for the sixth time in his career, also leading the NFL in completions and passing attempts. It was his first season in his career without at least one game-winning drive or fourth quarter comeback.

What does success look like for the Falcons this year? With a team with tons of offensive pop and what looks to be an easy schedule, 9-8 certainly is attainable. This season includes the beginning of the 17 game season, which did Atlanta a favor by adding Jacksonville to the schedule after final opponents were set last season.

Maximizing what they can out of Kyle Pitts very well could win them three to four games.

While we still don’t know how he’ll fully adjust to NFL defenses, his size should create mismatches all over the place that will free up Gage and Ridley and open up the run game for Atlanta.