For the past two seasons the Falcons have enjoyed the luxury of a future Hall of Fame talent at tight end. Tony Gonzalez has amassed 1,523 yards on 153 receptions and scored 12 touchdowns since arriving in Atlanta. He's been a tremendous asset for our young quarterback and although he's said he's coming back for his 15th season, he won't be around forever. It's time the Falcons start looking for his replacement and I have a few ideas in mind. You can review the Falcons' potential offensive tackle, wide receiver and offensive guard needs before diving in.
2011 Draft Need: Tight End
Current Starters: Tony Gonzalez (35 years old in 2011)
Reserves: Robbie Agnone (26), Michael Palmer (23), Justin Peelle (32), Marquez Branson (24)
Agone and Branson haven't seen any game action as Falcons making it tough to judge their long-term prospects. Peelle caught 10 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown in 2010 and saw a lot of playing time in the two tight end sets Mike Mularkey favored but he's 32 years old and will be a free agent in 2012. I think he'll move on with Gonzalez after the 2012 season. Palmer appeared in 14 games - making one start - and caught five passes for 29 yards and one touchdown in 2010 and, at 23 years old, has to be the leader in the clubhouse for the starting tight end spot when the 2012 season begins.
If the Falcons don't think Palmer is the future, here's some early round options from Mocking the Draft's top 200 they may consider. Their overall rank is shown below and you can see their entire tight end rankings here.
27. Kyle Rudolph | 6'6, 265 pounds | TE | Notre Dame
Projected round: 1-2
Injuries caused Rudolph to miss nine games at Notre Dame. There's not many scenarios I see that end with Rudolph in a Falcon uniform. He's an underclassmen who has an injury history and I know that worked out for the Patriots with Rob Gronkowski, the Falcons likely can't afford to risk it.
Closest pro comparison: Gronkowski, Patriots
54. D.J. Williams | 6'2, 250 pounds | TE | Arkansas
Projected round: 2-3
Concerns about his size have lowered his draft stock. He may not fit the physical blocking style the Falcons employ but he does hail from the SEC, a conference the Falcons have loved.
Closest pro comparison: Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
59. Luke Stocker | 6'6, 240 pounds | TE | Tennessee
Projected round: 2
Good size but has a track record of being a casual route runner and doesn't grade out as a top blocker. His size may be too much to pass up though.
Closest pro comparison: Leonard Pope, Chiefs
105. Weslye Saunders | 6'5, 280 pounds | TE | South Carolina
Projected round: 6-7
A gigantic tight end who could be a good fit for the Falcons' run-first offense. We loved Alge Crumpler in the past and this is today's version.
Closest pro comparison: Nobody. A mountain of a man at the tight end spot.
111. Cameron Graham | 6'4, 253 pounds | TE | Louisville
Projected round: 6
A project with potential.
Closest pro comparison: Kellen Winslow, Jr.
This is really a brutal class for tight ends and it wouldn't surprise me if the Falcons waited to draft one until the 2012 NFL Draft. That said, let's work our way through the choices. To start, we can take Rudolph off the board since he's a junior and the Falcons don't typically draft underclassmen. Williams may be a good option but I like Stocker a little better. Both played in the SEC but Stocker's size is the tipping point for me. He'd become a red zone threat right away in this offense.