Falcons Post-Draft Roster Breakdown: Tight Ends

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This is the fourth installment of a comprehensive positional roster breakdown for the Falcons following April’s draft — moving on from quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. We will analyze the team’s rostered tight ends and the new regime’s first draft pick — Kyle Pitts. What is especially interesting about this group is head coach Arthur Smith’s background and fascination with the position. In some capacity, Smith coached the tight ends for over five seasons in Tennessee, and he’s been open this offseason about his bias towards tight ends. There are six rostered tight ends, and based on the Titans’ 53-man roster from 2020, I would expect the Falcons to go into the season with four.

 

Kyle Pitts

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Kyle Pitts is a generational talent and will instantly challenge George Kittle and Travis Kelce for the crown at the position. Instead of regurgitating everything I’ve already said, below is an excerpt from a previous article.

Pitts is positionless. He can align on the boundary, in the slot, or with his hand in the dirt. He’s as good of a route-runner as any receiver in this draft with great burst out of his break, giving him elite change-of-direction skills for a person of his size. Pitts is as good after-the-catch as he is before, a rare and tremendous red-zone threat. Excellent at beating one-on-one press, but also great at finding the soft spot in zones. The former Gator, much like Julio Jones, makes normal 50-50 balls, closer to 60-40 in favor of Pitts.

Hayden Hurst

Hurst is going to see the field if trends continue. Last year in Tennessee, Arthur Smith deployed 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers — 35% of the time, a league-leading 373 snaps, and 15% more than the league average. Smith’s resume with tight ends is impressive after reviving Delanie Walker’s career and aiding Jonnu Smith’s ascension to Pro Bowl status. Hurst has obvious receiving ability, and the idea of him and Pitts on the field in 12 personnel should give defensive coordinators nightmares. Still, he’s a well-below-average blocker, and Smith will have to speed up that progression if he’s to be a serviceable blocker in this offense.

Lee Smith

Not only did [Arthur] Smith’s Titans run 12 personnel more than any other team in the league, but only one team — the Cleveland Browns — used the 13 personnel grouping more than Tennessee in 2020. Insert Lee Smith, who is a completely different type of tight end than the aforementioned other two. He’s essentially a sixth offensive lineman and offers virtually nothing except a check down in passing situations. [Lee] Smith will be the Falcons’ version of Green Bay’s Marcedes Lewis, who can consistently handle defensive ends independently when Pitts and Hurst can’t. He’s an important component of this offense, even if you won’t hear his name very often.

Jaeden Graham

An exclusive-rights free agent this offseason, Graham was retained by the new regime given his connection to Falcons’ assistant offensive line coach Chandler Henley — the tight ends coach at Yale. I believe there is untapped potential with Graham, as he showed flashes in the 2019 season before Dirk Koetter effectively eliminated him from the offense in 2020 — he posted 9 receptions on 10 targets for 149 yards and a touchdown two seasons ago. Even if he is purely depth at this position, Graham has a role on special teams, where he’s contributed heavily each of the past two seasons.

Ryan Becker

Becker originally went undrafted to the Cardinals in 2020, but was never activated. The former SMU Mustang isn’t much of a receiving threat, which is apparent in his collegiate numbers — only catching 16 passes for 198 receiving yards and five touchdowns during his four seasons. I see Graham making it over Becker due to the higher ceiling the former has, but Becker could be used in an H-Back type role.

Parker Hesse

Hesse was the most recent addition to the tight end room after signing with the team Thursday. He has a connection to Arthur Smith, as he signed with the Titans practice squad after going undrafted in 2019 — the same year Smith took over as offensive coordinator. The former Iowa Hawkeye was a collegiate defensive end, but the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Hesse made the positional switch in Tennessee. He’s a developmental piece who could find himself on the practice squad in 2021 with a better opportunity of making the team next year.

 

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