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Falcons rookie outlook: Eric Saubert

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The rookie tight end has huge upside, but doesn’t figure to be a 2017 factor.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Saubert was the last Falcons draft pick in what I think will prove to be an excellent 2017 class. He also feels like the biggest wild card out of any of these guys, with a wide range of potential outcomes that swing between draft disappointment and starting-caliber tight end.

Full disclosure: I was a huge fan of this pick, and I have high hopes for Saubert. I recognize that a path to playing time is tricky in the near-term, though, and a fifth rounder is no lock to work out. I just think he has the athleticism and ability to be much more than a late round selection, even if it takes some time to get

Here’s a look at his short-term and long-term outlooks.

2017 Outlook

Games Played: 8

This may be a bit of a leap, but I do think Saubert will wind up on the field more than Josh Perkins when all is said and done. Perkins has some familiarity with Steve Sarkisian, who loves tight ends, and showed a little bit as a pass catcher this past year, but Saubert arguably has more upside as both a receiver and a blocker, and needs that time on the field.

Stat Line: 10 receptions, 130 yards, 1 touchdown

It’ll be a pretty quiet first year for Saubert, who figures to be last on the pecking order for targets when he’s on the field, but I think he’ll get a little run behind Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo. It should translate into a handful of receptions and maybe the obligatory exciting rookie touchdown, but unless injury strikes, I don’t see more than this.

Role: Reserve

Like Hill before him, Saubert’s only real path to playing time is head-turning excellence this summer, injuries in front of him, or both. He could be the third tight end, which means he’ll be active on game days and find himself some time on the field on offense and perhaps special teams. He could also be the fourth tight end (and I do think the Falcons will carry four), in which case he’ll likely be behind Josh Perkins or mayyyybe D.J. Tialavea. Relevance isn’t in his 2017 future unless something goes wrong.

Long-term outlook: Good

There are a couple of possible paths for Saubert, here. The first is that he simply doesn’t develop all that quickly, doesn’t display the upside we’d love to see from him, and winds up as maybe the team’s long-term third tight end. When Levine Toilolo exits the scene in one year, two years, or three years, Saubert will behind somebody else.

The other possible path is that Saubert catches on quickly, does away with his reported drop issues, picks up blocking, and his natural talent does the rest. In that case, he’d be a nice second tight end for the Falcons, and he and Hooper could be one of the league’s more dangerous duos at the position. That’s dreaming big, maybe, but the talent is pretty apparent.

It’s worth noting that Chuck Reed, the Drake football announcer, reached out to me after the draft to dispute the idea that Saubert has a drops problem, and had a ton of nice things to say about Saubert’s game in general. We’ll have something more in-depth from Reed down the line. Given that he’s one of the few people who has probably seen every game Saubert played, I’m very willing to take him at his word, and if that’s the case it likely won’t be a very long time before Saubert starts contributing. But we’ll see where the NFL takes him.