As we continue our writer roundtable discussions leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we're still focusing on improving the weapons surrounding Matt Ryan. Tight end is another position the Atlanta Falcons have addressed in free agency, but they might be looking to add select a rookie to add to the depth chart.
Levine Toilolo was drafted two years ago in the hope of adding a monstrous receiving threat to the Falcons offense. He's still 6-foot-8, but he's still not very good. Atlanta added veterans Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki during free agency. While both players are upgrades to Toilolo, the Falcons could still use a younger tight end to groom as a full-time starter.
The Falcons have met with or worked out five tight end prospects so far, suggesting a good chance they take a shot at one in the draft. Our writers weighed in with their favorite candidate and the round they'd prefer the player to be draft in by Atlanta.
Rory "Busta Brown" "Rhymes" Anderson, South Carolina
Round 6 or 7
The Falcons have bought themselves competence at tight end, signing Tony Moeaki and Jacob Tamme to go with Levine Toilolo. In a relatively weak draft class for the position, they're best served either getting top tight end Maxx Williams (unlikely) or looking for a developmental prospect.
Enter Anderson. He'll need to add some bulk to hold up as a blocker at the NFL level, but he has soft hands, a sweet touch and fairly refined route-running ability for a guy who wasn't utilized as a receiving tight end all that much at South Carolina. The Falcons can afford to give him a year to develop in 2015 and hope he's ready to chip in as a useful backup or second option in two tight end sets by 2016.
Randall Telfer, USC
Once higher than Chris Conley's vertical, the Falcons' need for depth at tight end has been significantly lowered with the free-agency additions of Moeaki and Tamme, who along with Toilolo probably round out the group of three that Atlanta usually carries into the regular season. However, that doesn't mean the Falcons won't take a chance on a Day 3 flier that they can refine on the practice squad.
First, it's worth noting that Kyle Shanahan requires balance in his tight ends. They must be able to block, and often times his No. 3 receivers have seen about the same number of passing play snaps as his tight ends. But they also need not fit the traditional "Y" type tight end of a Toilolo (you'll remember the Redskins drafted Jordan Reed under his watch).
Telfer makes sense because, as one scout told the Los Angeles Times, "There's very few complete guys who are good at blocking and receiving. This guy has some traits to be one of those guys who can help you in both areas, so he's interesting in that regard." The USC product possesses good size at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, and he established himself as a sound blocker and reliable red zone threat when healthy (12 of his 63 career catches went for touchdowns). Injuries are the primary concern for Telfer, as he's dealt with various nagging ailments since snagging 26 passes for 273 yards as a freshman, but he's likely worth the risk.
Blake Bell. Oklahoma
Given the Falcons tremendous success with college QBs who converted to a receiving position (Kerry Meier is a GOAT), you might wonder why we'd take that risk yet again with a player like Bell? Well, as a 6th or 7th rounder, you're not risking much - but Bell has the potential to develop into something more.
Make no mistake, Bell is very raw. All of the scouting reports on him note that he's very new to the position. He's not going to be an immediate starter. His blocking is borderline awful right now. His routes are not great. But when you read the rest of the reports, you see why he warrants a later round pick. He's very football smart. He understands how to find gaps in zone coverages well. He's got good hands and his footwork is good. He's also very coachable and he has shown a tremendous amount of improvement in his short time in the position. In short - while he needs to be developed, he's already shown the ability to develop.
At 6'6" and 250lbs, he's also ideally sized for the position. He had a strong off-season, showing even more improvement from the end of the college season and posting respectable numbers at the combine. If he can continue his development, by 2016 he could be a respectable backup and maybe more. He's definitely a project, but he's one that is on the upswing already.
Wes Saxton, South Alabama
Wes Saxton is a guy whose stock has been a bit unpredictable as of late due to an injury-filled final season. I anticipate his stock will be on the rise thanks to NFL teams' inability to pull themselves away from "Ermahgerd, a ferst ferdy" but if he can be had in the 5th round, he could be a diamond in the rough.
His junior year was his best year, and although he only had one touchdown, he had 50 receptions for 635 yards. Not bad for a collegiate tight end on an average small school. While the athleticism for his combine effort improved his stock, it also can't be ignored.
He ran one of the fastest 40 times for tight ends at the combine, all while weighing in at 248 pounds, good for 13 pounds heavier than the 235 his school's website has for him. I was originally concerned with his size but at 248 he can definitely handle the rigors of the NFL. He's also plenty tall enough at 6'3". He may or may not be the most willing run blocker, but you don't bring in a guy like Saxton to block.
We have big, slow tight ends in spades already, and Saxton can provide that rare athleticism to open the middle of the field from the tight end spot. South Alabama also has never had an NFL player drafted, so bring him home, TD!
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
Of course I'm a bit biased toward Heuerman as an Ohio State fan, but if you take some time to learn a little more about him, you'll understand why his hype train is gaining steam. Heuerman didn't live up to his potential at Ohio State, but a foot injury, a carousel of quarterbacks and the overall offensive philosphy didn't exactly help him pad his stats.
Heuerman moves well for a 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end. He's athletic and possesses enough speed to become a threat down the seam and in the vertical game. He was a reliable receiver when the Buckeyes called his name.
His skills extend off the field as well. Urban Meyer was always a huge Heuerman fan. His teammates and coaches have constantly praised his work ethic and dedication. Strength coach Mickey Marotti went as far as calling Heuerman the "ringleader of what we want in terms of work ethic."
Heuerman dealt with lingering pain from spring foot surgery, but he proved there's no reason to worry during his pro day. While Heuerman is still somewhat raw with his route-running and blocking, he has shown improvement in college. I'm sure a year or two in the NFL could turn him into a promising piece of the Falcons offense.
Similar to our wide receiver discussion, there isn't really one tight end that receives consensus approval from our group. Judging by the list of tight end prospects the Falcons have met with, they don't plan on addressing this position until late in the draft. Is there a tight end that stands out in your mind as a fit for Atlanta?