As the draft moves further into the rear view, we continue our look at the Atlanta Falcons’ roster heading into the upcoming season. Today: tight ends.
The Falcons’ standing at the tight end spot was one that was much discussed throughout the months leading up to the draft. The acquisition of Logan Paulsen in the wake of Atlanta unloading Levine Toilolo mainly quashed any further roster shenanigans, but the 2018 NFL Draft still presented an opportunity for the Falcons to potentially add a tight end.
The Falcons did no such thing, and appear content heading into the upcoming season with the TE position comprised of Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert, rugby standout-turned football player Alex Gray, and a couple of undrafted additions. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Austin Hooper experienced a sophomore slump in 2017 which was defined by inopportune drops. He’s become somewhat of a lightning rod among Atlanta fans, and was one of the primary catalysts behind the “We need to draft a tight end” conversation.
He ultimately compiled 49 receptions for 526 yards and three touchdowns, rounding out the year with a 61.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, but his failure to reel in key passes in key moments became the story of his second season.
The former Stanford Cardinal enters 2018 as Atlanta’s undisputed top receiving option at tight end, and while we saw electrifying glimpses of his pass catching prowess in his rookie year, year three is where he needs to put it all together.
Ah, the enigmatic Eric Saubert. Blessed with a prototypical build for a receiving tight end, Saubert is also an extremely raw prospect that needs the proper coaching to flourish at the NFL level.
The Falcons selected Saubert in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Drake, and although active for 14 games, he only saw 30 offensive snaps and did not catch a pass. The bulk of his work came on special teams, but it’s a safe assumption that the Falcons are looking for Saubert to factor into the offensive game plan this season.
As we have no NFL-level offensive statistics to comb through, Eric Saubert is all projection at this point — but he has all of the physical attributes to be a difference-maker for the Falcons. His senior season in college saw him haul in 56 passes for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns. Atlanta would gladly accept even a portion of that production in 2018.
One of Atlanta’s free agency acquisitions, Logan Paulsen was brought in to fill outgoing tight end Levine Toilolo’s role — albeit at cheaper cost and shorter height. Paulsen is a block-first TE, so expectations as to his role in the Falcons’ passing attack should be tempered. Like, really tempered. He did not catch a pass last season in San Francisco, and has tallied 82 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns his entire career. He is an outstanding run blocker, however, and figures to be a sound addition to Atlanta’s ground game.
Gray joined the Atlanta Falcons last May, signed a reserve/futures contract in January, and will once again be afforded the opportunity to prove he can contribute at the professional level. At 27 and hailing from England, Gray is unique as he abandoned his rugby career to pursue football in the United States. With the tight end situation less than settled, Gray will have a shot to make the squad if he can show that he’s learned the game and position.
UDFAs: Troy Mangen and Jake Roh
The Falcons added a couple of rookie tight ends post-draft: Ohio University’s Troy Mangen and Boise State’s Jake Roh.
Mangen is a big dude at 6’6, 256, but his size did not translate to much offensive production in college. Across his five years at school (he missed 2015 due to injury) he recorded a line of 49 catches, 440 yards, and four touchdowns.
Roh is the interesting prospect here, as he profiles more as an H-back than traditional inline tight end. The Falcoholic’s own Kevin Knight broke down what Roh can bring to the table here. I was admittedly very keen on the Falcons bringing in Trey Burton for a similar role, but his price tag proved too much of an obstacle. Atlanta’s fullback situation is very much up in the air, and Roh may end up cracking the roster simply for his versatility.
Lacking a surefire TE1, the Falcons’ situation at tight end is more positional Plinko than odds-on strength. Atlanta is betting on the maturation of Hooper and Saubert in the passing game, and displaying confidence that Logan Paulsen can fulfill the pass blocking role previously held by Levine Toilolo. Alex Gray is not as big of a longshot as you’d expect, but he will need to take full advantage of his reps in camp. Troy Mangen and Jake Roh will be given a shot to show what they can do in camp, and Roh’s ability to mix-and-match as a tight end or fullback will give him an edge as far as making the roster goes.
Exiting the draft without adding a tight end, the Falcons appear content with their current personnel, and confident that their young TEs can take the next step in the offense. We’ll see how it all shakes out in 2018.