Updated with more information at 11:25 p.m. on April 29, 2021.
The Atlanta Falcons decided not to pick their quarterback of the future, going for more immediate help by selecting former University of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4 in the NFL draft Thursday night.
Coming off a third straight losing season, the Falcons had their highest pick since franchise quarterback Matt Ryan was chosen at No. 3 out of Boston College in 2008.
With so many highly rated quarterbacks in this draft class, there was plenty of speculation that Atlanta might go with Ryan's eventual successor. Instead, they added a 6-foot-6, 246-pound player who gives the 35-year-old Ryan another dynamic weapon in an offense that already has receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
"I want to learn from those guys," Pitts said. "They're eventually going to be in the Hall of Fame. I want to learn from them, how they go about the game, how they go about their business. That's something I can't wait to see. From day one, I'm going to be like a sponge."
Pitts was the first pick for the Falcons' new leadership team of general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith, who took over a franchise that fired coach Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff after an 0-5 start this past season. With Raheem Morris taking over on an interim basis, the Falcons wound up 4-12.
Atlanta passed on the chance to make this the first draft in which the top four picks were quarterbacks. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 1 overall choice, while the New York Jets next chose BYU's Zach Wilson.
The first drama came at No. 3, a spot the San Francisco 49ers acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins weeks ahead of the draft. While Alabama's Mac Jones was pegged by many as the likely choice, the 49ers went with Trey Lance from Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State.
With Lance off the board, the Falcons decided this was not the time to line up a succession plan for the post-Ryan era. They went with Pitts instead of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a native of suburban Kennesaw who played his first college season at Georgia before transferring and playing two years with the Buckeyes.
Fields lasted until No. 11, when the Chicago Bears traded up to get him.
"Let's get to work," Ryan wrote to Pitts via Twitter.
Pitts is a unique athlete who can line up all over the field, creating huge mismatches for opposing defenses. He's too fast for most linebackers to cover, and he usually towers over any defensive back that tries to take him on.
"It's real special how the tight end position is starting to evolve," Pitts said. "It's used much more in the offense."
The Falcons went into the draft with nine selections, which gave Fontenot and Smith a chance to address myriad concerns for a team that had to cut loose several top veterans and wasn't able to make much of a splash in free agency because of severe salary cap limitations.
Even now, Atlanta doesn't have nearly enough cap room to sign its expected draft class, which means more moves are still to come. There has even been speculation the Falcons might consider a trade for Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who battled injuries last season.
"When teams ask about players, we have to answer those calls and we have to listen," Fontenot said this week. "We knew when we stepped into this that we were going to have to make tough decisions because that's just the reality of it. That's where we are with the salary cap."
While Pitts is tagged as a can't miss-prospect, rated by many experts as the second-best player in the draft behind Lawrence, his selection left the Falcons with many other holes to fill.
The defense needs a major upgrade, and the Falcons must get better protection in front of Ryan, who has been sacked 131 times the past three seasons. No matter how many weapons a quarterback has around him, it doesn't do much good if he's flat on his back.