Kyle Pitts was the highest tight end ever selected in the modern era of the NFL draft, a player the Atlanta Falcons have high hopes for entering year one. If the Falcons do decide to trade Julio Jones this offseason, all eyes will be on Pitts to pick up the slack in the passing game -- and there could be some history in play for his position.
Rookie tight ends don't typically succeed in the NFL, but Pitts has the chance to be special. Pitts could become the first tight end to reach 1,000 yards in his rookie season since Mike Ditka, who recorded 1,076 receiving yards in his rookie season -- in just 14 games.
Ditka averaged 76.9 receiving yards per game in that 1961 season for the Chicago Bears, which is still the benchmark for tight ends in their rookie season. The most receiving yards for a tight end in the Super Bowl era in their first season belongs to Jeremy Shockey, who finished with 894 receiving yards in 2002. Keith Jackson recorded 869 yards in 1988 for the Philadelphia Eagles, good for third on the all-time list for rookie tight ends. Charle Young had 854 yards in 1973 for the Eagles (also in just 14 games).
What do all four of these players have in common with Pitts? They all were first-round picks. Pitts actually bested Young for the highest-drafted tight end of all time, as Young was drafted sixth overall in 1973.
Jackson has the NFL record for receptions by a tight end in his rookie season (81) while Ditka's 12 touchdown catches are the most for a first-year tight end. Rob Gronkowski is the only other tight end to record double-digit touchdown catches in his rookie season (10).
All these numbers are attainable for Pitts, if he turns out to become the difference maker the Falcons are banking on him to be. Trading Jones will certainly help Pitts' target value in year one, but Atlanta's offense will be much more dangerous with Jones and Pitts on the field.
Most receiving yards by tight end -- rookie season
- Mike Ditka -- 1,076 (1961)*
- Jeremy Shockey -- 894 (2002)
- Keith Jackson -- 869 (1988)
- Charle Young -- 864 (1973)*
- John Mackey -- 764 (1963)*