The New Orleans Saints traded all four of their Day 3 draft picks in 2020 to move back into the 3rd round of last year's draft. With the 105th overall choice, the Saints selected University of Dayton tight end Adam Trautman. New Orleans made the move with an eye towards the 2021 season. Pro Bowl TE Jared Cook was set to become a free agent after the 2020 campaign, and the plan was to groom the rookie for a starting role.
Trautman caught 15 passes for 171 yards and a score as a rookie. He also impressed coaches with his blocking and earning more playing time as the year progressed. Cook, meanwhile, had a disappointing year, causing the team to void his contract at season's end to create salary cap room.
While Trautman is set to be the starter in 2021, the Saints have little depth behind him. The team signed veteran Nick Vannett, but also released the reliable Josh Hill besides Cook. With little else available on the free agent market at the position, New Orleans could add a tight end with one of their eight draft picks this year.
Florida TE Kyle Pitts is a sure top-10 pick, and perhaps the only tight end to come off the board in the 1st round. Despite needs on the defensive side, the Saints could look to move up in the 2nd round to grab the draft’s second-rated tight end and add another dynamic pass catcher to their offense.
PAT FREIERMUTH, TIGHT END (PENN STATE)
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):
Tyler Eifert (Jaguars)
Freiermuth was the New England Prep player of the year as a senior at Brooks High School in Massachusetts. He made an immediate impact in his first year at Penn State, earning Freshman All-American recognition and All-Big 10 honorable mention with 8 touchdowns on 26 receptions for 368 yards in just nine starts.
As a sophomore in 2019, Freiermuth improved his production to 43 receptions for 507 yards and 7 scores. That earned him 2nd team All-Big 10 honors as he was voted the Nittany Lions Most Valuable Player. Penn State's regular season was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Freiermuth's year was shorter than that, ending after just four games because of a shoulder injury.
Despite the injury-shortened campaign, he still caught 23 passes for 310 yards and was voted to the 1st team All-Big 10 squad. Freiermuth ended his Penn State career with 92 receptions for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns in 29 games. He set a new school record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end.
His shoulder rehab prevented him from participating in any drills at Penn State's Pro Day, but shouldn't be a long-term concern. Some scouts are more concerned with his physicality as an in-line tight end. He has shown little initial punch as a blocker, and must improve his technique and footwork to sustain blocks in the running game.
When coming off the line as a receiver, Freiermuth has struggled to create separation in high traffic areas against physical safeties and linebacker. He doesn't have elite foot quickness, so must sharpen his breaks at the top of his route to make himself a more open target.
Freiermuth has a combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability to make him a mismatch from both off the line and out of the slot. He has the speed to threaten defenses deep down the seam, opening up the middle of the field underneath for other weapons.
A former basketball player, Freiermuth posts up defenders effectively in short yardage situations and wins most contested high throws. He presents a trusted target on 3rd downs and shows the ability to make acrobatic catches because of his outstanding hands and body control.
Freiermuth has a long stride and the open field speed that make it difficult for a defender to gain ground once he gets a step. Once he makes the catch, he transitions into a runner quickly. He’s an athletic open field runner who doesn't hesitate to run over a smaller defensive back.
The Saints certainly have bigger needs to fill than another tight end with a high draft pick, especially with the expected development of Trautman. Pat Freiermuth might just be worth a surprise move from New Orleans. He's a willing blocker with the ability to improve. He will provide an immediate contribution with his outstanding receiving ability to give the Saints another offensive mismatch against opposing defenses.