The Falcons completely overhauled their TE room in 2020, with emerging star Austin Hooper departing in free agency after receiving the most lucrative TE contract in history. Atlanta traded a second-round pick to the Ravens in exchange for former first-round pick Hayden Hurst, and also moved on from veteran Luke Stocker. The depth chart is drastically different than even a year ago, and despite the level of talent on the roster, things are still relatively unsettled.
Now that we’re in the abyss of the offseason, let’s take a moment to examine all the TE groups in the NFC South to determine which team has the strongest depth chart. I’ll be taking a look at the starters, overall depth, and upside of each group to select and rank the Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Saints heading into the 2020 season.
The Falcons’ TE corps has a ton of potential. Hayden Hurst missed his rookie season with an injury and never really had a chance to become a featured TE1 in Baltimore after the emergence of Mark Andrews—but he’s very talented and has tremendous athleticism. Third-year player Jaeden Graham finally made the roster in 2019, and led the entire team in yards per reception with 16.6 (among those with 5 or more catches)—he’ll have a chance to seize a larger role as the TE2. Behind them, Atlanta brought in XFL standout and NFL veteran Khari Lee—who is an excellent blocker—and UDFA Jared Pinkney, who is an intriguing receiving prospect.
The Panthers have very little to speak of at the TE position after the departure of Greg Olsen. Ian Thomas has flashed at times as a quality receiver and blocker, but has only averaged a pedestrian 9.0 YPR through his first two seasons. Behind him, the cupboard is mostly bare. Chris Manhertz is a quality veteran blocker, but doesn’t offer anything in the receiving department. Temarrick Hemingway, Colin Thompson, Giovanni Ricci, and Cam Sutton have a combined 0 catches and 13 games played between them.
New Orleans Saints
Jason Vander Laan
The Saints have a very top-heavy TE group and depth is a legitimate concern. Veteran Jared Cook had perhaps the best season of his career in 2019, with 43 receptions for 705 yards (16.4 YPR) and 9 TDs. He’ll be 33 in 2020, but has thus far shown no signs of slowing down. Josh Hill has been a solid TE2 for the Saints since 2013, but isn’t a particularly exciting option in any area. Third-round pick Adam Trautman from Dayton is an intriguing developmental option, but isn’t likely to produce much in Year 1. New Orleans has very little in the way of depth behind them. Jason Vander Laan, Cole Wick, and Garrett Griffin have combined for a total of 20 games played and just 2 receptions between them. If Jared Cook misses time, this unit goes from good to bad in a hurry.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay had a good TE room before Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join them. Gronk hasn’t played in the NFL since 2018 and struggled with injuries over his final seasons, but is just 31 years old and has a strong connection with Tom Brady. O.J. Howard has never really taken the next step with the Bucs, but has put forth consistently strong performances as a high-end TE2. Cameron Brate is a reliable receiving TE who could probably be a serviceable TE1 on some teams, but will be a very good TE3 for Tampa. Jordan Leggett is an intriguing developmental option, and Antony Auclair has been a solid depth piece for the Bucs since 2017. Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy are both camp bodies who have very little chance of making the roster.
Who has the best TE group?
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- New Orleans Saints
- Atlanta Falcons
- Carolina Panthers
It’s pretty clear that Tampa Bay, with their embarrassment of riches at the TE position, claims the top spot in our NFC South rankings. Few teams in the NFL can match the level of star power and depth that the Bucs have in Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. The middle of the rankings is a little closer, but I have to give New Orleans the edge due to the presence of Jared Cook and Josh Hill. Cook was easily a top-10 TE in 2019, Hill is a solid TE2, and Trautman is a long-term developmental option—but an injury to Cook would be catastrophic. The Atlanta Falcons are comfortably sitting at 3 due to the potential on the roster in Hayden Hurst—who could feasibly have a breakout season in 2020—and Jaeden Graham, who has real upside as a receiver. The depth is also solid with blocker Khari Lee and rookie Jared Pinkney. At the bottom are the Carolina Panthers, who have a serviceable starter in Ian Thomas and a blocking TE2 in Chris Manhertz but very little upside or reliable depth.
What are your thoughts on the TE groups in the NFC South? Do you agree with these rankings, or would you change some of the teams around?