Michael Hoomanawanui Has Proven He Belongs
By John Sigler
Attention is rightly paid to the players with the biggest reputations – the high draft picks and expensive free agents. But NFL teams take all kinds to build their rosters. In this series, I’ll be studying players who are primed to break out for the New Orleans Saints.
Michael Hoomanawanui was a rare player traded to the Saints who has stuck on the roster. Not only that, but Hoomanawanui was given a three-year, $5.2-million contract extension to keep him in New Orleans for the forseeable future.
How did a player who struggled to get on the field in New England (he saw only 23 snaps in two games last year for the Patriots) thrive in Sean Payton’s offense?
In brief, Payton had a specific vision for how to put Hoomanawanui’s talents to good use. Once the tight end joined the roster early last year, he opened up a new part of the playbook. While Ben Watson and Josh Hill were both capable receiving threats last year, neither stood out as a blocker who could stay in-line on running plays.
Enter Hoomanawanui. The burly 6-foot-4, 265-pound tight end is easily the best blocking tight end on the team. He’s more than capable in pass protection as well as paving the way on the edge. Hoomanawanui held his own against some good pass rushers, at one point lifting Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis clear from the ground.
As a receiving threat Hoomanawanui may leave something to be desired. He’s not very fast for a tight end and struggles to shape pursuing defenders after the catch. He isn’t your ideal open-field threat to stretch defenses vertically or catch a ball thrown underneath them and run away with it. But there is an impressive area of strength to his game in the red zone.
When targeted within 20 yards of the end zone, Hoomanawanui was electric; he converted four of his six opportunities into three touchdowns on completions from 16 and 17 yards out as well as a quick shot at the goal-line. Hoomanawanui is a reliable receiver who didn’t drop a single pass in 2015, though he was only thrown at 16 times (he caught 11 of those). He understands how to use his great size and physicality to box out defenders, particularly around paydirt.
With the signing of former Colts tight end Coby Fleener in free agency, it’s hard to say how many opportunities Hoomanawanui will get to shine in 2016 and beyond. On the one hand, Fleener will almost certainly get the lion’s share of targets this season; Brees hasn’t had a true tight end with his physical gifts, intelligence, and technical savvy since Jeremy Shockey prowled the Superdome.
On the other hand, defenses will be forced to adjust their coverage plans to counter Fleener sooner or later. The same will be true of leading receiver Brandin Cooks and possibly rookie Michael Thomas. If teams are committed to covering those top threats, it will make plenty of chances for guys like Hoomanawanui and Willie Snead.
If Michael Hoomanawanui can continue to develop as a red zone threat and stay on the field with his versatile skills set, don’t be surprised when we hear his name called more often this season.