Tight end was a useful position for the Falcons in 2018 on more than one front. Gone are the days of a quiet Austin Hooper season and whatever Levine Toilolo managed to throw in, as Hooper had a (relative) breakout year, Logan Paulsen was basically a more useful version of Toilolo, and Eric Saubert made progress as a young contributor late in the year. Tight end was serviceable this year at worst.
The good news for Atlanta is that minus Paulsen, all their options at the position are still young and promising. The big question is how they’ll fit into Dirk Koetter’s scheme, which did well with Tony Gonzalez and saw Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard thrive in Tampa Bay, but that’s a question best left for later.
Here’s our review of the tight end position.
2018 receiving stats: 71 receptions, 80.7% catch rate, 660 yards, 9.3 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
Hooper’s 2018 season was a fine one, of course, but it’s where it stacks up against other tight end seasons in team history that makes it truly impressive. Hooper’s 71 receptions are the most ever by a non-Tony Gonzalez tight end, his catch rate is the best in team history for a non-running back with more than 50 targets, and his yardage total is the eighth-best in Falcons history for a tight end, behind only seasons from Gonzo and Alge Crumpler. It was, in other words, one of the best seasons ever for a Falcons tight end.
Removed from its historic context, it’s still Hooper’s best season ever and a valuable one for the offense. Hooper made a lot of tough, contested catches in 2018, leaving a 2017 plagued by bad drops and mental errors largely behind. PFF pegged him with an above-average 68.5 rating, making him the #24 tight end in the NFL, and Hooper’s blocking has steadily improved since he came into the league. He’s never going to be mentioned among the NFL’s elites at the position, but he’s evolved into an extremely solid starter and a valuable piece of the offense, and he should be here a long time.
2018 receiving stats: 9 receptions, 100% catch rate, 91 yards, 10.1 yards per reception, 1 touchdown
Behold Logan Paulsen, extremely reliable receiving option. Paulsen was the kind of quality asset for the Falcons this year that he traditionally was in Washington, putting up a handful of key receptions on third downs and blocking effectively for much of the year. Considering what he was being paid and considering what the Falcons asked him to do, he was a fine value for Atlanta and a fun player to watch.
Paulsen’s status with the team could be threatened heading into 2019 by the emergence of Eric Saubert as a blocker—more on that in a moment—and the presence of young tight ends Jaeden Graham and Alex Gray. If the Falcons think they need him again, you won’t hear me complain at all about the likely price point or contributions.
2018 receiving stats: 5 receptions, 55.6% catch rate, 48 yards, 9.6 yards per reception
Saubert was talked up as a candidate to emerge and contribute in the run-up to the season, but for the second straight year he was largely a forgotten player. That will hopefully change under Dirk Koetter, but there are reasons to believe Saubert might be a more useful tight end going forward.
As a receiver he’s very much a work in progress and showed that, contributing minimally on limited snaps and making at least one major error with the ball in the air in 2018. PFF ranked him as a below average tight end in his limited opportunities, which is fair.
It’s the blocking, surprisingly, that distinguished Saubert late in the season. He threw some huge blocks late in the year and has the athleticism and strength necessary to be the team’s #2 option even if he’s never going to be much of a receiving option, and I’d like to see him get first crack at it in 2019. If he can’t be a more consistent contributor next season, he’ll be in danger of being cut heading into 2020.