When was the last time the Atlanta Falcons had a young, promising tight end prospect? Unless your answer is 2013 fourth round pick Levine Toilolo, you need to go back in time a long, long while, to the days when Alge Crumpler was reeling in highlight-reel grabs from Michael Vick. Crumpler is eighth all-time in receiving yardage for the franchise, and since he departed after the 2007 season, the Falcons have not employed a single young tight end who has snagged more than 1,000 yards for the franchise.
That may finally be changing. Jacob Tamme is a free agent, Tony Gonzalez is a distant, pleasant memory, and the tight ends currently under contract (or easy-to-re-sign RFAs) are Austin Hooper, Josh Perkins, and DJ Tialavea, who are all under 25 years old. That’s an unusual situation, and for once, we might see Atlanta roll on with those young players, instead of bringing in yet another veteran bridge.
Why is that a strong possibility? For one, Austin Hooper flashed considerable promise in his rookie season, reeling in 19 balls for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, plus three grabs and a touchdown against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He should be able to refine his route running and work on his blocking a bit in 2017, when he’ll just be turning 23 years old, and serve as the team’s primary receiving threat at tight end. He’s very clearly ready to do that.
Secondly, DJ Tialavea showed signs of being a capable blocker, and Josh Perkins has enough promise that the Falcons dragged him around as a fourth tight end and roster inactive for much of the season. Perkins is also about to be reunited with his college head coach, Steve Sarkisian.
What might be missing from this grouping is a tight end who is very adept at blocking—we just don’t know if Tialavea is that guy, at this point—and that will need to be addressed at some point given how much this team likes to run the football. Levine Toilolo was the man who filled that role frequently last season, and if the teams likes their current crop of young tight ends enough, he could return as a complementary piece.
Ultimately, though, I’m very encouraged to see the Atlanta Falcons not having to dip into the trade market or free agency this year to get competent, reasonably priced tight end play. With big extensions coming for multiple players and real needs along the trenches, every set position helps.