The New Orleans Saints have fostered some of the best tight ends in the league – Jeremy Shockey, Jimmy Graham, Benjamin Watson – largely due to Sean Payton’s high TE-usage schemes.
In the post-Brees era, expect Payton to continue employing his tight ends to stretch the defense and create dynamic offensive plays. Sure, there’ll be a new quarterback in town, but that doesn’t mean Payton won’t squeeze every ounce of talent out of this relatively unproven tight end unit.
Here are the Saints’ tight end options for 2021:
- Adam Trautman
- Nick Vannett
- Garrett Griffin
- Ethan Wolf
- Dylan Soehner
Following Jared Cook’s departure (good riddance, some say, after his fumble against the Bucs), Adam Trautman is primed to take the No. 1 tight end spot. Thrust into the spotlight, many hope Trautman will have a breakout second season similar to what he showed in his collegiate career. In 2020, Trautman recorded just 171 yards and one touchdown on 15 receptions, but now that he’s the go-to pass catcher of the TE group, those numbers should go up.
Trautman and Taysom Hill started to develop some good chemistry in a few games last season, and Jameis Winston proved on the Bucs that he can and will throw to his tight ends up the seams. One of Trautman’s greatest strengths is that he’s often a physical mismatch for opposing linebackers. He spent more time blocking than catching last year, but he’ll get the chance to stretch his arms under the more vigorous quarterback arms of Hill or Winston. And with the Saints struggling to name a No. 2 wide receiver, Trautman will need to bring his best hands. link
Nick Vannett is the Saints’ new signing who played most recently for Denver, and his addition made more of a ripple than a splash in free agency. Vannett has 75 receptions for 686 yards and five touchdowns in his six-year pro career, a career he’s made out of being a solid in-line blocker. Still, he can play closer to the line of scrimmage as a receiver just as well as he can work the seams to protect passes.
The New Orleans Saints’ tight ends are relatively unknown but show promise
Back in his Seattle days, Vannett got used to improvising for a scrambling quarterback and may need to do the same with Winston/ Hill running the plays. Though not so much a downfield target, Vannett serves as a valuable blocking piece for the Saints offense and will be expected to make a clutch catch once in a while.
Behind Trautman and Vannett, Garrett Griffin has stuck around in New Orleans ever since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie from the Air Force Academy in 2016. He’s a decent blocker but he doesn’t play much and he definitely doesn’t catch much: his last receptions were in the 2019 NFC Championship Game when he caught two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown. Hey, he’s got a touchdown though. Griffin is gritty, versatile, and knows Payton’s system better than anyone else on the list. He’ll likely get the most minutes on special teams this season.
Ethan Wolf and Dylan Soehner round out the tight end unit as the ones most likely to be on practice squad. Both went undrafted, with Soehner being the more recent addition, and both will have to do something jaw-droppingly spectacular in training camp to make the roster.
There is, of course, Taysom Hill, who may spend some time at tight end if the whole quarterback thing doesn’t work out. No worries – Hill can continue doing what he does best as a rotational jack-of-all-trades offensive piece.
The Saints didn’t splurge for a household name tight end this offseason which means they probably believe in the players they have. That level of trust is good for the team, but it leaves Trautman and Vannett carrying the brunt of expectations for this position group, for better or worse.