The Atlanta Falcons are likely losing Jacob Tamme for the season due to a shoulder injury per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. How will they replace him in the lineup and beyond?
Jacob Tamme has been the ideal tight end to help transition the Falcons into the Kyle Shanahan offense as the No. 1 tight end. But with his shoulder injury that will lead to him losing the rest of this season, the Falcons will have to bring along their young tight ends faster than they may want to. They will have to figure out how to make up for Tamme’s loss throughout the rest of the season. On the bright side, they do have the talent to take advantage of this loss.
Who takes Tamme’s Roster Spot?
The obvious choice would be D.J. Tialavea because of how the roster has been constructed with four tight ends so far this season. However, there could be someone brought up to compete with Eric Weems at kick returner like Nick Williams or J.D. McKissic, or there could be a defensive lineman that hasn’t been on the roster brought in due to some of the mediocre play of the 3-techniques in the nickel sets.
But it’s not just about who can take Tamme’s roster spot. It’s a lot about how they can find someone to play his role as the starting tight end in the offense. Tamme has been a great fit for the Falcons, and his chemistry with Matt Ryan has made him very valuable on those crucial third downs. He’s also been an excellent mentor for what’s a relatively young tight end group. Let’s take a look at the candidates to replace Tamme in the offense and how they will fit:
Austin Hooper might have jumped to the NFL a bit earlier than he should have. The 6’4″, 248-pound former Stanford Cardinal tight end hasn’t looked like a rookie all season, though. He’s been a solid blocker and still has room for technical improvement. And he’s been a good receiver but still needs to work on his routes and reading opposition defenses to find his best spot. Hooper can be a good seam-busting tight end, too. That’s something Atlanta hasn’t had since Tony Gonzalez.
The Falcons drafted Levine Toilolo out of Stanford to be Tony Gonzalez’s replacement following the 2013 season. That never really worked out. Despite being 6’8″ and 265 pounds, Toilolo has trouble getting playing time in the red zone. Atlanta should look towards the big tree for their red zone worries from the tight end position with Tamme out now. Toilolo’s also a below-average blocker, but lining him up as a massive slot receiver and in-line off the edge might be his best role.
A former college wide receiver, Joshua Perkins has transitioned to the tight end role for the Falcons. As a 6’4″, 227-pound tight end, he’s a bit skinnier than the average guy in-line. But his skillset might be best suited as an H-back type tight end who lines up offset in the slot at times, in-line at times and maybe even motions behind the line to a fullback spot to disguise the looks to the defense. Perkins is raw, but the potential for a solid No. 2 tight end is here.
At 6’4″, 260 pounds, D.J. Tialavea’s best fit is as an additional blocking tight end on the edge of the line. He’s not a great route runner or pass catcher, but much like Toilolo from before, the Utah State graduate can sneak off the line and catch balls in wide open spaces as a forgotten man. Tialavea would have to be called up from the practice squad, though. And that may not happen if the Falcons feel like they should just keep their tight end group at just three members.
How does this affect the offense?
In the end, this could wind up being something very positive for the offense. Austin Hooper is a talented player with a much higher ceiling than any of the other players behind him. He’s got top 10 tight end potential, and he can actually block. Giving him the starting role from here on out, but having Levine Toilolo and Joshua Perkins also play in the 13 personnel and two-tight end packages is the best plan of action.
Hooper gives the Falcons someone who is more varied in his strengths and could allow that element of attacking the seam that it has been missing since Tony Gonzalez was in town. Teaming that with Toilolo and Perkins in two-tight end sets could give the Falcons more speed on offense even with the loss of a zone-beater in Jacob Tamme. Atlanta could be better off by the end of the year, but a small drop off will happen with the drop in experience for the first few games.