NEW ORLEANS -- Back before a global pandemic halted the sporting world as we know it, the New Orleans Saints staff was able to gather and sit near each other in the bleachers at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.
It was late January, and they were in town to get an up-close look at some of the top NFL draft prospects playing against each other in the Senior Bowl. One player kept grabbing their attention over and over again, and this was a place that was important for that player to do exactly that.
The Dayton helmet may have looked out of place, but the big tight end didn’t. He kept making plays against players from the big-name football factories, and the Saints made sure to follow Adam Trautman closely.
"It was like, ‘Hey, there he is making another play there, there he is making another play,’ " said Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.
The Saints selected Trautman in the third round of this year’s draft, and they made an aggressive move to do so, sending all of their Day 3 picks to Minnesota to acquire the No. 105 pick. They were aggressive because they didn’t expect him to be there, an idea that started to crystallize while watching him at the Senior Bowl. And now that they have him, the Saints’ coaches are excited about what will come next.
Mobile is where Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell started to really get excited about Trautman’s pro potential, the way in the span of a week they saw him grow and develop against high-caliber competition impressed him.
After seeing him in Mobile, Campbell took a close look at Trautman’s college film and validated his idea of who the player was.
Sure, much of what Trautman achieved at Dayton was done while competing against players who won’t so much as see an NFL minicamp roster, but Campbell saw plenty to be excited about regardless of the competition — the athletic twitchiness, the way he beat man and zone coverages, the way he put his hand in the ground and got after people as a blocker.
That last part is key. Though Trautman enjoyed a monster senior season at Dayton — 70 catches, 916 yards and 14 touchdowns — New Orleans didn’t bring him in just to catch the ball. Though some of Trautman’s blocking technique was fundamentally raw, Campbell said, he was enamored by Trautman "throwing his body in there and he's doing whatever he can to finish blocks." The fancy part of the game stands out on the stat sheet, but Campbell loved the grittier side of Trautman’s game.
Others in the organization have said they see Trautman as a true "Y" tight end — meaning a tight end in the traditional mold of the position, who can impact the game as a receiver and a blocker.
Campbell agreed with that assessment, and said it is getting harder to find a player like that in modern football. Or at least that was recently the case, though one player might be changing that.
In his introductory news conference, Trautman said he hopes to model his game after San Francisco tight end George Kittle, a player who has earned the respect of both devout fantasy football followers for his ability to catch and run, and from football purists for the gleeful way he approaches blocking.
That a player like Kittle is in vogue for younger players at the position is music to Campbell’s ears.
"Because Kittle is a complete tight end," Campbell said. "And when you watch him and he and guys like (Rob) Gronkowski, those are rare guys, but when you talk to all these guys at the combine coming out now, it is the new wave. Who do you see yourself as? Oh man, it is George Kittle."
New Orleans clearly has not been able to see this play out on the field yet. Since the Saints drafted Trautman, Campbell’s interaction with him has been limited to near daily positional meetings by video teleconference.
Even those give him some reason to be excited, though. As Campbell has gone through the offensive installation and the film cut-ups from last season, he’s noticed the way Trautman has processed the information.
"You can find out real quick, first, does a guy really love football or talking football and then second, how much does he know and how quickly does he pick up on it?" Campbell said. "... This kid is a little bit more than a Level 1 thinker. He's an advanced thinker and he wants to know and loves talking football and from that perspective you feel pretty good about it.
"Mentally you're like, man, that makes me want to get to camp and see what this guy can handle."
And the Saints believe the feeling is mutual for Trautman.
"He's raring to go," Carmichael said. "He loves the game. He can't wait till the day that training camp starts. … We're really excited about having him and he's going to have a role for us."