It has been well documented that the Saints had a problem at the Tight End position in the 2017 season. With Coby Fleener not living up to the expectation brought on him when he signed for the 2016 season then being placed on the IR due to a series of concussions, the back-ups had to step up. I say back-ups but I see this group of TE’s as on a par with each other but Fleener being that receiving grade above the others.
Michael Hoomanawanui (6 rec, 52 yds, 1 TD) and Josh Hill (16 rec, 125 yds, 1 TD) provided in 2017 with Fleener getting (22 rec, 295, 2 TD) before the IR placement. We saw flashes of what he can do in one drive against the Redskins at home catching (5 Rec, 91 yards and a long of 29 yds, no scores) in a quick, march down the field drive but this is about explosive as he has been during his stay in the Big Easy. This isn’t to say the others haven’t done a good job of blocking upfront but that is what their jobs are, they aren’t big time play makers. I have praised HooMan for his block work and made him an unsung hero of 2017’s offense and an extension of the O-line. However in this day and age of the NFL, with other tight ends such as Zach Ertz, Gronk and Gregg Olsen in the league you need a guy who can do it all, block, catch, make moves and get those all-important yards after catch for scores. A player of this caliber can make the Saints offense strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses for years to come.
So what can the Saints do about these Tight End troubles in the 2018 season?
We must have all seen the news about being interested in that man Jimmy Graham again. There is no doubt he would add that ball catching tight end option to the Saints offense. Again. Whether it’s a good move or not isn’t really the question because it already is. The Saints would have traded Jimmy Graham for Max Unger and……Jimmy Graham….The Seahawks essentially got a loan of Jimmy G for 3 seasons and a 4th round pick whilst losing Unger and a 1st rounder should this move happen. I know which side I would rather be on for that deal.
There is always people saying “never go back” with these type of moves but even if he isn’t at the same levels he once was, Jimmy G is better than the rest of the TE’s the Saints currently have. This offense would surely be one of the top 10 if not top 5 in the NFL with Brees in the driver’s seat.
However I feel some fresh blood would also benefit the Saints in the TE position. Should the deal for Graham not go through, for whatever reason, we should be chasing a guy like Trey Burton. I’m sure that half of the NFL will be after this guy, who filled in valiantly for Zach Ertz when he was unavailable, showing season stats of (23 rec, 248 and 5 TDs) and a particular top performance of 5 catches for 71 yards and 2 TDs against the Rams. At the age of 26 Burton could be a big time player for years to come.
Another option is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, at the age of 25 he definitely has time on his side. Much improved after being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2014 but then putting up (50 rec, 357, 3 TDs) last year with the Jets. ASJ has had some personal problems, openly admitting to having problems with alcohol and now overcoming them. I’m just not sure New Orleans is a place for a recovering alcoholic. He will do well elsewhere is he can keep on the straight and narrow.
2 more free agents who appear to be kicking around are Tyler Eifert and Cameron Brate. Eifert has looked good when I have seen him before, however he has only played 10 games in 2 years posting (33 rec, 440yds, 5 TDs) over the years combined so injuries are clearly a big issue for him. Big threat, in many senses but more injuries is not what the Saints need this year.
The other is Cameron Brate, currently with the Bucs. He posted (48 Rec, 591 Yds, 6 TDs) in 2017. Good age, 26, decent few seasons. Good option. I think he would be that Fleener type player in this offense. Maybe a step up from Fleener, seemed to drop off a bit when Winston wasn’t under centre. Not too may W’s were eaten there…..
My picks of these FA’s, I can’t chose between Burton and Jimmy G, partly for nostalgia reasons.
Trey Burton / Jimmy Graham
Then we come to the new crop of prospects from the draft. In Rounds 1 to 7 last year, a total of 14 Tight Ends got drafted. It’s not a position I usually associate with high round draft picks however there were 3 taken in round 1, 2 in round 2, 1 in rounds 3, 4, 6 and 7 respectively with the remaining 5 in round 5.
I don’t see it as a particularly high pick for the Saints this time around either with other positions taking priority (Line Backer, DE, Future QB……? etc.)
Here are a few options anyway.
Hayden Hurst – South Carolina
I have seen a few people say Hurst is the only tight end they were really excited about in this year’s draft class. Last year’s stats read (44 Rec for 559 Yds with 2 TDs). He also had a rushing touchdown and blocked well upfront. Whether he is any improvement on what the Saints already have is questionable.
Mark Andrews – Oklahoma
Andrews caught 62 passes for 958 yards and 8 scores in 2017. From what I have seen of highlights Andrews is a good athlete who is fast and is a dangerous receiver down the seam. He is definitely a good red zone threat and more of the receiving TE that the Saints will be looking for, personally a better option than Hurst and should draft later in round 2 or even early in 3.
Mike Gesicki – Penn State
In a CBS mock draft I saw Gesicki to the Saints at Round 1! Strange as this isn’t the Saints most needed position. I see that as being too high but certainly a solid Round 3 prospect. Gesicki had 57 receptions for 563 yds and 9 scores in 2017 and was used as the type of receiving TE required for this Saints offense. He has some speed off the line and down the field and should hurt opposing defences with potential mismatches. With the potential of Brees throwing up high balls to Gesicki in the red zone this could be a goer for the Saints team. He could improve and has dropped his fair share of catches but for a young player this can be ironed out.
Later options include Dalton Schultz out of Stanford but he hasn’t put up the receiving stats like some of the others, the Saints have options of blockers already. Dallas Goedert out of South Dakota State looks very well suited to the role required, however there are medical issues around him making him more of a gamble and a possible 4th/5th round selection should the Saints choose to leave this position as a lower priority.
I think the Saints backroom team are looking more at Gesicki and I would too with Andrews following behind then the other 3 in any order if at all.
Tight End is certainly a space to watch during Free Agency and the Draft to a lesser extent should we not tie up a deal for Jimmy G or one of the others. I know plenty of fans want to see him back in the Black and Gold of the Saints. Get their money’s worth from the jersey purchased before too, check those sales racks while they are still there and the deal is yet to be done!
Until next time – Who Dat!