The Saints released Jared Cook and Josh Hill yesterday. Neither move was unexpected, but it firms up last year's third-rounder Adam Trautman as the team's top tight end at this early stage of the offseason. The only other players at the position on the roster are undrafted free agents Garrett Griffin (3 NFL catches in five seasons) and Ethan Wolf.
The Saints will be breaking in a new quarterback (most likely; Drew Brees hasn't officially retired for some reason), but you have to like Trautman's potential in the offense. He made the most of his 16 targets as a rookie (15 receptions and a touchdown), and that after putting up big numbers at Dayton: a starter his last three seasons and part of his first, leading the team with a 70-916-14 stat line as a senior, and catching 31 career touchdowns.
Year 2 looks like a good spot for a step forward from tight ends selected on Day 2 of the draft (rounds 2 and 3 nowadays). I'm setting aside first-rounders, from whom more is generally expected. Trautman is one of five tight ends selected in the second and third round a year ago, including Cole Kmet, a pair of Patriots (Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene) and Green Bay's Josiah Deguara (who at 6-f00t-2 and 242 pounds seems like more of an H-back). Kmet will probably get more attention in 2021 drafts, especially if the Bears part ways with Jimmy Graham, but Trautman looks similarly appealing.
Since 2010, there have been 41 other tight ends selected in the second and third rounds. Just four of those players (less than 10 percent) went for even 500 receiving yards as rookies, but about a third of them (13) exceeded that total in their second seasons. Two more caught at least 5 touchdowns. Pretty decent careers for most of those guys, as well. Decent chance for a second-year leap from a couple of these guys, with Trautman and Kmet looking the most promising. Table sorted by Year 2 receiving yards.
|2ND-YEAR TIGHT ENDS (2ND/3RD-ROUND PICKS), 2010-PRESENT|
|2019||2||50||Irv Smith Jr.||30||365||5|
As for the departing Saints, Cook turns 34 next month. He'll find a job, if he's so inclined, but probably won't be brought in anywhere as a certain starter. The Seahawks love to block young player development by signing old tight ends, so maybe that will happen. Hill is 31 and was never featured in New Orleans; maybe he gets a roster spot somewhere. Maybe not.