The Falcons spent several years trying to find a decent successor for Tony Gonzalez. When they drafted Austin Hooper in 2016, there was some hope he would develop into a better receiving option than the likes of Levine Toilolo. That has definitely come to fruition as Hooper was one of the most productive receiving tight ends in the league in 2019, despite missing 3 games.
What did the entire unit look like in 2019 and what does it foretell for the 2020 season? Read on to find out.
TE Austin Hooper
2019 stats: 13 games, 97 targets, 75 receptions, 787 yards, 10.5 yards per reception, 6 TDs, 77.3% catch rate, 60.5 yards per game
Contract: Free agent
Put simply, the Falcons really need to make an effort to keep Austin Hooper around. He was the 7th rated tight end in 2019 per PFF and one of the youngest at the top of the list. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25 years old.
Hooper has continually improved each year in the league due in part to his time spent with QB Matt Ryan in the off-season. That paid off in a big way in 2019 with his best numbers to date. Hooper was second in targets behind only Julio Jones despite missing 3 games. It’s clear that Matt Ryan has confidence in Hooper now and it would be a shame to see that dispatched to save a few dollars.
While he may not be the “dominant” tight end many think about - ala George Kittle or Travis Kelce - there’s little doubt that Hooper can be highly productive. Given the poor options the Falcons have rotated through in the past, letting him go now would be a big mistake.
The other guys
TE Luke Stocker
2019 stats: 15 games, 14 targets, 8 receptions, 53 yards, 6.6 yards per reception, 0 TDs, 57.1% catch rate, 3.5 yards per game
Contract: 1 year remaining
Stocker was exactly what we thought he’d be. A primarily blocking tight end whose prowess as a receiver would be limited. He was serviceable as a blocker but unnerving as a downfield receiver. While he does have some value, it’s hard to see the Falcons being passionate about bringing him back in 2020. Don’t be surprised if they look for other options to fill this role.
TE Jaeden Graham
2019 stats: 16 games, 10 targets, 9 receptions, 149 yards, 16.6 yards per reception, 1TD, 90% catch rate, 9.3 yards per game
Contract: 1 year remaining
Before the off-season began, many fans wondered if Eric Saubert would finally see a bigger role in 2019. When he was traded to the Patriots before the season, Jaeden Graham was seen as a big reason why. For all the potential Saubert had, Graham was actually realizing it in games. That productivity carried over onto the field in a small way in 2019.
While the early returns are still minimal, there’s reason to think Graham can grow into a good TE2 role with the team. He was rated out as our best blocking tight end for the year and he also showed he could contribute more as a receiver than Stocker did. For an un-drafted player, the Falcons have certainly gotten far more than they could have expected.
As long as the Falcons find a way to keep Austin Hooper around for the long-term, the combination of him and Jaeden Graham could be a decent one-two punch at the position. When you consider some of the frustrating players who have come and gone at this position over the years, this seems like a drastic improvement overall. When you consider that Matt Ryan targets Hooper second only to Julio Jones himself, it’s clear that the position is in good shape.