The Falcons clearly had the most dangerous offense in the NFL last season. Helmed by MVP QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s offense tore through NFL defenses at one of the best rates in NFL history. But why was that offense so successful? Julio Jones and the WRs certainly contributed, as did the two-headed rushing attack of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
An often overlooked key to that success, however, was the versatile and deep TE corps that the Falcons possessed. There were no superstars among them, but their ability to block and move the chains in key situations helped prevent opposing defenses from focusing on taking away one or two weapons.
Atlanta clearly realized this, and continued adding talent to the TE corps this offseason by re-signing Levine Toilolo and drafting Eric Saubert in the fifth round. Let’s take a look at how these additions alter the depth chart at TE going into training camp.
TE1 - Austin Hooper
2016 Stats: 19 rec, 271 yds, 14.3 avg, 3 TDs
Hooper was a 3rd-round draft pick in the 2016 draft, and had a relatively quiet yet effective rookie season. He spent the early portion of the year behind starter Jacob Tamme, and worked his way into a more prominent role down the stretch, particularly after Tamme’s injury.
Hooper is now the team’s TE1 in 2017. He’s a well-rounded player that should take the next step as a dynamic receiving threat. The Falcons offense often utilizes multiple TEs, and Hooper should be on the field in nearly every situation. Ideally, he’ll continue to develop into a dangerous red-zone weapon and security blanket for Matt Ryan.
TE2 - Levine Toilolo
2016 Stats: 13 rec, 264 yds, 20.3 avg, 2 TDs
Toilolo signed a 3-year, $12M contract this offseason to be the team’s primary blocking TE and occasional pass-catcher. He’s improved every year in the NFL, and going into his fifth season, Toilolo has proven himself as a very capable blocker and big play threat. I mean, just look at that ridiculous 20.3 YPC number. He’s clearly the best big-play TE in the NFL.
All jokes aside, Toilolo has a clear role on this team as a strong blocker in both the running and passing games
and an effective emergency RT. He’ll contribute a few catches here and there, and with his improving receiving ability, potentially start finding more success in the red-zone.
TE3 - Eric Saubert
2016 Stats: Rookie (5th-round), College: 56 rec, 776 yds, 13.9 avg, 10 TDs
Fifth-round rookie Eric Saubert likely comes into camp to compete for the TE3 role with Josh Perkins. He’s an electric receiving threat with good athletic ability and proven success in the red zone. While there will certainly be some adjustment from his days at Drake, Saubert has the work ethic and physical traits to find his way onto the field early in his career.
He’ll likely begin as a rotational move TE until his blocking improves, similar to Austin Hooper last season. But as the season goes on, expect Saubert to work himself into a more prominent role as one of the Falcons’ more dynamic interior receiving options. Don’t expect gaudy numbers this season, however.
TE4 - Josh Perkins
2016 Stats: 3 rec, 42 yds, 14.0 avg, 1 TD
Perkins spent the entire 2016 season on the Falcons’ 53-man roster as TE4, but only found his way onto the field after Jacob Tamme’s injury. He played in eight games as primarily a move TE, and managed to bring in a few impressive catches along the way. The main issue with Perkins is his blocking: it was downright awful at times during 2016.
He will likely need to show improvement in that area to stick on this roster in 2017. With Eric Saubert providing more upside as a receiver—but offering little as a blocker at this point—Perkins might find himself being pushed by a more reliable blocker, like D.J. Tialavea. However, the fact that the Falcons’ kept him on the roster all of last season means that the coaching staff clearly sees something they like in Perkins.
TE5 - D.J. Tialavea
2016 Stats: 1 rec, 1 yd, 1.0 avg, 1 TD
Tialavea has been a familiar face around the Falcons for a couple of seasons now. The solid blocking TE played in only two games for Atlanta in 2016, spending the majority of the season on the practice squad. He managed to make his one catch count, however, scoring a TD against Carolina in Week 16.
Outside of Hooper and Toilolo, Tialavea is the most reliable and polished blocking TE of the remaining options. The Falcons depend on their TEs to block in both the running and passing games, which is why Tialavea has always been a phone call away from the active roster. The only thing holding him back is his lackluster receiving ability—if he improves in this area, he could contend for the TE4 spot in 2017.
TE6 - Darion Griswold
2016 Stats: None
Admittedly, there isn’t a ton of information out there on Darion Griswold. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts after going undrafted in 2016, but apparently didn’t make it onto the field for any games. Griswold played college football at Arkansas State, but had a relatively quiet senior season (13 rec, 187 yds, 2 TDs). He does possess good size however, at 6’5 255.
That leads me to believe that Griswold is being brought in because of his blocking ability or potential blocking ability, but mainly as a camp body. I wish I could tell you more about him, but I can say he’s unlikely to even jump Tialavea on the depth chart—which means he’s an extreme long-shot to make the final roster.
Atlanta’s TE depth chart looks deep and well-rounded once again. If Austin Hooper can take the next step and become an above-average TE1 while being supported by the solid blocking of Toilolo and receiving abilities of Saubert and Perkins, this unit has the makings of a very good group going into 2017 and beyond.
What do you think about the Falcons’ TE corps heading into training camp? Where do you expect Saubert to end up on the final depth chart? Do you think Perkins sticks around? Does Darion Griswold have a chance to make it past first cuts?