My guess is the New Orleans Saints have educated themselves on this year’s NFL Draft tight end class like the Cleveland Browns have dissected the quarterback group.
The Saints already carry four veteran tight ends on their roster in Benjamin Watson, Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawnui. By no means will that exclude the position from the Saints’ draft priority list.
The top four in this year’s tight end class have separated themselves from the rest of the prospects. I’d venture to say there’s also a clear fifth player who should come off the board by the end of Day 2.
Scour the hundreds of mock drafts floating around the internet from respected draft pundits and NFL beat writers. Every tight end considered among the consensus top four players has been tabbed to the Saints at some point in time: South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Oklahoma’s Blake Andrews.
There will be no shortage of options for the Saints to fill out one of those names on their draft card in Dallas in a couple of weeks. Which one of those players actually earned a grade worthy of being taken by the Saints at No. 27 isn’t clear at all (at least outside the team facility).
The Saints would certainly be open for a complete tight end with superior blocking and pass-catching skills. But New Orleans badly lacked a consistent receiving tight end last season.
Like wide receiver, Sean Payton claimed tight end as a “must” addition at the league owners meetings last month. And shortly after the claim, like at wide receiver, the Saints added a veteran by bringing back Watson.
Watson still seems capable of starting for the Saints at age 37. After all, Watson alone outperformed all the Saints tight ends combined in 2017. This also would take the pressure off a rookie tight end from starting immediately.
That’s why it’s not an absolute necessity for the Saints to leave Day 1 with a tight end. The worst move for the Saints would be to reach for a tight end with the 27th pick.
Here’s a glimpse at the tight ends drafted in the first round since 2006: Marcedes Lewis, Vernon Davis, Greg Olsen, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Eric Ebron, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, David Njoku.
Some success stories, some failures. Regardless of the round, I’d be surprised if the Saints left this year’s draft without a tight end.
Discovering Pro Bowl tight ends past Round 1 seems to be more of the norm. Turn to players like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed and Jason Witten as recent examples of Day 2 success.
I’d keep an eye on Indiana’s Ian Thomas in the third round if the Saints balk on a tight end in Round 1 or refrain from trading up in Round 2. Also watch Stanford’s Dalton Schultz, Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe or Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin on Day 3.