It marks the first time in NFL history that a tight end is the first non-quarterback selected in the draft, and the earliest a tight end has been drafted in the common draft era (since 1967).
“I’ve been waiting for that call my whole life,” Pitts said Thursday night. “I see my phone ring and it’s just — felt my heart drop. It’s step one into the right direction, so I can’t wait to get to Atlanta and start a new journey.”
A tight end has been drafted No. 5 overall twice: Mike Ditka (Chicago, 1961) and Riley Odoms (Denver, 1972). Ditka is the only tight end taken in the top 10 to reach the Hall of Fame.
In more recent years, San Francisco took Vernon Davis No. 6 overall in 2006, Kellen Winslow II went No. 6 to Cleveland in 2004 and Detroit took T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 in 2019 and Eric Ebron at No. 10 in 2014.
Pitts becomes the second tight end to be taken in the first round by the Falcons in their history, joining Junior Miller, who went No. 7 overall in 1980. It’s the highest Atlanta has ever taken a pass-catcher, too, just ahead Julio Jones at No. 6 in 2011.
The 6-foot-6, 246-pound Pitts should fit immediately in new Falcons coach Arthur Smith’s offense. The Philadelphia native is a player Smith can use in line as a typical tight end, but he can also line up in the slot or even out wide to create positional mismatches. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot referred to Pitts as a “special player” on Wednesday.
Pitts, the John Mackey Award winner, caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for Florida and had 100 catches for 1,492 yards and 18 touchdowns in his Gators career. He joins a Falcons offense that already features a bevy of pass-catchers for franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, including Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.
Atlanta also has Hayden Hurst as its top tight end, but the Falcons have to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022.