Atlanta didn’t do anything in the draft to address the tight end position, but then, they didn’t really need to. Short of acquiring another elite pass catching tight end to turn this offense into a full-fledged circus of domination, they’ve built out a corps that has a nice blend of quality blockers, versatile players, and of course the Pro Bowl tight end atop the depth chart.
Let’s dive in to the position group.
It’s Austin Hooper. Playing in a pass-happy environment where receivers regularly put up gaudy numbers, Hooper has tended to be underrated, especially after an up-and-down rookie year cemented some perceptions of him. In reality, though, Hooper will head into the 2019 season as one of the best tight ends in football, and the unquestioned top dog in Atlanta.
Hooper’s biggest calling card is his reliability, as he’s posted catch rates of 70%, 75%, and 80% in his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s reliable on third downs, he’s reliable when Matt Ryan needs a quick out, and he’s good with both volume and the opportunity to break one. The team has been content to use him as a chain-mover, especially during a 2018 season where he averaged under 10 yards per reception, but his ability to vacuum up targets, block well and occasionally put his plus athleticism to use in a rumble downfield has made him a valuable cog in the offense. He’s also just 24 years old and may have better seasons ahead.
There are a ton of guys here competing for, at most, three spots.
Luke Stocker is the odds-on favorite to be the #2 guy in Atlanta. Stocker’s a good blocker, a fine receiving option when called upon, and has some experience playing fullback and special teams, the kind of versatility that endears him to coaching staffs. Then there’s the fact that he’s worked in offenses under both Dirk Koetter and Mike Mularkey, which means he’s a well-rounded guy with scheme experience on a team looking for those traits. I’d expect Stocker to have a significant role in an offense that should value tight ends highly.
After that your best options are Eric Saubert and Logan Paulsen. Saubert came a long way as a blocker last season but has yet to be utilized as much of a receiving option, which is a shame given how intriguing his athletic toolkit is. Paulsen is less flashy but showed last year that he can be a reliable blocker and quality third down and red zone option, so he may be able to push his way on to the roster even by shoving Saubert aside or sticking as the fourth guy. I’d expect Saubert to be the choice, however.
Beyond that, there are still interesting candidates, though they’re likely fighting over practice squad spots. Alex Gray spent two years as the 11th man on Atlanta’s practice squad as a converted rugby star and brings some intriguing physicality to the table, but he’ll be 28 this year and the team’s depth chart looks pretty stacked. Jaeden Graham is only 23 and has shown some real promise over the last couple of offseasons, but the story is much the same for him. One of them is likely to end up on the practice squad again.
This is one of the stronger and deeper groups the Falcons have had in a while. Hooper is a plus starter, Stocker is a versatile, high-quality backup, and either of Saubert or Paulsen (to say nothing of both) would give the Falcons useful blockers with some receiving chops to round things out. Dirk Koetter’s offense is likely to make extensive use of at least Hooper and Stocker, and alongside a revamped offensive line and killer receiving corps, tight end ought to be a position of strength in 2019.
The more of these I write, the more I like this roster. Help me.