Once the NFL's most dynamic offense, the New Orleans Saints fell on hard times in 2021. The Saints plummeted to 28th in total offense, including an abysmal dead last in passing production. It was by far the worst offensive performance in the 16-year tenure of head coach Sean Payton.
The offseason retirement of QB Drew Brees and season-long injury absence of All-Pro WR Michael Thomas were big blows to the unit. Making matters worse were a never-ending string of injuries to the offensive line and a season-ending knee injury to QB Jameis Winston.
The absence of Thomas exposed an alarming lack of talent at the receiver position that affected the team all year. At least wideouts Deonte Harty and Marquez Callaway made some plays and showed the potential to be legitimate weapons.
The same cannot be said for the New Orleans tight ends.
Saints 2021 Position Grades
Second-year TE Adam Trautman was expected to make a big jump after the offseason departure of erratic veteran Jared Cook. The Saints traded four draft picks to move back into the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select Trautman.
One of the biggest disappointments on the team in 2021, Trautman flopped in a starting role. Plagued by drops all season, he caught just 27 of 43 targets for 263 yards and two scores.
Trautman was unable to get consistent separation as a receiver. He failed to develop into a consistent target for an offense desperate for production. Trautman was also inconsistent as a blocker, both in pass protection and setting the edge for the running game.
At 6’5” and 253-Lbs. with underrated athleticism, the Saints are still hoping Trautman can progress. Trautman caught 10 passes over a two game stretch in losses at Tennessee and Philadelphia.
Still, his failures were a microcosm of the team’s offensive struggles this season.
Undrafted as a rookie wideout in 2020, Juwan Johnson was converted to tight end for his second campaign. A little undersized as an in-line blocker, Johnson was mainly used as a receiver.
In 14 games, Johnson recorded 13 receptions for 159 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was most effective early in the year, where he showed an obvious chemistry with Jameis Winston.
After Winston was injured, Johnson had just 6 catches for 87 yards and a score in eight games. He regressed after a solid start and saw less playing time as the year progressed.
Johnson brings terrific athleticism to the position. At 6’4” but just 231-Lbs., he'll need to add bulk to be an effective every down tight end.
New Orleans signed veteran TE Nick Vannett in the offseason to combat the losses of Cook and reliable Josh Hill. After injuring his knee in training camp, Vannett wouldn't even be available until Week 11.
Stepping in for an injured Trautman late in the year, Vannett proved to be just as ineffective. In seven games of action, he had just 9 receptions for 133 yards and a score.
Vannett had three catches in consecutive games against the Cowboys and Jets. He offers little as a downfield threat, but is a physical blocker at 6’6” and 261-Lbs. Even as a blocker, he turned in several inconsistent performances.
2021: 13 games, 4 receptions for 39 yards.
2021: 2 games, 2 receptions for 8 yards.
The Saints used Garrett Griffin and Ethan Wolf off the practice squad for some games, but with zero success. Griffin is nothing more than a blocker. The inexperienced Wolf showed enough potential to warrant a look for a backup spot next year.
Trautman, Johnson, and Vannett combined for 49 receptions and 555 yards in 2021. Nineteen NFL tight ends had equal or better productivity by themselves. It was by far the lowest production the Saints had from their tight ends since 2006, Payton's first year in New Orleans.
Wideout ineffectiveness and uncertainty at quarterback took much of the blame for failures of the passing attack this year. The putrid performance of the tight ends also deserve a large share of the blame.
Inconsistencies from the position as blockers also forced the Saints to often use an extra offensive lineman. That made an already struggling unit more predictable. Expect a major upgrade at this spot this offseason.
Tight End Grade = F
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