The top two tight ends on the Saints' roster are locks. In fact, the Saints finally have a tandem that could really make this offense operate at the level it did when they had both Shockey and Graham together. Beyond that, the question is how many the Saints will keep and which players those will be. The Saints currently carry five tight ends on the roster, with two being undrafted rookie free agents. Don't forget the Saints like to use a tackle as a blocking tight end off the edge in running formations, too, and with the surplus of tackles on the roster this year they could elect to keep less tight ends and utilize more tackles to fill in that blocking role. Here are the players:
Jimmy Graham: Arguably the best tight end in the NFL. He put together the second best season in NFL history two years ago for a tight end, and last year he put up scary numbers despite a down year which saw him drop an insane amount of balls. The primary reason for their drops was a wrist injury that is now said to be 100%. Graham is motivated to rebound not only because of the criticism he's suffered, but also because this is a contract year. Barring injury, expect him to go in full on beast mode this season. He is the team's starter for a long time to come.
Ben Watson: The only concern with him so far is his virtual inexistant involvement with the team in mini camps due to injury. Hopefully he's ready to go in training camp. Watson is a complete tight end that is very dangerous in the passing game and more than capable as a blocker. He's been a starter most of his career, and should provide the perfect compliment to Graham. Last year tight end depth didn't exist. This year it's a real strength, as I view the Saints as having two very good starters. The possibilities with these two on the field together are very interesting. This may turn out to be the free agent pickup of the offseason for the Saints. Watson is a lock to make the team.
Michael Higgins: Higgins has rotated between the practice squad and the active roster the past two years after joining the team as an undrafted rookie free agent. His career totals are a whooping 2 receptions for 1 yard in two seasons. The Saints seem to like him, but he came to the Saints entirely too skinny to be trusted at his position. Since then he's done a better job of putting on weight, so maybe he'll get his chance. The Saints do like his blocking ability, so if he can add more muscle to his frame and show even a minimal contribution in the passing game in preseason he stands a decent shot at making the roster should the Saints decide to keep three tight ends.
Josh Hill: Like Higgins a couple years ago, Hill has nice height at 6'5", but his 229lb frame means he's likely a project. Hard to know if the Saints will want to hold on to him or not but I feel he's destined for the practice squad at best. He had 70 receptions for 630 yards and 5 touchdowns at Idaho State last year, so he's more of a receiving threat. He'll have to show something in the blocking department to stick, though, because backup end tight ends need to be able to play on the kick return team for blocking. I'm not convinced he has that in his game but we shall see. He has decent speed too.
Keavon Milton: Size is not an issue for this local-ish product from UL-Monroe. Milton, like Hill, is an undrafted rookie, but he's a mammoth in size at 6'4" 293lbs. That almost sounds too big for this position, and I'm guessing he could stand to lose some weight! He's not going to bring much in the receiving department (only 14 receptions his senior year), so he's definitely a blocking specialist. To be on the edge and on kickoff return wedges, though, he needs to at least be decently fleet of foot. That's what you want to watch for in preseason. Guys that big don't tend to run very well, and his 4.96 40 time tells me that unless his blocking is devastating beyond imagination he's probably not making the team. Going back to the surplus of tackles, I feel like they bring the same skillset at Milton but can actually play tackle too.
Prediction: I think Hill would have a pretty decent shot if the Saints didn't already have dynamite pass catching time ends ahead of him. I do think Hill ends up on the practice squad as a developmental player that needs to add weight. Milton will be cut, and Higgins is a fringe player. I think the Saints will only keep two tight ends unless one of them in banged up going into the season. I'm predicting Higgins will be cut, Hill goes to the practice squad, and the Saints will use their backup tackles as the 3rd tight end in running situations.