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Falcons post-2020 roster review: TE edition

Fact: Hayden Hurst hates pickled radishes

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the off-season, Falcons fans. A time to take stock of the season that just wrapped and look ahead to the future. And as part of that process, we’re taking a look at each position group, offering a candid assessment of what the Falcons do and don’t have to work with in 2021.

Next up in our roster review series are tight ends, a position group that will need some time and attention ahead of the 2021 season.

Hayden Hurst

2020 Stats: 88 targets, 56 receptions, 571 receiving yards, 10.2 yards/reception, 6 touchdowns, 63.6% catch rate

Contract Status: Under contract through 2021, UFA in 2022, $1.98 million cap hit in 2021, 5th year option available

Needing to put the Austin Hooper era behind them, the Falcons sent a second round draft pick to the Raven’s in exchange for Hurst’s services. The Falcons believed they could help Hurst reach his ceiling and live up to his first round pedigree. And they arguably took a step in that direction in 2020.

Hurst’s catch rate dipped considerably in 2020 (down from 76.9% in 2019), but the Falcons more than doubled his opportunities. (He was only targeted 39 times in 2019.) Hurst only had 2 drops in 2020, but 3 passes intended for him were intercepted. He struggled mightily on short passes between the numbers. Conversely, he excelled when targeted with short passes outside the numbers. Hurst’s blocking was inconsistent, but he quickly became one of Matt Ryan’s favorite targets. (He had the team’s third most targets, behind only Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.)

Going forward, Hurst undoubtedly has room for improvement. That said, he probably took more flack from the fan base than was warranted in 2020.

Luke Stocker

2020 Stats: 11 targets, 7 receptions, 63 receiving yards, 9 yards/reception, 0 touchdowns, 63.6% catch rate

Contract Status: UFA

Stocker has likely played his last snap as a Falcon. A blocking tight end that probably got too much attention in Dirk Koetter’s feared passing attack, Stocker’s blocking in 2020 was less than ideal. That’s a real problem when you’re a “blocking tight end,” because folks are going to expect you to block. And, to be frank, that’s exactly why the Falcons re-signed Stocker back in August. They knew Hurst still had work to do as a blocker, and they needed that role filled on offense. But Stocker just didn’t scratch that itch in 2020. And with his 33rd birthday six months away, the Falcons probably aren’t going to be interested in him going forward.

Jaeden Graham

2020 Stats: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 25 receiving yards, 8.3 yards/reception, 0 touchdowns, 60% catch rate

Contract Status: ERFA

Graham didn’t get many opportunities in 2020, garnering just a small percentage of the Falcons’ offensive snaps each week. Is that a knock on Graham? Hard to say, but I do think the Falcons make an effort to keep him around in 2021.

Jared Pinkney

2020 Stats: n/a

Contract Status: Signed futures deal with Titans yesterday

Pinkney was a priority UDFA that got a lot of preseason hype. He then spent the entire year on the Falcons’ practice squad. And as of yesterday, he was officially off the market.

Outlook:

With only a single tight end under contract, the Falcons will need to address this position group in earnest via free agency and the draft. One would think Graham would be welcomed back on a team-friendly deal, but who knows, given the transition ahead. Hurst hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, and with another off-season’s worth of work with Ryan, it’s not crazy to expect to see his production tick up slightly in 2021.

Your thoughts about the state of the TE position in Atlanta, Falcoholics?