We kick this off fresh today with one of the weakest positions on the roster, where Alge Crumpler's departure means the Falcons are going to war with two guys who can't catch and one giant question mark.
Let' s see who will triumph in this sad breakdown, after the jump.
If you were taking a tight end to round out your fantasy team, you'd definitely take a shot on Milner before anyone else on the roster. He's got some semblance of an ability to catch the ball and quite a bit of athleticism. It wouldn't be a stretch, if he stayed healthy, to pencil him in for 30 catches.
The problem is that Milner is now part of an offensive system that rarely emphasizes the pass-catching tight end. Mike Mularkey's body of work suggests that Milner could have a role on this team, but he's going to have to improve his blocking to stay on the field ahead of Ben Hartsock. In fact, Milner is probably a victim of simple circumstance more than anything else; if Petrino were still coach (God forbid), Milner would be the likely successor to Crumpler.
I'll go ahead and boldly predict 20 catches for Milner alongside a pair of touchdowns. I'd be shocked if Hartsock wasn't starting most of the time, and having Roddy White alongside Laurent Robinson and Harry Douglas probably means the ball isn't going to be heading his way that often. Still, this could be a good chance for Milner to turn himself into a more complete tight end--and if he does, he'll be the starter by the end of the year.
Final Grade: C
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your likely starting tight end for 2008! Ben Hartsock is a Titans import who never met a block he didn't like to throw, which makes him the early favorite to open the season as a starter. Hartsock can catch a little (a very little) and isn't likely to be utilized as a receiver unless everyone else on the field is injured simultaneously.
That being said, he's a very underrated blocker. With good size and footwork, Hartsock can serve well as a sort of mobile mini-lineman on rushing downs and as a downfield blocker when needed on passing downs. He's a good fit for what Mularkey and Mike Smith envision a tight end to be, and for that he's very likely to play a prominent role with the team.
Still, given his relative lack of pass catching ability and speed, it's hard to view him as a complete tight end. Like Milner, let's give him a middle of the road grade unless he suddenly improves.
Final Grade: C
Ah, Keith Zinger. A seventh round draft pick in this year's draft, Zinger is essentially a younger version of Ben Hartsock. Like Hartsock, he's not well known for the catching the ball, with blocking definitely standing out as his specialty. After suffering from intestinal tract issues in college, he will likely need some conditioning before he becomes a real threat at the pro level. Still, with only Jason Rader and Brad Listorti challenging him, Zinger again seems to fit the system well and seems to me like a near lock to make this team.
He's definitely not a lock to have value, though. If the only time he sees the field is in two tight end sets, Zinger isn't likely to make anyone stand up and notice unless he knocks somebody on their ass. With the likelihood of him doing anything being pretty low, so is his grade.
Final Grade: D+
Analysis: My major issue here is that there's nobody who fits the definition of a complete tight end. Crumpler had a lot of injury woes the last couple years, but you knew he could catch and you knew he could block 90% of the time. This year, the Falcons seem likely to carry three tight ends who only know how to do half of the equation. They may well be solid enough, but that's not scaring anyone else in the league.
So the Falcon goal should probably be to determine whether Milner can become that tight end; if he can't, the team ought to be looking hard for one who can in next year's draft. Hartsock's job may well be safe as long as Mularkey is in town, given his skillset, but Zinger is also a question mark.
I just don't see this being a strong part of the team next season.