This is an odd trend. A lot of things went sideways for the New Orleans Saints in 2022, and they have a long list of team needs for 2023 to right the ship and get back to playing competitive football — but now we’re seeing a 2023 mock draft linking the Saints to a tight end for the second time in two weeks. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has New Orleans using its top draft pick, at No. 40 overall, on South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft.
So who is he? Kraft is one of five tight ends going off the board in this two-round mock draft, and NFL teams are excited for his playmaking ability as both a blocker and as a receiver. He’s a product of the same school that sent Dallas Goedert to the Philadelphia Eagles (he was picked at No. 49 overall back in 2018). Listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Kraft moves well for someone his size but he missed five games this year with an ankle injury that required tightrope surgery. He’s appeared in 32 games for the Jackrabbits, catching 99 passes for 1,211 yards with 9 touchdown receptions.
Kraft looks like a fine NFL prospect. But what’s with the tight ends-to-New Orleans movement? Last week we saw Georgia Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington mocked to the Saints with this pick. There’s an argument that the Saints may not be able to address their top priority in the second round in finding a quarterback, which is valid. But they still have bigger fish to fry:
Running back, to reduce Alvin Kamara’s workload, tide over during his expected suspension in 2023, and maybe replace him in a year or two
Defensive tackle, to replenish depth with just one player under contract for 2023, and to upgrade the group’s poor performance
Safety, to develop behind Marcus Maye; he missed seven games with injury in 2022 and is facing a suspension in 2023
Offensive line, to upgrade depth at both the tackle and guard spots, and maybe replace Andrus Peat at left guard if he is a salary cap cut
There’s always a convincing argument to take the best player available, but tight ends are notorious for the steep learning curve in transitioning from the college level to the NFL. Odds are a rookie tight end is not going to displace Juwan Johnson (who is a restricted free agent that should be easy to retain) or Adam Trautman (who is admittedly entering a contract year) in the starting lineup or play many meaningful snaps right out of the gate. There are enough other position groups that the Saints should probably be investing in before this one. Hopefully they’ll recoup a first round pick by trading Sean Payton so they can afford the luxury of looking at tight ends in the second round.