FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts and defenseman Ta’Quon Graham “will be out for sure, at least in the short term,” coach Arthur Smith said Monday.
A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that surgery for Pitt’s MCL injury was “likely,” but Smith said nothing has been confirmed yet as they are still seeing doctors and getting opinions on a possible tear and its severity.
“I’m not a doctor, but an MCL sprain usually happens — there are different degrees and where they are in the knee,” Smith said. “I’ll leave it to the medical experts.”
Pitts injured his knee at the end of a catch-and-run in Sunday’s third quarter against Chicago when Eddie Jackson grabbed him just above the knee. Pitts was initially on the ground and then quickly jogged off the field. He then went briefly into the blue medical tent before slowly walking towards the locker room.
Smith said no decisions had been made as to whether they would place Pitts or Graham on injured reserve. Pitts, the No. 4 in the 2021 NFL draft, has played through “a lot” this season, Smith said, including a hamstring injury that forced him to miss Atlanta’s Week Five game against Tampa Bay.
“He’s such a big influence on this team,” Smith said. “I know the numbers aren’t as flashy as they were as a rookie and he’s played through a lot and he’s a tough guy and he’s had a big impact.”
After a 1,000-yard rookie season as a tight end — the second 1,000-yard season for a rookie tight end in NFL history — Pitts eventually played on another offense and challenged him to do other things.
He became a full player at his position, particularly focused on improving his blocking in the offseason, and Smith has said on numerous occasions he was pleased with what Pitts has accomplished in 2022. Pitts has 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns this season, off the pace of the 68 catches, 1,026 yards and one touchdown he had as a rookie.
Smith pointed to the games Pitts did outside last year compared to times this season when he couldn’t open up at quite the same rate as part of what he referenced when talking about what Pitts 2022 played through.
But he made it clear just how big a part of Atlanta’s offense Pitts are.
“People just look at the stats and his influence on the win was huge for us,” said Smith. “There are certainly times where we’ve been out of sync and the way we play sometimes you have to sacrifice some passing numbers.
“The guy is a great teammate. He doesn’t sulk like a lot of guys with so much hype because he’s a real person and that’s why we love him. He’s a real teammate and the future is really bright for him and that’s why we’re so excited to have him in this organization.”
The Falcons could rely on a combination of tight ends Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser and Feleipe Franks, who is struggling with a calf injury, to replace what Pitts did for Atlanta during his absence.
Graham, who has started in nine of 11 games for the Falcons this season alongside Grady Jarrett, has 34 tackles, eight quarterback hits and one fumbled recovery so far this season.
“Just basically how he takes blocks, the little things, the technical things that matter in the running game,” Smith said of Graham’s influence earlier this season. “Don’t flip, don’t guess, that’s what matters – leverage, fundamentals, being able to play good combination blocks. He does that really well.”
Graham was carted off the field in the second quarter on Sunday.
The Falcons will likely be hoping for a combination of Jalen Dalton, Timmy Horne, Abdullah Anderson and Matt Dickerson to replace Graham no matter how long he’s out. Atlanta meets Washington on Sunday.