Falcons’ Arthur Smith infers Kyle Pitts isn’t fully healthy from knee surgery amid disappointing start to 2023

The Atlanta Falcons made tight end Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted player at his position in the Common Draft Era (since 1967) by taking him fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. He rewarded that faith with 68 catches that went for 1,026 receiving yards and a touchdown — joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka as the only rookie tight ends in league history to eclipse at least 1,000 yards in a season.

However, he hasn’t been close to reaching those heights since, and head coach Arthur Smith is finally explaining what could be the reason. Pitts missed seven games in 2022 with knee complications that ended with him needing surgery for a torn MCL. Following Pitts’ latest performance, two catches for 21 yards in a 23-7 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, Smith inferred that Pitts isn’t fully healthy.

“Look at him, obviously he’s out there,” Smith said Monday. “There are no perfect timetables. But there are certain things, you see him, and he’s doing really well right now and there are certain things that he can’t [do well]. It’s been a journey back. He’s going to get there.”

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Smith also refused to reveal how close he believes Pitts is to being healthy, only saying the soon-to-be 23-year-old is “getting close.”

“I’d hate to put percentages on it, but you have to acknowledge that I thought [against Jacksonville] that there were some things outside that he looked as fast as he did as a rookie,” Smith said. “It’s getting close… but to Kyle’s credit he continues to work and work behind the scenes and has never made an excuse out of anything.”

The Falcons offense is averaging 15.5 points per game, tied for the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the NFL, which is why Atlanta is facing questions about second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder and how to best get their offense “jumpstarted,” in Smith’s words. Finding a quarterback and a scheme that can get the Falcons’ 6-foot-4, 215-pound tight end going should be at the top of the to-do list.

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