The clear and unequivocal leader of the group is Jacob Tamme. He turns 31 this offseason, and lacks the downfield speed that the offense is sorely missing outside of Julio Jones. While Kyle Shanahan's offense
was a tire fire struggled, he previously got great performances out of athletic tight ends. Tamme had a career year, but will likely never surpass those 657 receiving yards.
Who is left? Bust Levine Toilolo and the invisible Tony Moeaki. Two players who have failed to make an impact in years, if not ever.
Tight end will likely be a position the Falcons try to prioritize in free agency. Luckily, Pro Football Focus came up with a list of their top 10 tight ends entering free agency. The Falcons better hope they get one of the top players, because this free agency class lacks depth.
The top of their list is the
aging ageless Antontio Gates, despite turning 36 this offseason. I would think Gates either chooses to go to a contender on a cheap deal, or the Chargers try to sign him so he retires with the team. Additionally, Atlanta does not need to get older.
Who is next? Dwayne Allen of the Indianapolis Colts.
Allen had a rough 2015 in every aspect, posting the second-lowest overall grade among tight ends before ending the season on IR. He struggled as a blocker and even saw a diminished role in Indianapolis’ passing game with just 26 targets (16 receptions) — down from 60 targets in 2014 and 70 during his rookie season in 2012. But what puts him so high on this list is both his age – 26 when the season starts – and that he’s shown that he’s more than capable as both a blocker and receiver in previous seasons. It’s especially difficult to overlook Allen’s ridiculously good rookie year, where he played 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and finished with the top overall and run blocking grades among tight ends.
Is the quality of the available free agents finally sinking in? The second best player had their second-lowest grade for the position, before getting injured. Yikes. However, there is a lot of potential. Allen has shown he can produce in the pros, and everyone on the Colts offense probably deserves a mulligan for 2015.
My personal favorite on this list is PFF's third best free agent tight end: Ladarius Green of the Chargers.
Another player who will be 26 at the start of the season, Green graded well in limited snaps over the last three seasons. He was on the field for 686 plays in 2015, lining up both inline and in the slot with a career-high 37 receptions. Green provides a solid threat after the catch – his average of 6.0 yards after the catch ranked in the top 15 at the position, as did his five forced missed tackles. Slightly inconsistent as a blocker, but has shown capability there, particularly in 2013.
Green has great speed, and loads of athleticism, but spent his career behind Gates. He ran a 4.53 40 at the combine, and his speed is evident in his numbers: 14.1 YPC over his career. For comparison, Tamme has a career 10.0 YPC, and 11.1 last season. Green could turn into Shanahan's tight end threat. Through a multitude of injuries, Jordan Cameron finished 2014 with a ridiculous 17.7 YPC. Previous players like Jordan Reed, Fred Davis, and Owen Daniels produced great numbers.
Other honorable mentions on PFF's list? The older Zach Miller coming off a career year. Coby Fleener coming off an unimpressive rookie contract. And the older Marcedes Lewis and Ben Watson.
A few of these players could push Tamme down the depth chart, and provide Atlanta with a more balanced offense offense. Any players you think PFF missed?