The New Orleans Saints' 2015 offseason has been one of the most interesting for the team in a long while. Head coach Sean Payton went "Terminator" on his roster after the terrible abomination that was the 2014 season. Saints fans freaked out, screamed and mourned the departure via trade of the likes of tight end Jimmy "I'm a Receiver" Graham and wide receiver Kenny "Say Yes to the Dress" Stills. Hey, I'm not bagging on Saints fans, I can understand their anxiety, after all Graham led all Saints pass catchers in 2014 with 85 receptions for 889 yards and Stills was second in receptions with 63 for 931 yards. And what's more, we all know that veteran wideout Marques Colston is 100 years old, Brandin Cooks kinda sucked as a rookie and is injury prone and...why is Nick Toon even still on the team? Thank God for Andy Tanner.
Ok, let me get "seriouser" here for a minute (don't use seriouser in your essays kids, it's not proper English).
It's the offseason, so we need to get entertained, freak out about silly things we needn't fret about and argue about said silly things. The truth is: we do not need to freak out at all about the Saints' wide receiving corps. What we need to be concerned about and hope that the Saints have properly addressed is the offensive line. In other words, give Brees time and he'll make the passing game work. Don't protect Brees well and it won't matter if the Saints have Jerry Rice in his prime trying to catch passes.
But before you tell me I'm crazy (I am, but shhhh...don't tell anyone) let's take a bit of a loosely analytical look at the Saints top 10 receivers stats from last season.
Saints Top 10 Receptions Leaders 2014
Looking at the table above, of their top 10 receivers in 2014, the Saints lost 231 receptions while retaining 192: a reception differential of -39.
Saints Top 10 Target Leaders 2014
From the numbers above, in their receiving top 10, the Saints lost four players that combined for 314 targets in 2014, while the other six players totaled 278 targets: a fairly meager differential of -36.
Saints Top 10 Receiving Touchdown Leaders 2014
Among their top 10 receivers, the Saints lost 15 receiving touchdowns, while retaining 16: a +1 differential that is pretty much equivalent to a push.
So Um...what Are You Saying Man?
a) The Saints lost 39 receptions from their top 10 receiving leaders. Big deal! In Sean Payton's offense, it's about opportunity. Did you remember that Travaris Cadet had 38 receptions last year? Me neither. Drew Brees will find the open man in 2015 and if you want my way-too-early wild wide receiver prediction for 2015, this is the year Nick Toon finally joins the Saints' starting receiving corps for good.
b) The Saints lost four players that were targeted 314 times from their top 10 receiving leaders. Again, big deal! Drew Brees will now have to chance to not be locked on Jimmy Graham and instead spread the ball around and make it harder for defenses to zero in on one particular receiver to stymie the Saints offense.
c) But...but, Jimmy Graham had 10 touchdowns and now he is gone! Yes, but tight end Josh Hill was second on the team in touchdown receptions with five, while being targeted only 20 times: a whopping 25% touchdown-to-target (TTR) ratio. Jimmah's TTR? 8%. Hill is another player, like Toon who will see his touches go up significantly this upcoming season with Graham's departure.
While making this little fun and unpretentious study, I didn't even factor in the addition of running back C.J. Spiller who is certain to take over the role that Travaris Cadet (now with the Patriots) played last year. Or the fact that Brandin Cooks put up the numbers he did in 2014 while playing in only 10 games. This means that barring any further injuries, Cooks production is bound to skyrocket as well in 2015.
What the Saints have done with their receiving corps this year is smart: they've finally realized that Brees needs a stud offensive line much more than he needs stud wide receivers. You build the team from the inside out, not the other way around. In 2015, I expect New Orleans to be in the NFL's top five offensively, yet again. What I'm truly excited about however, is the fact that for once in a long time, with the addition of Max Unger and Andrus Peat, Drew Brees will not be under duress all the time and turn the ball over at the alarming rate he has the past two years. It may not be flashy, but the 2015 Saints are about substance not style, and that's how they'll win.