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New Orleans Saints position outlook: Wide receiver clearly strong, and minor tweaks will only help

The Saints receivers are arguably one of the most underrated groups in the NFL. While they continue to be overshadowed by flashier corps, they won’t be ignored in 2017.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When you look back at the New Orleans Saints and the 2016 season, one thing particularly stands out, and that’s the wide receiver group. The team’s young trio was one of the league’s best, and had the stats to back it up.

We continue our series that focuses on next year’s Saints by position. Any free agents, free agent targets, players set to return (includes practice squad), and some potential draft options are all considered.

What the Saints are working with

  • Brandin Cooks: Many will get caught in the weeds with Cooks’ social media outburst, and he’s going to be the subject of many’s ‘what if’ trade scenarios and such. While we don’t buy it, Cooks turned in a stellar season. Assuming something ridiculous doesn’t transpire in the offseason, Cooks will continue to be one of the top options for Drew Brees.
  • Michael Thomas: There’s no other way to put it, but Thomas had himself a rookie season. People slept on the Ohio State product, and he proved them all wrong. The Saints triplets had a ton of success in 2016, and Thomas played more like a veteran that’s been together with Brees for years. He’ll get better, without question, and that’s a pretty scary thought.
  • Tommylee Lewis: The diminutive undrafted rookie earned his way onto the squad last season, but couldn’t exactly replicate the success that he did in the preseason. Still, Lewis played in 12 games for the Saints, and was primarily a return option. Perhaps a changing of the guard with special teams coaching could help him elevate his game.
  • Jordan Williams-Lambert: If you recall, Williams put together a good training camp and preseason, which helped him land on the team’s practice squad over other options like R.J. Harris and Jared Dangerfield. He showed some good signs of progression in a short time, and hopefully can get better with a year under his belt.

Free Agents

  • Willie Snead: Before everyone blows a gasket, the good news is that the Saints hold all the cards on their free agents. Snead is a ERFA (exclusive rights free agent), which means if the team makes him an offer at the three-year veteran minimum, Snead has a ‘take it or leave it’ option and can’t negotiate with any other teams. With that being said, Snead is a valuable third wide receiver for the Saints. I’d be shocked to see him get some type of chump deal.
  • Jake Lampman: Like Snead, Lampman is also a ERFA. Being a standout in special teams helped solidify him a spot on the roster in 2016. There’s little that suggests he won’t be back in black and gold to compete again. If he can continue to build upon his run blocking and start making some noise, the he might just enter the conversation more for a bigger role in Payton’s offense. However, we’re a long ways away from that.
  • Brandon Coleman: Coleman is one of two RFAs (restricted free agent) for the Saints, which means if tendered an offer, another team can negotiate with him and offer him a deal, but the team would have the final say. Statistically speaking, Coleman went down in every category except touchdown grabs. Still, he’s played in all 32 games for the Saints over the past two seasons. For a No. 4 option at the price tag, you can’t be that upset with what Coleman has done. However, he’s going to be one to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.
  • Corey Fuller: Fuller, the other RFA, joined the team late in the season after spending time on the Lions practice squad. He’s one that could grow with the Saints, assuming he’s brought back. He’s already said he’s willing to do whatever to contribute, and Payton has reiterated that he has a lot to offer. We already know the top three spots for the Saints, so he’d virtually have to unseat someone else.

Free Agent targets

  • Cordarrelle Patterson: I don’t expect the Saints to go crazy in free agency to sign a wide receiver, because they arguably have the best trio in the league. Patterson will be a hot commodity on the market as it is, and would honestly be brought in primarily for return duties. Getting rid of Greg McMahon and Stan Kwan will hopefully transform the special teams unit into something that doesn’t resemble atrocity. Patterson helps with that, and could also help in the passing game.
  • Andre Roberts: I talked about adding Roberts previously. The short synopsis is that he can return kicks, punts, and stretch the field as a vertical threat or line up in the slot. If you don’t believe me, then go back and watch some of his tape against the Saints. He’s a cheaper option to Patterson and stacks up statistically in return production.
  • Vincent Jackson: This one obviously might leave you saying, ‘Wait, what?’ But hear me out. If the Saints wanted to grab a veteran receiver for this team for any reason, Jackson would make a lot of sense. Sure, 15 games in the past two seasons is pretty disappointing, especially when Jackson’s numbers declined and the contract value is upside down. Jackson could be reunited with his old quarterback Drew Brees on a low-risk one-year veteran minimum deal and just fill in as a role player or No. 4 option for the Saints.

Draft possibilities

Here’s a mix of what the Saints could get in the high, mid, and low value out of the NFL Draft. However, I wouldn’t count on them doing a Michael Thomas move this year.

  • High - Curtis Samuel: Again, using a pick in the first three rounds on a receiver wouldn’t make sense for the Saints unless something crazy happens during the offseason. However, Samuel would be a guy I’d keep an eye on if a move is to be made. Of course, we have to wait for him to ultimately decide what his future holds, but he’s right there in the projections of a Top 10 receiver. Ohio State worked out pretty well for the Saints last season, so why not go back to the well?
  • Mid - Stacy Coley: The Hurricanes receiver has some coveted speed that could be used in a vertical attack. Coley can also run a variety of routes, and what stands out is what he does in open space after he catches the ball. He can make the first and second man miss, and displays some nice balance in the process.
  • Low - Jamari Staples: A direct possibility to replace Coleman would be Staples from Louisville. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound obviously has a size advantage, but also has good hands and strong blocking to support it. In this film study by Draft Breakdown, you’ll notice Staples could fit in with a lot of Sean Payton’s play calling. He will be one of the many that hopes the Senior Bowl will boost his draft stock.

In a nutshell

The Saints have a very young receiving corps, with Snead, Thomas, and Cooks at an average age of 23. Each of them bring their own unique style of play to the table, and makes it easy on Drew Brees. It won’t be a surprise seeing the BMW trio turning in another successful campaign in 2017, and the Saints will need it in such an important year.