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Falcons roster battles: How will the TE depth chart shake out behind Hayden Hurst?

Fact: Jaeden Graham has a pet iguana named “Turtle”

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

11 combined catches. 11 combined catches. The tight ends on the current Falcons roster not named Hayden Hurst have 11 combined catches in the NFL. Oh, and 1 receiving touchdown. That’s ... underwhelming. But it doesn’t mean the Falcons are lacking talent at tight end. In fact, they may wind up having surplus of it. It just means the Falcons will have to resolve some uncertainty behind Hurst between now and the start of the regular season.

The contenders

Jaeden Graham

Graham is the favorite to serve as the primary backup behind Hurst. In fact, it’s probably safe to go ahead and slot him in as the TE2 at this point. If you recall, Graham started in Austin Hooper’s absence last season and the team is on the record about their fascination with him.

Khari Lee

Lee starred in the XFL and has some NFL experience (32 games and 7 starts) under his belt. But if you’re in search of a viable receiving threat, Lee isn’t it. He’s caught all of 2 passes for 8 receiving yards since his professional career began in 2015. Lee’s a quality in-line blocker that rated out as the XFL’s best blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus. This makes him a viable candidate for TE3 behind Hurst and Graham.

Carson Meier

Meier spent time on the Falcons practice squad last season, earning a promotion to the 53-man roster once when both Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker were hurt. His blocking chops are what’s keeping him under contract in Atlanta, although he did rack up 4 receiving touchdowns as a redshirt senior at Oklahoma. Meier would have to showcase better blocking ability than Lee to stick on the roster, but he’s certainly a practice squad candidate.

Jared Pinkney

Pinkney drew rave reviews as one of the best UDFAs available following the 2020 NFL Draft. And because a substantial percentage of every NFL roster is made up of UDFAs, that kind of thing matters. It means Pinkney had options as a priority free agent and the Falcons had to sell him to some degree, which they obviously did. Does that give Pinkney an inside track to a spot on the roster? Maybe. He will need to live up to the hype, but there are reasons to think he can be a legitimate contributor in 2020 and beyond. Remember, this is a guy whose name and the words “first rounder” were frequently said in the same sentence as recently as 12-13 months ago. If Pinkney doesn’t make this roster, it’s because Lee beat him out.

Caleb Repp

Repp was recently signed by the Falcons as an UDFA and will be lucky to land on the practice squad. He played tight end and defensive end at Utah before playing as a graduate transfer at Utah State. The latter carved out a hybrid wide receiver/tight end role for Repp, whose blocking abilities are questionable. He has an exceptionally low ceiling as a blocker, but his potential as a possession receiver with plus size is intriguing. Repp needs to catch everything that’s thrown at him to have a future in Atlanta.

The likely outcome

Meier and Repp are probably the most expendable options at this point. But the Falcons should proceed with caution if they choose to cut Graham, Lee, or Pinkney, because any of them will immediately compete for a roster spot with a different team. It would seem Lee and Pinkney will compete to serve as the TE3, with the loser departing Atlanta. (The Falcons can’t put Lee on their practice squad because he has at least 2 years of accrued service and Pinkney is likely to be scooped up by a team with less talent at tight end.)

Your thoughts about the tight end depth chart, Falcoholics?