New Orleans Saints positional previews: Tight End

Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Coby Fleener (82) waits to start a drill with the tight ends during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Coby Fleener (82) waits to start a drill with the tight ends during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

We’re back with another installment that focuses on the position previews for the New Orleans Saints roster, and we stick with the offensive skill positions to look at the tight ends.

Ben Watson, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Josh Hill hauled in 1,021 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 101 receptions from quarterback Drew Brees. Needless to say, the tight ends were responsible for over 20 percent of the team’s offensive production in 2016. For a team that was ridiculed for trading away prized franchise star Jimmy Graham, it didn’t fall flat like everyone thought it would.

In what promises to be a very talented but underrated group, let’s take a look at the seven tight ends competing for the final 53-man roster.

Coby Fleener, 5th season

While Watson moved on to the Baltimore Ravens, the Saints compensated for the loss by landing Coby Fleener in free agency. Analysts were pretty clear on their stance of the team bringing in the Stanford product, as they either loved or hated it. Most of it centered around the theme of the team overpaying, which is obviously a huge misconception. Despite a poor grade, the move for Fleener was necessary with the loss of Watson. Fleener offers the ability to be a versatile weapon in the team’s offense.

Like many free agents the Saints acquired during the offseason, the contract is back-loaded to help with the salary cap. Fleener’s guaranteed half of his 5-year, $36 million contract, and his signing bonus is spread out over the duration of his deal with $1.6 million hits each season. Fleener is fairly certain to flourish with Drew Brees at the helm, and should see career highs in receiving yards, touchdowns, and receptions.

If you still need convincing, then I’d implore you to check out co-editor John Sigler’s film study on Fleener.

Michael Hoomanwanui, 7th season

After being traded to the Saints in September, Michael Hoomanawanui was in on 28.9 percent (343 plays) of the team’s offensive snaps in 2015. Needless to say, he proved that he belonged. The season ‘Hooman’ had was rewarded with a 3-year, $5.2 million contract in the offseason. Arguably, Hoomanawanui was the team’s best blocker, and he doubled as the H-back for Sean Payton’s offense. You can fully expect Hoomanawanui to stay in a similar role for 2016 with Payton’s anticipated three-tight end sets.

Josh Hill, 4th season

It was widely thought that Josh Hill was well on his way to Chicago to join the Bears when general manager Ryan Pace signed him to an offer sheet that included a no-trade clause. The Saints matched the deal, giving Hill a 3-year, $7.1 million contract that guaranteed him $3.25 million and a $2.5 million signing bonus.

After flashes during his second year with the Saints in 2014, Hill didn’t live up to the expectations last season. In 16 games and 7 starts, Hill managed just 16 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

There’s a reason the team kept Hill, who played in 428 snaps (36.1 percent) for the offense last year, and that’s for his blocking ability.

Next: A decade ago, Drew Brees answered the call to New Orleans

Jack Tabb, 2nd season

If you recall, Jack Tabb was the first injury casualty for the New Orleans Saints last season due to a torn ACL. As unfortunate as it was to lose the University of North Carolina product, it’s still a bit unknown about what he’ll bring to the table for 2016. In February, general manager Mickey Loomis made it a point to talk about Tabb on SiriusXM NFL Radio when asked about potentially giving up on Josh Hill.

"“We’ve got another young guy, Jack Tabb, that was a college free agent for us,” Loomis said. “He was doing some real good things in training camp and he was injured. We got a couple other prospects that we’ll see how it goes."

RaShaun Allen, 2nd season

After bouncing around between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings in his first two seasons, RaShaun Allen found a home with the Saints practice squad on November 10, 2015. Allen, who played college at Southern University in Baton Rouge, was an understudy of Jimmy Graham while on the Seahawks practice squad. In college, Allen started nine of 28 games for the Jaguars, hauling in 281 yards and three touchdowns on 30 receptions.

Chris Manhertz, 1st season

Perhaps the most intriguing tight end on the Saints roster is Chris Manhertz, the 6-foot-6 converted basketball player. Yes, there’s a running joke with former basketball players in the NFL, and we heard it at least 5-10 times per game about how Jimmy Graham used to play basketball. Manhertz, who has been in the league since 2014 and originally got his start with the Buffalo Bills, spent the 2015 season on the Saints practice squad, and was signed to a reserve/future contract in January. He’s absolutely a project, and isn’t likely to unseat anyone.

Garrett Griffin, Rookie

Air Force’s Garrett Griffin was one of 44 tryout players from a three-day rookie minicamp in May. Clearly, he made an impression. Griffin’s college days saw him originally start as a linebacker during his freshman season. He was quickly moved to tight end due to his athleticism. At his Pro Day, Griffin turned in a 4.75 second 40-yard dash time, which is pretty good for a 6-foot-4, 237-pound tight end.

Air Force offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said Griffin was a huge piece of their running game, being able to establish himself at the point of attack. Scouts and analysts project Griffin as an effective H-back/fullback, somewhat similar to what Michael Hoomanawanui did for the Saints last season. He also doubles as a long snapper.