The New Orleans Saints great mystery of tight end options


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the New Orleans Saints offense is going to look much different without tight end Jimmy Graham this year. Graham’s surprising and shocking trade from the Saints still brings eerie feelings to many Saints fans, but the reality is that we all must move past it.

With Graham exiting the picture, Josh Hill and Ben Watson are virtual locks to handle the bulk of the tight end work on the New Orleans Saints offense. However, outside of that raises a lot of question marks for the offensive attack. Jack Tabb and Orson Charles are currently battling it out on the roster for the team’s third option at tight end.

The New Orleans Saints started OTAs with five options at tight end, but opted to release promising undrafted rookie free agent Harold Spears recently to make room for veteran Kevin Williams. The move was prompted due to injuries at defensive tackle, as the Saints found themselves very thin at the position. Spears recently found a home with the Green Bay Packers.

Aug 29, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Jack Tabb (80) makes a reception as South Carolina Gamecocks linebacker Sharrod Golightly (9) attempts the tackle in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Tabb serves as the newest option on the team, as he joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent after the conclusion of the NFL Draft. As a member of the North Carolina Tarheels, Tabb didn’t produce flashy stats that rivaled those of high prospects like Maxx Williams or Clive Walford. In his 45 games, Tabb started in 22 contests, including all 13 in his Senior year. He finished with 47 receptions for 534 yards, and scored five times. The Saints reached out to Tabb promptly after the conclusion of the NFL Draft.

"“Their right ends coach (Rick Malone) called me and said I have an opportunity to make the 53-man roster,” Tabb said.. “The only real contact I ‘d had with them was at the Medal of Honor Bowl but when they called after the draft they were excited about me signing with them. I feels great right now.”"

Perhaps one of the most interesting things on Tabb’s bio is that he actually saw some work at the linebacker position in 2013, specifically the middle linebacker spot. Understanding that side of the ball could prove to be a large advantage for Tabb in the grand scheme of things. Tabb also played on special teams with the Tar Heels. As for his impact thus far, Tabb found success during drills last week on several different routes.

Dec 22, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) runs the ball with Cincinnati Bengals tight end Orson Charles (80) in pursuit to tackle him in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati Bengals beat the Minnesota Vikings by the score of 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

Orson Charles, like Josh Hill, is entering his third year in the league. He’s not exactly a stranger to the field, as he played in 29 total games for the Cincinnati Bengals in the past two seasons. He was originally a top prospect entering the 2012 NFL Draft, and was drafted 116th overall (4th Round) by the Bengals.

Charles was actually converted to a fullback in his time with the Bengals, but was released at the end of August prior to the start of the 2014 season. Charles would find a temporary home with the Tennessee Titans practice squad, but ultimately found a lasting role with the Saints practice squad on September 23, 2014.

Charles has had some legal issues previously, as he was arrested for a DUI before the 2012 draft, and arrested in charged with wanton endangerment incident in March 2014 after a reported road rage incident involving a gun. Back in February, Charles entered a diversion program, which typically enables offenders to avoid criminal charges and have it appear on a criminal record. It also placed him on probation for two years.

Charles has received some praise publicly by Drew Brees in OTAs at the end of May.

"“Absolutely, he’s a guy who can do it all, as can Josh (Hill) and Orson Charles, another guy who nobody has heard of yet but I like what I see out of him. I just love the way that these guys work, the way they work together, I just like their approach to everything they do. They are true pros.”"

Can we safely say that the Saints are satisfied with their current options? It all depends on your perspective. The team hosted veteran Jermaine Gresham on June 3, and put in a waiver claim for Tim Wright just two days after Harold Spears was released on June 12. Other options, although they’re very thin, exist through free agency like Zach Miller and James Casey.

You can look at the situation like this. Charles has the experience, Tabb doesn’t. The Saints are likely waiting to see what Gresham’s rehabilitation status looks like from his back surgery, and he’s reportedly been on the team’s radar for months. Carrying only four tight ends into training camp seems a bit puzzling given an injury to any of these players would be tragic, but ultimately the team will manage accordingly.

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