The wide receiver and tight end positions are no longer a “must” for the New Orleans Saints -- as coach Sean Payton described them last month -- after they signed veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and receiver Cameron Meredith over the past three weeks.
That was key for the Saints heading into the NFL draft, since they don’t want to be forced into reaching to fill any specific position needs.
The Saints always prefer to select the proverbial “best available player” on their draft board, regardless of position. And that will be especially true this year since they have only one pick in the top 90 (at No. 27 in Round 1).
But that being said, it should still be a priority for the Saints to add another pass-catcher or two if the grades line up -- especially at the tight end position, where the 37-year-old Watson signed just a one-year deal.
And there is an awfully good chance that the Saints might find a tight end they like with that No. 27 pick. Most draft analysts seem to grade South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert and Penn State’s Mike Gesicki within that 25-to-50 range.
A trio of ESPN analysts particularly like the potential fit with Hurst in New Orleans. Both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay paired the Saints with the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder in their recent “Grade A” mock drafts, where they played the role of GM for all 32 teams.
And NFL analyst Matt Bowen said he thinks Hurst is the most complete tight end in this year’s draft as a receiver and blocker -- and thinks his versatility would be a great fit in New Orleans’ offense, where Payton likes to move players around so much.
“He’s a guy they can do a lot of things with in that offense,” said Bowen, who compared Hurst to his former Washington Redskins teammate Chris Cooley, saying he could play everywhere from H-back to the F, Y and slot positions.
“That’s not a knock on Goedert and Mike Gesicki, who could be a matchup type. But I think Hayden Hurst plays at a quicker tempo, and he’s a little more aggressive,” Bowen said. “They even used him on jet sweeps versus Arkansas. And I think he’s the best blocking tight end in this class.”
One of the knocks on Hurst is that he is already 25 years old after playing minor league baseball, so he may have already reached the peak of his athletic development. But that could also make him more ready to step in and contribute as a rookie.
Kiper pointed out in his mock draft that Hurst is ahead of most college tight ends as a blocker.
The Saints don’t have any other glaring needs on offense heading into the draft. They could probably use another backup offensive lineman after losing super-backup Senio Kelemete in free agency. But they helped fill that void by signing veteran tackle/guard Jermon Bushrod.
And they could certainly be on the lookout of a developmental quarterback as a future heir to 39-year-old Drew Brees -- though it’s not an absolute must yet since the Saints are so intrigued by Taysom Hill's potential and signed Tom Savage in free agency.
Here is a look at New Orleans’ current offensive depth chart:
QB: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Tom Savage
FB: Zach Line
LT: Terron Armstead, Jermon Bushrod
K: Wil Lutz