Check your Kyle Pitts: It Might Not Smell Like Victory (Fantasy Football)
I’ve never been one to shy away from pointing out ridiculous hype trains in fantasy football, because it’s admittedly one of the most emotion-inducing parts of the NFL offseason. Some people love to identify potential stars and talk about them until they run out of breath, and others can’t stand the overreactions by draft day. The key to these discussions is ADP, and when a draft spot becomes too expensive for even the best case scenario. Kyle Pitts is a polarizing player to discuss, and his ADP has reached must-avoid levels for me personally, for many reasons:
What Should We Expect?
Before we dive into my concerns about Pitts, I want to at least lay the baseline for his expectations. He will be a good tight end, and he will be a TE1. There is almost zero doubt about a top ten finish if he stays healthy. Those expectations are already solidified, and should be met, but he’s entered elite draft position territory. He’s approached this area very quickly, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. His ADP has settled in at 31st overall, which means he’s being drafted ahead of Michael Pittman, DJ Moore, Diontae Johnson, Terry Mclaurin, and Darren Waller. He’s the TE3 according to consensus ADP. When you take someone in this range, you are looking for both consistency and upside, but the key here is production in general. All of the guys in this range will produce for you week in and week out. If you take a tight end this early, you should be expecting a near guarantee of a top five finish at his position, like we have in previous years with Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Darren Waller, and of course Travis Kelce. The expectation is a top five floor, with an overall TE1 finish as a reasonable potential outcome.
A Rose Colored 2021 Season?
Pitts had the second most receiving yards for a rookie tight end in NFL history in 2021, but his production happened in the least sexy way possible. He only finished as a top five tight end for the week three times in 17 games, and he only eclipsed double digit fantasy points three times. To put that in perspective, Travis Kelce finished as a top five tight end nine times, Mark Andrews eight times, Dalton Schultz five times, George Kittle six times, and Gronk did it six times in only 12 games. Kyle Pitts’ weekly ceiling was extremely unimpressive last year, and this was when he was catching passes from Matt Ryan. Granted he was a rookie, it’s still an underwhelming year to year fantasy profile from someone we are projecting to be so good in 2022. His rookie season was historic, but his fantasy impact was actually detrimental for the people who took him at ADP. No one wants to hear this, but Pitts was a fantasy disappointment in 2021. He was a bad pick, simply put.
Regression is Real
The primary reason that people assume Pitts will explode this year is his ridiculously low touchdown total in 2021, which can be viewed as a statistical outlier. The expectation for touchdown regression in 2022 is a reasonable one, as it’s very unlikely that he only finds the end zone once if he stays healthy. His touchdown total will improve, and with it, his fantasy production. The main question isn’t about whether or not he will have a better season, it’s whether or not he’s worth the TE3 selection and a top 30 draft pick.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Pitts found the end zone a lot more frequently last year than he did. Travis Kelce scored 9 touchdowns in 2021, so let’s just mimic that same production for fun. It’s almost impossible to expect Pitts to do that, but this is just an exercise. If Pitts matched Travis Kelce’s touchdown total in 2021, he still would have trailed both Kelce and Andrews by more than 30+ fantasy points, and nearly 2 full points per week. Pitts simply didn’t have the offensive production or target total to come near those guys, regardless of his touchdown luck.
His situation has changed this year, but I’m not convinced it’s that much better. Matt Ryan may not be the same MVP caliber quarterback we once knew, but he’s still accurate and does a good job getting the ball to his playmakers. Ryan is now in Indy, and the Falcons have replaced the accurate veteran with… Marcus Mariota? I’m excited for Mariota as a player, but he’s hardly an upgrade from a pocket passing standpoint. At best he will be similar to Ryan from an output perspective, but that still leaves Pitts with an average quarterback operating within an average offense. The good news for him is the fact that Calvin Ridley is suspended for the year, so Pitts is far and away the top target for Mariota. His target totals and receptions should increase, but the volume and efficiency improvements required in order for him to creep into that top three are drastic.
Pitt-Falls of Drafting Kyle
I’m not saying it’s impossible for the second year stud to deliver on his ADP, but it’s going to require a perfect storm of improvements for Pitts as a player, Mariota as a quarterback, and touchdown production as a statistic. If everything breaks right for Pitts, he might compete to be a top 3 tight end, but I don’t see a scenario where he finishes as the overall TE1 without an injury to Andrews or Kelce. Even Darren Waller and George Kittle will likely be right alongside Pitts this year, but their draft cost is much lower. Pitts is being taken at his absolute ceiling, and too many people are excited about his athletic profile and highlight reel while ignoring his fantasy outlook. I genuinely don’t understand his ADP or the commitment to drafting him as early as people are drafting him, but maybe they know something I don’t about how fantasy production happens. For their sake, I hope it happens. For my sake, I’m avoiding Pitts at his ADP like my life depends on it.