The days of Coby Fleener hypes and disappointments (oh remember the hope!) and 90 year old Ben Watsons still catching passes while still making babies are over. Well maybe not the babies part. Yes finally, the tight end drought is coming to an end. Jared Cook looks amazing and who cares if he’s over 30? He’s our second coming of Jimmy Graham, right?
And behind him is some promising youth. There’s a lot of wild cards at this position, but surely one of these guys can pan out? Or not? After toiling through the receiver gauntlet, I realized the Saints are actively trying to recreate a “Jimmy Graham” type of hybrid receiver/tight end. We knew about Dan Arnold, and we theorized Lil “Comma to the Top” Jordan may stick around for the same reason. And with Mark Ingram gone, there will be more pressure on tight ends in pass coverage. But can anyone block or is Josh Hill our only blocking tight end? Is Alizé Mack the future? So Saints fans, has the proverbial ship, the SS Tight End, been righted? Let’s dive in and see!
Jared Cook (6’5″, 254 lbs): He’s like a fine wine, folks. Statistically, he’s been on the uptick the last few years. And in 2018, Cook posted his best numbers to date: 68 receptions for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns. And that’s with Derek Carr throwing to him. 2018 Ben Watson? 35 receptions for 400 yards and 2 touchdowns. Uh yeah, I’ll have the Jared Cook special, please. If he posts anything close to those 2018 numbers we’ll all be drooling over the Saints offense…again.
Cook is definitely looking like our best free agency pick up so far in the offseason. He’s already dazzled during minicamp, which he should have. There’s no pads nor tackling. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because he’ll continue to look awesome as he gets further inundated into the Saints’ complex offense. The thing I’m most excited about is how he (combined with Thomas, Kamara, and hopefully a solid #2 receiver) will make Drew Brees still look like a rock Star and vice versa.
Josh Hill (6’5″, 250 lbs): Josh Hill has seemed like a prudential rock of some kind, but in reality his numbers are pretty bleak. What he brings in experience and blocking is a different story however. And then there’s Playoff Josh Hill, which is clutch if you can collect enough power ups to activate him. I think he’s like an old NBA Jam, but instead if he catches three passes in a row he’s on fire.
Hill was also able to get a contract above what he’s worth because of the Fleener bust and Ben Watson first departure and age. So right now it would cost too much to drop him. At 29 years old, he’s still solid enough to fill in where needed, and I think he’s got a few clutch plays left as a Saint.
Garrett Griffin (6′ 4″, 240 lbs): Griffin’s time is running out after being hidden away on the practice squad for the better part of the last three seasons. The Saints value him highly to keep investing this much time in him. Either that or it’s easy to keep him because no one else is screaming for a developmental tight end. Due to injuries and general sadness at the end of the 2016 season, Garrett got promoted to the active roster the final four games of the season. He caught his first pass in the loss to Tampa: a 4 yard pass. Gotta start somewhere, G.
But then his next reception came in the form of a TD in the NFC title game last year against the Rams. You remember that game, right? The last game before the Super Bowl where the winner takes all? The Saints final game of last season? You know, that game where one of the most egregious fouls ever missed by any sports officiating crew gave the Rams a chance and they made a field goal tying up the game and sending it into overtime and the Saints got the ball and were driving in a classic Drew Brees’ winning drive only to have the ball tipped at the line and intercepted and the Rams kicked a field goal and won?? Yeah I don’t remember that either…yep…still bitter. Anyway, the first touchdown of that game was a catch in the end zone by one Garrett Griffin.
Dan Arnold (6′ 6″, 220 lbs last official, but likely higher now): Arnold came in as an undrafted wide receiver, and impressed enough to stick around. The Saints quickly realized that they like the kid, but he won’t be able to crack the roster as a receiver, but he could see more opportunities as a tight end. Dan went on with the idea, and he’s been bulking up. Let me be clear: Dan Arnold has my dream job right now- To get paid to eat a lot, anywhere I want in the city of New Orleans, and trainers will monitor and keep me in shape for no charge to myself??? C’mon, Son.
Dan Arnold has already done more as a tight end in two years than Coby Fleener did as a Saint. That’s not actually true, but it certainly feels that way. He was active for 10 games last season, starting in one, and had 12 receptions for 150 yards and 1 touchdown. He’s a bit of the opposite of Griffin, as in more of a catcher than a blocker. If Coach Campbell can fully convert Arnold and he’s a half decent blocker, the Saints will have their number 3 tight end.
Alizé Mack (6′ 5″, 247 lbs): The continuing storyline with Alizé Mack is a question of current maturity, growth potential, and focus. That’s the intraweb’s words, not mine. To me, it’s all the same thing, and it’s the majority of rookies. The guy got some bad grades and didn’t follow through with some punishment chores. Hardly a reason to fall to the 7th round, right? For the Saints, can he be humble and can he be coached? Well if the prospects of money, success, and starting your career on a Super Bowl contending team isn’t enough, then fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you.
Needless to say, Mack has serious upside with a lot of questions that we will soon know all of the answers to. He was the number one tight end recruit going into college at Notre Dame, but due to his mishaps and changing schemes, his college output was so-so with 68 receptions for 716 yards and 4 touchdowns. So basically a lot of promise and little result so far. And like a lot of these newcomers, in the least he’ll be exciting in the preseason.
WHO MAKES THE CUT?
Assuming the Saints roll with 3 tight ends and a practice squad guy, that leaves one odd man out. This is one of the more exciting position battles going into training camp and preseason. You’ve got two locks, and two practice squad eligible. Garrett Griffin becomes your odd man out, unless he starts lighting up defensive ends and linebackers.. It would basically take an injury or a yet-to-be-seen beast mode to keep him around, and unfortunately he’s not unique enough in the league to stay. He’s a younger Josh Hill without a weighty contract. That said, I would not be shocked to see him on another roster before the year’s end.
What will be exciting is going to be the Dan Arnold vs Alizé Mack battle leading up to the regular season. And if one is lost to the waiver wire, you could still keep Griffin loitering around. The most comforting thing here is that there is some solid ground to land on if something were to befall Jared Cook, god forbid. Ok, like firm sand. They’re young, but talented enough to break out.
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