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What did the Saints get when they drafted Robert Meachem?

That's the first question that comes to mind as I start to sort through the wreckage of the Saints' season. When theirs was the only first-round pick not to play this season, the Saints -- and the pick -- look bad. ...

This isn't to say Robert Meachem is a bust, because it's too early to call him that. He could be an excellent player in this league, we simply don't know. Perhaps the question I'm seeking to answer is rather "What did the Saints miss out on when they decided to redshirt Robert Meachem."

Of course, this makes me want to analyze the receiving corps as a whole.

So let's start the offseason analysis right there. With Cliff's Notes at the end (because there's a lot there).

Rec. Rec/game Yds. Yds./game YPC TD TD Pct. 1st Dwn 1st Dwn. Pct.
Colston 98 6.125 1202 75.125 12.3 11 11.22 64 65.31
Bush 73 6.083 417 34.75 5.7 2 2.74 24 32.877
Patten 54 3.375 792 49.5 14.7 3 5.56 37 68.52
Moore 32 2 302 18.9 9.4 2 6.25 22 68.75
Henderson 20 1.25 409 25.56 20.5 3 15 16 80
Copper 15 1 126 8.4 8.4 2 13.33 7 46.67
Team 440 (1) 27.5 (1) 4423 (3) 276.4 (3) 10.1 (30) 28 (9) 6.36    

Pretty straightforward stats here: receptions, of course, because we're discussing the passing game; per game averages in catches and yards; touchdowns; number of first downs; percentage of catches that are touchdowns and first downs. The team's NFL rankings are in parentheses.

The team ranked first in receptions and yards because, well, they threw the ball a hell of a lot. The Saints led the league in attempts with 652. Drew Brees' 652 attempts (or 655, if you don't believe ESPN) ranks third all time (or tied for second). It was that kinda year, I guess.

I don't have all the team splits or rankings for things like TD and first down pct. I'm looking around for them.

Let's go through the receivers one by one:

Colston: Monster. Colston ranked in the NFL's top 10 in catches (9), yards (9) and touchdowns (9). In the very advanced stats he finished with a 34.7 DPAR, ranked fifth between some guy named Welker and another named C. Johnson, Cin. In DVOA he graded out to 20.2 percent, 13th overall above Johnson (16.3 percent, 19th), Torry Holt (13.2 percent, 25th) and Larry Fitzgerald (9.9 percent, 29th).

Colston is in the second of a three-year contract he was tendered as a seventh-round pick. In my humble opinion, signing him to an extension should be the No. 1 priority of the offseason.

Bush: What will become of Reggie Bush? Can this season be considered a success? In any event, he didn't keep Meachem off the field, though I wouldn't have minded seeing the Saints dress Meachem instead of Jamal Branch when Reggie went down, since they weren't really planning on running the ball anyway. I'm 40 percent kidding, 60 percent wrong.

Patten: Unexpected to say the least. When Devery Henderson faltered, Patten seized the opportunity to become the second receiver. The TD Rate is a bit low, but he kept the chains moving.  The numbers are impressive, though calling him an excellent replacement for Joe Horn is a stretch, I think.

For fun Joe Horn's yards per catch and TD percentages:

Joe Horn as a Saint
2000 14.3 8.51
2001 15.2 10.84
2002 14.9 7.954
2003 12.5 12.83
2004 14.9 11.7
2005 13.3 2.04
2006 18.4 11.11

Holy crap, that's a receiver! And look at what Horn was able to accomplish in a limited time with the Saints in 2006, when he was injured and washed up. After seeing those 2006 numbers, I'm actually a bit disappointed I didn't get to see Horn play a full season under Sean Payton.

Anyway, In terms of yards per catch and first down rate, Patten did an adequate job of replacing Horn. For his cost (cheap) and the expectations for him (low), he was one of few very pleasant surprises on this team. He was signed to a one-year contract, I imagine without an option, though I don't know for sure. He's bound to make a bunch of money in free agency when some team (Falcons, Jaguars are my predictions) signs him for more than he's probably worth. Hopefully not the Saints.

Moore: I suppose Lance Moore's contributions should be seen as a bonus, though one would like to see him gain more yardage on each catch -- Billy Miller isn't included, though he finished with a higher YPC average than Moore. His contrubutions in the return game aside, there's really nothing here that Robert Meachem couldn't have done.

Moore (HA!) fun, here's Lance's production by half seasons:

Games Catches Yds. YPC TD 1st Dwn. 1st Dwn. Pct.
1 to 8 20 213 10.7 1 14 70
9 to 16 12 89 7.4 1 8 66.67

Moore seemed to start out strong but falter as the year went on, though he was never a particularly great option in terms of gaining yards.

Henderson: It was a rough year for Devery, who was dropped (HA!) from the starting rotation because he couldn't secure the ball properly. When he successfully closed his hands around the ball, he was an incredibly efficient receiver, gaining first down or touchdown on an astounding 19 of his 20 catches. That's 95 percent. That's damned impressive, in my humble opinion. If he could've only caught 60 passes. ...

Devery is also eligible for free agency. Based on the resources the team has spent on developing him and his relatively strong production when he secured the ball, I think the Saints should try to re-sign him, should the price remain reasonably low. After all, Devery is so efficient when he catches the ball, I'm tempted to say Meachem couldn't have matched most of these numbers, the 20 catches -- and ludicrous number of drops, we hope -- notwithstanding.

Copper: It's hard to quantify Copper's contribution to special teams, though the Saints special teams were, on the whole, atrocious. When the ball was thrown his way, he caught it. Meachem would've done the same thing.

Cliff's Notes: Colston is a monster. Reggie is more of an unknown than Bigfoot. Patten was unexpectedly good, though not better than Joe Horn. Moore wasn't anything to write home about. Henderson was incredible when he caught the ball. Copper wasn't particularly compelling. Cliff's Notes are for cheaters.

Hence: I think the Saints' coaching staff failed to use Robert Meachem properly this season. While I'm not sure Meachem could have impacted the lineup like Henderson, he could certainly have beaten what Moore and Copper did. While injury certainly played a factor, the circumstances surrounding Meachem's redshirt season remain somewhat murky. Regardless, the Saints must work in the offseason to incorporate a receiver of Meachem's athletic ability in the offense more. Meachem must work in the offseason to turn himself into a viable option for the receiving rotation in 2008 and beyond, lest he risk being declared a bust (he's definitively not one now).

When Henderson faltered early in the season Patten received the lion's share of the reps, with Moore sprinkled in. As the season progressed, Henderson worked his way back into the coaches' good graces, though he didn't necessarily redeem himself with his play. With the struggles -- and irrelevance -- of the receivers below Patten, it's difficult to justify sitting a healthy Meachem for the entire season. Clearly, the Saints weren't good enough to win while receiving no value from their first-round pick this season.