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Falcons roster review: Tight ends

There are a few different options for the Falcons at tight end, but some promising young players to work with.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta’s passing game featured plenty of variety and depth. That was apparent in the Falcons’ usage of their tight ends. Five different tight ends caught a pass for Atlanta last season and there is reason for optimism with this group moving forward.

2016 Atlanta Falcons tight end stats

Name Targets Receptions Yards YPC TDs PFF Grade
Name Targets Receptions Yards YPC TDs PFF Grade
Austin Hooper 27 19 271 14.3 3 73.6
Levine Toilolo 19 13 264 20.3 2 68.1
Jacob Tamme 31 22 210 9.5 3 77.6
Joshua Perkins 5 3 42 14 1 53.9
D.J. Tialavea 1 1 1 1 1 71.1
2016 Atlanta Falcons tight end stats

The main contributors

By selecting Austin Hooper in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Atlanta sought to add a tight end capable of creating mismatches against opposing defenses. As the year progressed, Hooper appeared to become more comfortable in this offense and came up with some timely plays, including three catches and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Not too shabby, there, rook.

Kyle Shanahan liked to sneak the tight ends across the backside of the play on rollouts, which led to several long gains. Hooper was the target on a few of those passes, but it was Levine Toilolo who appeared to get the most usage out of some creative play designs.

Due to the amount of depth and varied contribution Atlanta had in the passing game, there wasn’t a large role for the Falcons’ tight ends to occupy. Toilolo had his best season, however, and Hooper should continue to develop and improve after earning valuable experience as a rookie.

The high-upside project

One of the more interesting secondary or tertiary plot lines from last season was the Falcons’ decision to keep Joshua Perkins around as the team’s fourth tight end for most of the year. In a league where every roster decision can prove vital, it’s not often that a team will keep so much depth at a position like tight end.

This leads to the assumption that Atlanta likes what it has in Perkins, who is only 23 years old. Perkins showed why that faith may pan out with a highlight-reel catch against the Carolina Panthers, but he also had a notable drop against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. It’s unclear what the timetable for Perkins’ development looks like, but he’s shown promise and should be on fans’ radar for the future.

One other small fact of note: Perkins played at Washington while Atlanta’s newly-hired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was the head coach of the program.

Looking ahead

Among the veteran free agents that the Falcons will have to make a decision on is tight end Jacob Tamme. The reliable target has been a nice option for Matt Ryan since joining the team in 2015, and he managed to put up similar production to Hooper and Toilolo despite playing just half the season. Still, Hooper’s development might make Tamme disposable, especially if Atlanta wants Perkins to see more game action.

Toilolo is also set to become a free agent, and he might be a player the Falcons look to bring back because of his ability as a blocker. D.J. Tialavea, another young prospect at the position, is someone who seems capable of becoming a good blocker, but Toilolo is likely the most proficient of the bunch.

The Falcons may very well choose to move forward with their young crop of players at the position – Hooper, Perkins and Tialavea – or they could decide to bring back a veteran pass catcher (Tamme) or blocker (Toilolo). Atlanta has a lot of options at the position, which should allow it to focus more energy on other pressing matters. This position seems to have plenty of upside, but a slight learning curve as well.