It wasn’t a secret Kyle Pitts had a chance to become a generational player. He spent his senior season with the Florida Gators garnering legitimate Heisman Trophy hype and then he got picked fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. No tight end had ever been picked so high.
The Miami Dolphins had their chance to take him — they entered the 2021 Draft with the No. 3 overall pick thanks to a trade with the Houston Texans — and, effectively, they passed. A little more than a month before the Draft, they traded down to No. 6 and wound up with Jaylen Waddle.
On Sunday, the decision cost them.
“Kyle’s a hell of a player,” safety Jevon Holland said.
Pitts caught seven passes for a career-high 163 yards, and made two for 51 yards on the final drive to set up the Atlanta Falcons to beat the Dolphins, 30-28, on a last-second field goal in Miami Gardens.
At the same time, rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the No. 5 pick in the Draft, was putting on a show in Maryland, catching eight passes for 201 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a 41-17 win against the Baltimore Ravens.
To be fair, Waddle had a nice day, too, with seven catches for 83 yards and seven first downs. So far, he has not been in the same realm as the other two rookie receivers, though.
“We talk about a lot of players,” coach Brian Flores said. “He was selected before we picked, so there was conversations about him. There was conversations about a lot of players. Obviously, he’s a very good player, but we’re very happy with Jaylen and the players we selected.”
Waddle now has 37 catches for 301 yards and three touchdowns, and has 21 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s three full games. Chase, though, is one of the leading receivers in the league with 27 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns, and Pitts is up to 24 catches for 308 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins (1-5) did pick up an extra first-round pick to move down from No. 3 to No. 6, but they missed out on a pair of players who are already among the best in the league at their position to do it.
“That dude’s play speaks for itself,” said Mike Gesicki, who’s one of just five tight ends with more receiving yards than Pitts this year. “He’s in his sixth or seventh game and he’s out there making plays like he is.”
Miami has desperately needed a playmaker like Pitts this year, too. The Dolphins have had just one play go for longer than 40 yards this season and Waddle, either because of design or ability, only has two longer than 20. Pitts alone had five catches of 20-plus yards Sunday.
At the end of the first half, the rookie made a one-handed catch for 39 yards down the left sideline to help the Falcons (3-3) go 62 yards in 28 seconds and get a field goal right before halftime at Hard Rock Stadium.
On the final drive of the game, he was the biggest reason Atlanta won. Matt Ryan linked up with Pitts twice, first getting 23 yards on a throw over the middle, then beating both Holland and star cornerback Xavien Howard for a 28-yard gain down to Miami’s 23-yard line out of the two-minute warning.
Howard stuck with Pitts stride for stride and Holland leveled a hit against the receiver as he got his feet down in bounds. It didn’t matter. Pitts hung on and the Falcons walked off with a game-winning field.
“It was a great play, great throw,” Howard said. “In this league, guys make great plays.”