The Falcons haven’t finished assembling their list of undrafted free agents just yet, but it’s safe to say the most intriguing name on the list on paper belongs to one Jared Pinkney from Vanderbilt.
Pinkney went from one of the most highly-touted tight end prospects in this class to an undrafted free agent in the span of a single year, a startling fall for a 6’4”, 260 pounder who had one of the most productive seasons in college football in 2018. There was somewhat of a perfect storm of factors that help to explain why that happened, and that help to give us hope that Pinkney can turn into a legitimate asset for the Falcons.
The first is a wrist injury that Pinkney suffered and that limited him in 2019. That bit into his production, but still wasn’t primarily the reason he struggled.
It would be hard to overstate just how much quarterback play hurt Pinkney in 2019. Kyle Shurmur was the starter in 2018, and the now-Chiefs practice squadder threw 24 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions, and directed 7 of those scores Pinkney’s way. With a solid quarterback throwing him the ball and prioritizing him as a target, Pinkney turned in a 50 reception, 774 yard campaign with those 7 scores and 15.5 yards per reception. He was getting legitimate buzz as a potential first round pick due to his athleticism and size, even if blocking was obviously going to something he had to work on.
Fast forward to 2019, where things went south. Starting quarterback Riley Neal threw just 9 touchdowns against 5 interceptions, and as a whole the team’s quarterback group threw 10 touchdowns and 10 picks. Predictably, Pinkney’s production fell off a cliff, as he reeled in just 20 passes for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was just one of two players to average over 11 yards per reception with over 10 receptions, and Vandy’s leading receiver had just 47 catches, or fewer than Pinkney managed in the previous year. The offense was largely brutal, with Buccaneers draft pick RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn the only player who actually fared well.
The injury and overall state of the offense undoubtedly killed Pinkney’s stock, but he was eager to tell SB Nation what he brought to an offense:
”Just that I’m trustworthy,” Pinkney said about what teams should know about him. “And it’s not that I’ve had things in my past, but on the field, you can trust this guy with reps pass-blocking, run-blocking, reception routes, going out for passes. And then when he leaves the facility, you can turn your phone off at night. He’s not one that you have to worry about.”
The Falcons, of course, have a much better quarterback situation and overall offense than Vanderbilt, thank god. They also have the luxury of letting a player like Pinkney learn the ropes a little bit in his first season, as even if he makes the team outright, the young tight end will be behind Hayden Hurst and Jaeden Graham, if not also former XFLer Khari Lee. That makes it a nice landing spot for him, but it also gives him a legitimate chance of developing into a contributor down the line, something the Falcons could sorely use after letting Hooper walk and pinning their hopes for 2020 and the short term on relatively unproven players.
Pinkney certainly has the talent. Let’s hope he and Graham can develop into at least solid contributors for the next quality Falcons team.