The New Orleans Saints are undergoing a makeover at their tight end position in 2021. Gone is TE Jared Cook, who has been with the team for the last two years and made the Pro Bowl in 2019.
Also gone is reliable veteran Josh Hill, who had spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the Saints. Hill retired after signing a free agent deal with the Detroit Lions.
The Saints expect second-year TE Adam Trautman to take over the starting role this year. Trautman, a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, caught 15 passes for 171 yards and a score as a rookie.
New Orleans didn't address this position in the draft, but will have several former undrafted players vying for roster spots at tight end.
They also added a veteran tight end in free agency who has more NFL games than any other player currently on the roster at the position.
NICK VANNETT, TIGHT END
Vannett was a third-round choice by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. He appeared in nine games as a rookie, catching just 3 passes for 32 yards.
Vannett became more involved in the Seattle offense over the next two years, catching 41 passes for 393 yards and four touchdowns. In 2018, he’d pull in a career-high 29 receptions for 269 yards and 3 scores.
Seattle traded Vannett to the Pittsburgh Steelers three games into the 2019 season. He appeared in 13 games with the Steelers, catching 13 passes for 128 yards.
Vannett signed a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos last season. He’d start a career-high 11 games and missed just one contest, hauling in 14 receptions for 95 yards and a score.
New Orleans signed the 28-year-old Vannett to a three-year contract this offseason. He will count just $1.3 million against the team's salary cap in 2021.
The Saints lack experience at the tight end position. Vannett has played in 71 NFL games and caught 76 passes in a five-year career.
The rest of the New Orleans tight ends have played a combined 33 games and 21 receptions.
Vannett caught 36 passes for 382 yards and five touchdowns over his last two years at Ohio State. He’s an underrated receiver, but played for Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Denver teams that rarely used tight ends as pass catchers.
The 6’6 and 261-Lb. Vannett has improved his blocking ability since he’s come into the league and has been effective as an in-line blocker. He fires out aggressively as a run blocker and is a capable pass protector along the edge.
As a receiver, Vannett has a smooth release from blocking assignments to give his quarterback an effective check-down option. He works through zone coverages decisively and has excellent concentration to pull the ball in and absorb contact.
Vannett's athletic ability doesn't jump off the charts, but he’s quick enough to present a mismatch against linebackers from the slot and get open downfield. He’s a fluid route runner with good change of direction to gain separation and gives his quarterback a big catch radius.
Adam Trautman is favored to be the Saints opening day starter at tight end. New Orleans often uses multiple tight end alignments, and Vannett provides an experienced veteran presence.
Nick Vannett has also proven to be a reliable receiving option. He’s now in an offense that uses its tight ends more than any team he’s been with in his career.
Vannett will give the New Orleans offense another viable receiving option and has the ability to seamlessly slide into a starting role, should Trautman be slow to develop.
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