When the Atlanta Falcons selected tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick on Thursday Night, it immediately posed a major question to teams around the league. How do we defend this freak of nature? Perhaps no team will need to answer that question more demonstratively than the Bucs, set to face a loaded Falcons offense twice a year in the NFC South.

How do you stop a unicorn like Pitts when the Falcons already have so many other weapons at their disposal?

Pitts is a massive target at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds. Pitts is blazing fast at the position with a 4.44 40-yard dash. He can consistently beat man coverage against cornerbacks, he poses a size problem when matched up with most safeties and he’s simply too athletic to be covered by most linebackers. Per Pro Football Focus, last season Pitts received a 96.1 receiving grade while totaling 3.26 yards per route run and 4.91 yards per route run against man coverage – the third-best mark in the nation and nearly two yards more than the next-best tight end. Pitts would be a first-round talent as a receiver alone, but his ability to create mismatches at the tight end position could very realistically put him in that upper echelon alongside Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller.

In a perfect world the Bucs would let Carlton Davis slide in and out and play over Pitts when he splits out wide. Davis is a physical corner and has the necessary length to battle Pitts, but as long as Julio Jones is wearing a Falcons jersey, Davis will have his hands full there. After Davis, Jamel Dean will continue to be tasked with covering Calvin Ridley on the outside. And in the slot, Tampa Bay will still need Sean Murphy-Bunting on Russell Gage as the Falcons ran over 60 percent of their offensive snaps with three or more receivers on the field in 2020, something that probably won’t change drastically moving forward. Murphy-Bunting likely doesn’t possess the size required to contain Pitts anyway.

This sheer level of offensive firepower will force defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to get creative. Neither Antoine Winfield Jr. nor Jordan Whitehead are optimally suited to take on Pitts in coverage all game, and despite Mike Edwards’ great play in coverage last year, a dime package would force the Bucs to take Lavonte David or Devin White off of the field far too often. Edwards could step in for Whitehead rotationally, but the Bucs love what their fourth-year strong safety brings in the box. Edwards on the other hand finished the season with a missed tackle rate of 25 percent.

Given his athletic profile Devin White would seem to be the most capable option left to match up with Pitts, but White’s play in man coverage was downright bad for most of last season. Despite a red hot stretch to end the season, extending through the Bucs’ Super Bowl victory over the Chiefs, White allowed a completion percentage of 87.8 and a passer rating of 112.6 in 2020.

Conversely, despite not having near the pure athleticism that White possesses, David once again proved himself one of the best off-ball linebackers in coverage last year. David posted a PFF coverage grade of 83.8 in 2020, culminating in a masterful Super Bowl performance where he held the All-Pro Kelce to just three receptions for 23 yards when lined up against him, while adding two pass breakups.

The Bucs best hope to slow down Pitts would be a significant step forward in coverage from White as he enters his third year. But more predictably, I would expect David to be the primary challenger when Pitts is deployed as an in-line tight end, with a cornerback in coverage as the Falcons move out of three-receiver sets. Pitts has the potential to be a next-level mismatch, and the Bucs’ heaviest doses of bracket coverages and nickel/dime personnel may be deployed against their divisional rivals at a sky-high rate next season.

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About the Author: Taylor Jenkins

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Gatordoc1
7 days ago

Boy, if we only had a good defensive line and could pressure the quarterback…

Best bet is to “cut the head off the snake” and attack the quarterback. Too many good receiving options for the Falcons.

eaustinyoung
7 days ago

Attack Matt Ryan and plaster David or White on him. Same game plan they had for Mahomes/Kelce.

Naplesfan
Reply to  eaustinyoung
5 days ago

Pitts does not just line up as a tight end. He also lines up as a wide receiver wide or in the slot. So assigning only a linebacker on him is not going to work. And he is so much bigger than any corners or safeties, he would just run them ragged.
To defeat a guy like Pitts requires that the Bucs double him all game long, and keep the pressure on the quarterback.

Alldaway 2.0
7 days ago

This is easy.
You basically put Ryan on the ground. Bucs are not going to respect the Falcons run game. Stop the run and you stop the play action that A. Smith’s offense that is needed.

Last edited 7 days ago by Alldaway 2.0
Larry
Reply to  Alldaway 2.0
7 days ago

Pitts is one player. Maybe the Falcons need to worry about how will they stop the Bucs 3 tight ends, 3 running backs, and 5 wide receivers. The Falcons are the least of the Bucs worries. I am more concerned about the Rams and their defense.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Larry
7 days ago

Pitts is one great player. But so is Julio Jones. Oh, and Calvin Riddley. And Russell Gage is a really good tertiary option out of the slot himself. There’s little doubt that the Falcons are going to have a fantastic offense this year, unless their OL regresses and collapses in on itself. But even then, they’re going to challenge every defense they face and put plenty of points on the scoreboard this year.

I agree that they’re not our biggest worry, but they are imposing on that side of the ball.

drdneast
7 days ago

Maybe we should just forfeit the Atlanta games out of fear.
Or maybe with the second round we should have drafted a player to combat him instead of wasting it on a noodle armed QB.
Whatever the case, much the same thing was said about OJ Howard and how on earth would teams cover him and we see how that has worked out.
Good grief, what is this sudden infatuation with Gator players the PR staff has seemed to have contracted.

Eddie
Reply to  drdneast
6 days ago

Great point. Wasted 2nd round pick will come back to haunt us this season

drdneast
Reply to  Eddie
6 days ago

I hope not but fear it might. Just look at Green Bay last season.

Naplesfan