The last reception we all saw from New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston was a vintage touchdown reception in the final minutes of the Week 17 victory at Tampa. Thankfully, it wasn't the very last reception we will see from Colston as a Saint. Colston has provided incredible play and fantastic memories during his near decade in New Orleans.
Unfairly, Colston's 2014 season, and future prognosis, has been judged by his final play from the first game of the season. His game-sealing fumble (his only fumble in 2014) in overtime at Atlanta is something that has followed him, another sign of "decline". Is Colston the player he was in his first four seasons? No, of course not, but he still has much to contribute to the team that has made the relatively anonymous superstar a household name in New Orleans
Outside of Colston, there is very little veteran leadership in the Saints' receiving corps. Journeyman receiver Josh Morgan has the most experience on the roster outside of Colston, and none of it came in New Orleans. Frankly, there is little reason to believe Josh Morgan even makes the team's roster once the regular season begins. There is very little regular season gameday experience in this Saints receiving corps outside of Colston. Marques Colston's stat line absolutely shames the total receptions, yards, and touchdowns of all the other wide receivers on the roster combined.
The Saints need Colston to help usher in the new generation of talent at the wide receiver position. Without him as a major contributor in the lineup, the Saints would find themselves flush with raw talent, but little else. Undoubtedly, Colston realizes his position and need to the Saints now, and going forward. The time for transition is here, but this transition requires finesse and stability, and he will be the key component in this transition.
The Saints are already familiar with what damage can be done when young talent is left without veteran leadership on the field and in the locker room. Over the past few years, the Saints lost veteran stalwart defenders, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins in rapid succession. Although the players that replaced each of them were younger and more talented, leadership and stability were sacrificed in their absence.
It was a lesson hard learned for the Saints, but it's clear that it has been understood. You can't just create leaders on the field, and especially in the locker room. A captain's "C" can easily be placed on a player's chest, but it is up to that player to earn it, and to earn the respect of his teammates, the coaching staff, and the fans. Marques Colston has earned that respect, and more.
It shouldn't be surprising to see Colston continue to be one of the Saints' top receiving targets in 2015. His stat line may resemble 74 receptions for 1,026 yards and 7 touchdowns, which would be fantastic at this age and stage in his career. Colston may be older in receiver years, but he's also wiser, and still the most trusted target Drew Brees has at his disposal. Their comfort level and camaraderie in the absence of former safety blanket, Jimmy Graham will be huge.
Respected by teammates, trusted by coaches, beloved by fans, Marques Colston's role has changed in many ways for the Saints, but he just may be as crucial to the team's success today as he was during the apex of his career. The end of the road is near for Colston, but what an enjoyable journey it's been.