Expect the Falcons to take at least one tight end in the 2021 NFL draft

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Arthur Smith is outspoken about his use of multiple tight end sets, and from his time in Tennessee, we know how effective it can be. For a majority of the offensive snaps, the Titans ran the ball out of 11 or 12 (RB-TE) personnel, and the latter would result in only two receivers on the field. According to sharpfootballstats, 36% of Tennessee’s run plays came out of 12 personnel, and 31% came out of 11 personnel. With a long history of developing talent at tight end, Smith will likely be confident in his ability to develop later round prospects into what he needs them to be. Jonnu Smith was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft, and he earned himself a four-year, $50 million contract for his play in Arthur Smith’s offense.

Everything in Smith’s offense begins with the run game. Tennessee used a multi-dimensional scheme to run the football, mostly deploying gap and zone runs, with a majority of those being zone scheme — split zone and inside zone, to be specific. The reason that Arthur Smith, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, and Sean McVay’s offenses are so successful is that they deploy multiple plays — both run and pass — within the same formation with the same pre-snap motion. All of these guys like to use a lot of window dressing, something that Dirk Koetter was notoriously poor with.

Of all of the total pass plays that the Titans ran, 49% came out of 11 personnel, and 30% came out of 12 personnel. Smith’s Titans offense was extremely balanced, 40% of all plays came out of 11 personnel, and 33% came out of 12 personnel — three-quarters of a playbook out of just two personnel groupings. This requires a specific type of tight end to stay on the field and be productive as a blocker and receiver. The Falcons have a tight end on the roster capable of handling just about any role involved with the position, so the short-term need isn’t high. However, there isn’t a single tight end signed past 2021, as Hayden Hurst is in the last year of his rookie deal, though he does have a $5,428,000 fifth-year option. 

With no other tight end signed for 2022, the Falcons could exercise Hurst’s fifth-year option, and for the price — they probably should. I will point out that Hurst isn’t just a below-average blocking tight end; he’s one of the worst in the league. Smith has revived many tight ends’ careers, so there is a chance Hurst develops into a reliable blocker, but I wouldn’t count on it. This points to Terry Fontenot spending at least one day two or three pick on a tight end. Besides the obvious potential of taking Kyle Pitts fourth, below are some options that I’ve previously discussed

Brevin Jordan

If Freiermuth is a typical Y-tight end, then Brevin Jordan is a move tight end — only 107 of his 458 snaps this past season came inline. He’s a smooth route-runner with the quickness and athleticism to separate throughout the secondary, thanks to his burst out of his breaks. Jordan is a serviceable run-blocker, which makes me think Fontenot and Arthur Smith could land on the former Miami Hurricane. Some might point to his run-blocking as a major weakness, but Ben Fennell is someone I rely on quite a bit when comparing my analysis; he says Jordan is a MUCH better blocking prospect than everyone thinks. It’s worth noting that Jordan tested very poorly at his pro day, but there is still some value to him on late day two or day three. If he turns into a two-way tight end, Fontenot and Smith could regret not taking Jordan on day two of the draft.

Tommy Tremble

Tommy Tremble is an absolute bull when blocking, the closest thing to Marcedes Lewis I have seen coming out of college. Whether that’s at full back, H-back, inline, or from the slot, Tremble wants to locate and destroy. Tremble is a better receiver than people give him credit for; don’t look at just the production. With reliable hands and more than enough speed to get by on seams, crossers, flats, and wheels, the former Notre Dame tight end could be a perfect scheme fit for Arthur Smith’s play-action heavy offense.

Hunter Long

Hunter Long does a little bit of everything, but he’s not exceptional at anything. Long doesn’t have the breakaway vertical speed or YAC abilities, but he’s as sure-handed as any in this class. The Boston College product has a fantastic frame, a vast catch radius, and uses his build to wall off defenders with skilled body control. Winning contested catches is something he must refine because he isn’t explosive enough to generate separation. His run-blocking could use addressing, but his skill set is ideal for developing into a starting-caliber Y tight end.

 

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