You’d think the Saints are done looking at tight ends.
You’d think that the team is set at the spot after retaining Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui and signing Coby Fleener this offseason.
You’d think that this position is as done as any position could be.
You might be thinking wrong.
Although all appearances make this appear to be one of the most well-stocked positions on the depth chart, New Orleans continues to meet and work out tight ends across the country. Given this knowledge, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if the Saints select one during this month’s draft. But on some levels, it would still be surprising.
Where is there a need or even a want? Hoomanawanui gives the Saints a solid blocking option and can fill in as a fullback. Fleener gives the Saints a flex tight end who can move around the formation and potentially develop into a premier receiving option. Hill gives the Saints a little bit of both.
And even deeper down the depth chart, while both are still relative unknowns, Jack Tabb and Chris Manhertz are intriguing developmental options. Manhertz has taken strides as he continues to learn the game after playing basketball in college. And Tabb looked good in camp last year before he tore an ACL.
Where and how a player at this position would fit in immediately remains to be seen, which makes it seem unlikely a high pick will be used to address this position.
There could be some logic in adding someone later in the draft as a development option behind Hoomanawanui since the other players at this position are more suited to play behind Fleener, but that should be pretty far down the list of priorities.
And there’s also the argument that having quality depth at this position is important since the Saints like to use three-tight end sets as part of their offense. If a player goes down and there isn’t someone to step up, that could mean taking an element out of the playbook.
But how much is that worth? The argument could be made that outside of quarterback, the need for additional bodies at this position is lower than any spot on offense heading into next season. It’s even harder to prioritize it over anything on defense.
But as has been written before, drafting specifically for need can often backfire. If a tight end the Saints have graded highly ends up in a spot where it would make sense to take one, then the trigger needs to be pulled, and everything else can be sorted out later.
The bigger mistake when it comes to the draft is getting too locked into a list of needs and passing on available talent. That’s how people end up looking back in retrospect and become burdened with regret.
As far as fullbacks go, the Saints could opt to draft one, but the team did bring back Austin Johnson and still has Toben Opurum on the roster. And the grip on their jobs is tenuous, at best.
Sean Payton has long liked to have a fullback on the team, and the role isn’t in danger of becoming obsolete here, but a player at that position could be in danger. Payton started shifting toward using tight ends in those roles last season, and at one point released Johnson from the 53-man roster.
Not only does not carrying a fullback save a roster spot, it also makes it harder for defenses to identify what the offense is doing as it takes the field pre-snap based on personnel.
That doesn’t mean that Johnson or Opurum or a rookie player won’t make the team. It just means there is no guarantee one of those guys ends up sticking around.
But if you’re a fullback in today’s NFL, which has moved away from the position, New Orleans is one of the better places to be.
It’s also not a bad place to be a tight end.