The Falcons exited their fourth consecutive draft without using a single pick on a tight end. They are among three NFL teams which have not selected a tight end since the 2008 draft. Those other teams include the New York Jets, who used a first round pick on Dustin Keller that year, the Carolina Panthers who added Gary Barnidge in the fifth round. That year, the Falcons selected Keith Zinger in the seventh round. Only three other teams have used less than two picks on tight ends in the past four drafts (New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Buffalo).
The Falcons squandered an opportunity because of the extreme likelihood that 2012 will mark Tony Gonzalez’s last season in the NFL. The Falcons could have taken advantage of Gonzalez’s veteran presence to help develop a young tight end. But alas, the Falcons will likely enter the 2013 will little at the position. They do still have Michael Palmer, who has served as a competent backup. But Palmer is limited as a receiver, as very few of his 15 career receptions have come when he had to beat and separate from man coverage. Until Palmer develops that ability, his prospects as a starting tight end don’t exceed that of Justin Peelle when he served in that role in 2008.
The Falcons added Adam Nissley as an undrafted free agent to join ones from last summer in Ryan Winterswyk and Tommy Gallarda. But all three are primarily blocking tight ends, leaving the Falcons devoid of any pass-catching presence to succeed Gonzalez next year. Next year’s free agent class is slated to feature Jared Cook (Tennessee), Fred Davis (Washington), Keller (Jets), and Heath Miller (Steelers). And Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Stanford’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo (all rising juniors), along with senior Joseph Fauria (UCLA) are likely to be considered top prospects in the 2013 Draft at the position. All that means that the Falcons could very well wind up with a good starting tight end to replace Gonzalez next year, but still the team missed an opportunity to have Gonzo’s vast knowledge, experience, and work ethic rub off on some promising youngster this year.