Last Thursday in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons took Kyle Pitts at No. 4 overall out of the University of Florida. That was the highest selection ever of a tight end. No player at that position has won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the common draft era (since 1967), and Pitts is +1200 at William Hill Sportsbook to do so. Because the team has Pitts, the Falcons decided Monday to not exercise the fifth-year option on fellow tight end Hayden Hurst.
Monday is the deadline for NFL teams to exercise fifth-year options on players who were chosen in the first round of the 2018 draft. Hurst was the No. 25 overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens out of South Carolina and was traded to Atlanta before last season for a second-round pick (used by the Ravens on running back JK Dobbins) and a fifth-round pick for Hurst and a fourth-round selection.
Hurst had a very solid first season with the Falcons, catching 56 passes for 571 yards and six scores – all career highs. He'll make $1.984 million in 2021, but Atlanta apparently didn't to lock in the $5.4 million guaranteed salary he would have made in 2022. The Falcon also traded for blocking tight end Lee Smith this offseason.
Hurst thus will become a free agent after this season unless he and the team work out a deal before then. It's pretty rare for guys whose fifth-year rookie option is declined to return to that team – think Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears.
Atlanta did pick up the option Monday on receiver Calvin Ridley, the No. 26 overall pick in 2018. That was a no-brainer move after the former Alabama star had career highs in receptions (90) and receiving yards (1,374) with nine touchdown catches in 15 games in 2020. Ridley has the most receptions (217), receiving yards (3,061) and touchdown receptions (26) through a player's first three seasons in franchise history.
Back to Pitts for a moment. While no tight end has won Offensive Rookie of the Year in the common draft era, future Hall of Famer Mike Ditka won it in 1961 with the Chicago Bears.
How freakishly talented is Pitts? According to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats, he is only the 12th prospect in their data set (2003-2021) to enter the draft with a production, athleticism and overall draft score of 98 or higher. Ten of the previous 11 have made the Pro Bowl. Pitts and Vernon Davis (2006) are the only two tight ends to earn a 99 overall draft score.
Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick, is the +270 favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jacksonville has never had a winner.
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