Earlier this morning, my colleague Cory Woodroof wrote a thorough, well-reasoned take on the Falcons signing Antonio Gates to bolster their tight end position. It was a fair take, and one I suspect at least some of you will find yourself nodding along with. I’m here to disagree with Cory, though, and I thought it was worth having our two articles go back-to-back on a sleepy Sunday so you could consider whether the team needs a veteran option or not.
Here’s my take, in case you hadn’t guessed: The Falcons don’t need a tight end. I was actually relieved when they didn’t invest a draft pick, especially an early one, into trying to improve the position. The team has set themselves up for nervousness because of who they’re actually invested in at tight end, but their time and money would be better spent chasing down solutions at other positions.
Austin Hooper, in my mind, does not particularly need mentoring from a veteran tight end. He and Eric Saubert certainly do not need a veteran, especially one of Gates’ years, taking away snaps from either of them. Logan Paulsen is on hand when all the Falcons really need is another blocker, but in situations that call for two tight ends otherwise, it should be Hooper and Saubert.
Let’s start with Hooper, who has proven to be polarizing. His occasionally dunderheaded route running and a small handful of bad drops soured a lot of fans on him, which is understandable given how much those errors do stand out. That said, Hooper finished the year with the 14th-most tight end receptions in the game, the 15th-most yards, and the 20th-most touchdowns (tied with Antonio Gates, naturally). He was, in other words, right around an average starter statistically, and his talent is evident from the tape. He’ll be in his third season in 2018, a year that players typically break out if they’re going to, but has proven himself to be a perfectly legitimate starting option as a receiver and blocker to this point.
Then there’s Saubert, a bit of a lottery ticket. The 2017 fifth round selection was largely mothballed in his first year before getting a little run late, but he’s a genuinely electric athlete with all the physical tools to be problematic for defenses, especially since those defenses will have to concentrate some time and energy on stopping Hooper. Coming into the NFL his hands and route running were a bit of a question mark, and the hope would be that a year (and two full offseasons) of learning on the job will help to correct those. The team’s failure to add anyone at the tight end position aside from Logan Paulsen and some undrafted types suggest that Saubert is expected to take a step forward, and I’m bullish on his potential.
And finally you have Paulsen, who is a perfectly legitimate blocker with zero chance of becoming a useful option in the passing game. He’s basically Levine Toilolo with better blocking acumen and even less use as a receiver, and he’s here for a year to help the ground game flourish a bit. When the team needs to throw the ball to a tight end--and they will, even with Calvin Ridley joining up--they’ll look to Hooper and Saubert. Either one of them could become a problem in the red zone if they use their savvy and size better this season.
So adding someone like Gates, who basically had Austin Hooper’s season production-wise but without his youth and tantalizing upside, would likely serve only to stifle two legitimately interesting, cost-controlled options at the position from developing and potentially excelling. It’s a move that’s tempting, given that Hooper’s improvement isn’t set in stone and Saubert’s a relative unknown, but I think it’d be actively counter-productive to take away opportunities from either.
I welcome your thoughts, though.