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It would be unfair to start any discussion of New Orleans Saints Tight Ends in 2015 with anyone other than Benjamin Watson. Watson, in his age 34 season, set a career high receiving yards with 825, and matched a previous career high (from 2007, his age 26 season) with 6 TDs.
With the departure of Jimmy Graham, there were a lot of questions around whether or not the Saints would be able to find a high level of production out of their tight ends in 2015. While Watson did not match Graham's totals from his tenure in New Orleans, he was still nothing short of fantastic for the Saints. His performance led to signing a two-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
In all fairness to Watson, his career year in 2015 was not supposed to happen. Many Saints fans and analysts alike believed Josh Hill to be the Saints tight end that saw the greatest uptick in stats. With four more games started in 2015 than 2014, Hill actually saw his performance drop. After totaling 176 yards with 5 TDs in 2014, he managed only 120 yards and 2 Tds in 2015.
Part of Hill's decline in numbers was not his fault, but because of the emergence of Michael Hoomanawanui. Hoomanawdsei was acquired from the New England Patriots on September 30, 2015 for defensive linemen Akeim Hicks. Hoomandkeidsdlu had 76 receiving yards in 2015 to go with 3 TDs. He also logged a few snaps at the fullback position as a lead blocker or for pass protection.
This offseason, the Saints lost Benjamin Watson to the Ravens, were able to retain both Hill and Hoomandedusy, and signed former Indianapolis Colts Tight End Coby Fleener to a five year contract.
So here's why they're better in 2016:
Coby Fleener is as-good a pass catcher as Benjamin Watson has been in his career, if not better. During his career in Indy, Fleener shared pass-catching duties with Tight End Dwayne Allen. Even still, his average yards per game and TDs per game of his career is higher than Watson's. That is without even mentioning that in Fleener's 2016 season, he will be six years younger than Watson was in his 2015 season. Fleener also is three inches taller than Watson, able to provide that big red zone target for Drew Brees.
Even though Fleener is not much of an asset as a blocking tight end (s/o to Jimmy Graham), Michael Hoomandieoue was more than willing to get physical with opposing players. The HooMan signed a three-year contract to stay in New Orleans this offseason, so obviously the Saints liked what they saw last year. A year of experience in the Sean Payton system under his belt is only going to help his 2016 performance, and like Fleener, is entering the prime of his career at 28 years old to start the 2016 regular season.
It is also important to remember the chronology of the 2016 Saints offseason regarding the tight end position. HooMan was signed on March 8th. The next day, March 9th, the Saints brought in Coby Fleener. Almost two weeks later, the Saints signed Josh Hill to the offer sheet from the Chicago Bears.
I say it is important to remember the chronology, because at the time Hill was retained, the Saints already had both Fleener and Hoomeidknnay in place. The Saints could have received an extra fourth round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft had the Saints let Josh Hill walk to the Bears. The Saints received criticism for paying a premium for Fleener, and then paid additional money (money that the Saints were already lacking) to keep Josh Hill. Many experts were surprised the Saints kept Josh Hill instead of taking the draft pick and keeping the cap space.
For the Saints to bring back Hill in spite of all of this, General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton must be expecting Hill to play a bigger role in the future, because his past performance did not necessarily warrant the new contract.
New Saint Coby Fleener should match, and hopefully surpass, the 2015 performance of Benjamin Watson. Josh Hill in 2016 should hopefully finally take that massive step forward many were anticipating for 2015. The HooMan will find continued success in his second year in New Orleans, and I fully expect all three players to exceed the cumulative 2015 receiving yards and receiving TDs from last year's Tight End group.