Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
When the Falcons entered the 2020 offseason, they kept the door open with tight end Austin Hooper and other soon-to-be free agents but knew those players would eventually hit the open market.
Hooper was coming off the best season of his career and had emerged as a consistent weapon for the Falcons. His 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards and six touchdowns made him one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL last season, and he earned his second Pro Bowl invitation as a result.
- More predictions: CB | QB | WR | S | RB | LB
- Tabeek's guess at starters: Offense | Defense
- Falcons 2020 schedule | 8 things to know
- Atlanta Falcons current 2020 roster
Once the Falcons realized that they would have to replace Hooper and his production, they acted quickly. On the first day of the new league, the Falcons traded for tight end Hayden Hurst, a player the Falcons did their homework on prior to the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Falcons coveted Hurst's speed and athleticism so much that they sent a second- and a fifth-round pick to the Ravens in exchange for Hurst and a fourth-round selection after Hooper opted to sign with the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
Something to prove: While Hayden Hurst has been in the league for two years, he's appeared in 28 games and made just four starts. Hurst was targeted 39 times in the Ravens' run-heavy offense and caught 30 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. As a rookie, he was targeted 23 times, caught 13 passes for 163 yards and one score. Can he step in and put up similar (or better) numbers to Austin Hooper's final season in Atlanta? We believe Hurst is the No. 1 candidate to have a breakout season in 2020.
A familiar face is back: The Falcons decided to bring back Luke Stocker on Aug. 14. The 32-year-old appeared in 15 games with nine starts for the Falcons in 2019. Stocker, who is a capable blocker and receiver, provides depth and experience to a fairly young and unproven tight ends group.
Will Graham's growth continue? While Jaeden Graham is entering his third season in Atlanta, he doesn't have a ton of game experience and still developing as a tight end. The Yale product played fairly well when Austin Hooper was injured last season, catching seven passes for 117 yards and his first career touchdown during a three-week span.
Here are the number of tight ends the Falcons have kept in previous seasons on the initial roster:
- 2017: 3 tight ends
- 2018: 3 tight ends
- 2019: 3 tight ends
Here are the players who I think are locks to make the team (i.e., starters and key reserves) unless something unforeseen should happen (listed in alphabetical order):
- Jaeden Graham
- Hayden Hurst
ON THE BUBBLE
Here are the players who I think are still in the mix to make the team, could land on the practice squad or will be released (listed in alphabetical order):
- Khari Lee
- Jared Pinkney
- Luke Stocker
- 2020 roster forecast: 3 tight ends
Tabeek's Take: When the Falcons made the trade with Baltimore for Hayden Hurst, they made it clear that they believe the former South Carolina standout can flourish in this offense, much like Austin Hooper did. He is without a doubt the starter going into the season. Luke Stocker brings experience, versatility and familiarity with this offense. Jaeden Graham continues to develop as a receiver and blocker – and the coaches like him. The Falcons, I believe, will keep all three on the initial roster.
- Hayden Hurst
- Jaeden Graham
- Luke Stocker
PREDICTING THE 53-MAN ROSTER
- Aug. 26: Cornerbacks (6)
- Aug. 27: Quarterbacks (2)
- Aug. 28: Tight ends (3)
- Aug. 29: Safeties (5)
- Aug. 30: Running backs (5)
- Aug. 31: Linebackers (5)
- Sept. 1: Wide receivers (6)
- Sept. 2: Defensive line (10)
- Sept. 3: Offensive line (8)
- Sept. 3: Special teams (3)
A look at tight ends Jaeden Graham, Hayden Hurst and Luke Stocker.The views and opinions represented here and in the corresponding article belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
BIRD NOISES: Hayden Hurst 'is coming for it all'
New Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst talks about his great expectations for 2020, coming to the Atlanta from Baltimore, the one person he wanted me to meet most here and more with Matt Tabeek.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you agree or disagree with Matt Tabeek's roster predictions? Have a comment or a question you'd like to ask about the Falcons? If so, submit it here. Please remember to include your home state (or country if you live outside the U.S.). Your question could be selected to appear in Straight from the Beek. Thanks for reading.
Do you have a question about the Falcons that you want answered? Ask a question here and it could be posted on AtlantaFalcons.com.