So far this offseason the New Orleans Saints have only added two new players to the roster. First came former Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah. The 26-year old is currently the only fullback on the roster and hast a pretty clear path to wearing the black and gold in the 2021 regular season if that remains the case as the Saints are one fo the few teams that utilizes the position.
The second addition they made came just about a week ago when the Saints added tight end Nick Vannett. Another name that’s not household, but does bring a level of clarity in regard to the plans for the tight end room, and in particular, second-year pass-catching threat Adam Trautman.
With Trautman, Vannett, Garrett Griffin, and Ethan Wolf all on the roster now, the tight end room has something very specific to offer: intention.
It’s not unlike the Saints to have very clearly defined paths to the 53. Every player that steps foot on the Saints’ practice facility has a chance to play regular season football with the team. But for the tight end room, there will still be a bit of competition among these four and of course Taysom Hill.
Role: The Pass-Catcher
The one expectation that feels most furthest assured after the signing of Nick Vannett is that sophomore tight end Adam Trautman should be stepping into Jared Cook’s pass-catcher role. The former Dayton Flyer caught 70 passed for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior year.
Despite that eye-popping production, that’s not the role he was asked to fill his rookie year in New Orleans. Instead, he was charged to develop as a blocker. A task he worked very hard at all season until he became the top snap-getter at the position for several weeks because of his value as a blocker and threat as a target in the passing game.
He would finish the 2020 season with only 171 yards and a single touchdown on 15 receptions. But he showed flashes of what’s possible. In 2021, while he won’t be working with Drew Brees, he’ll be catching passes from a quarterback still very comfortable throwing to tight ends. Trautman and Taysom Hill seemed to have a developing connection in his four games as a starter and newly re-signed quarterback Jameis Winston is a big fan of throwing to his big targets up the seams. In any case, should Trautman truly step into the pass-catcher role, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about potential.
Role: The Blocker
While Garrett Griffin is an outstanding blocker, I’ve saved him for another important role. This role I hand off to the newly signed Nick Vannett. While we don’t know the terms of the deal yet, it seems like giving him a three-year deal seems to indicate that he’ll at least be on the roster in 2021. Vannett played the blocking tight end role last season in Denver.
I look at Vannett’s role as Adam Trautman’s last season. A run blocker/pass protector that can be out on the field for three downs because he has the ability to work the seams and close to the line of scrimmage as a receiver as well. He’s also very handy and comfortable improvising for a scrambling quarterback, something I’m sure he grew a taste for during his days in Seattle.
Vannett could end up being a valuable piece for the Saints as a blocker while also making a clutch third down catch here and there.
Role: The F
This is the Josh Hill role. And in 2021, it’s finally the Garrett Griffin role. If we’re being honest, Griffin deserves this. He’s been with the Saints since he came out of Air Force in 2016 and hardly anyone knows his name even though he caught a touchdown in the playoffs against the Eagles in 2018.
What I like about Griffin is his versatility. Hence “The F”. Last season, Josh Hill’s position was changed on the depth chart from “TE” to “F” because he often too snaps from the backfield as well. Griffin did that quite a bit at Air Force serving a bit of a fullback-tight end hybrid. This is why I believe he can step into Josh Hill’s role in 2021.
Griffin can take snaps from the backfield, in-line, in the slot and also plays special teams. his ability as a blocker will get him out of the field and his versatility will keep him there in multiple capacities. That type of value is something Sean Payton doesn’t turn a blind eye to.
Role: The Practice Squad Tight End
The Saints need one and considering Garrett Griffin’s promotions above, that least Ethan Wolf. The 6’5” and 255 pound former Tennessee Volunteer gets to kick back and keep developing. He joins Shy Tuttle, Alvin Kamara, and Marquez Callaway as currently Vols continuing their trajectory in New Orleans.
With Wolf’s build, there could be many plans for him should he pan out and develop consistently. He’s actually someone I’m pretty high on, but he still has a lot to prove in terms of the translation of the game to the pro level. He has a lot of physical tools, but is the rest there? The Saints can find out with another year on the practice squad.
Role: The Joker
You had to know Taysom Hill would end up on this list somewhere. Last year, Taysom topped off the tight end group as a rotational piece that moved around a ton and serve a lot of different purposes.
That’s what Taysom Hill does and that’s what makes him special. If he does not beat out Jameis Winston for Drew Brees’s old crown, he’ll still have a vital and important role to fulfill amongst this talented group.
Should Taysom win the starting QB role, perhaps Ethan Wolf ends up getting some reps, or the Saints just turn to other players that can line up all over the offense such as Ty Montgomery. Either way, Taysom will be important to the makeup of this position group as an added value or as a lacking piece in need of supplement.
The Saints are still yet to make much of a splash in free agency in terms of new additions. But the signing of Nick Vannett, I suspect, tells us a bit more about the expectations for the tight end room and what they’ll have to offer in 2021.
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