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Why the New Orleans Saints Could Win it All, Part III: Wide Receivers

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Second-year wideout Michael Thomas could take a massive step forward.

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

To see previous Parts, click below:

Part I: Offensive Line

Part II: Running Backs

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The trio of Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead combined for a whopping 3,205 receiving yards in 2016 (with Cooks adding another 30 yards on the ground).

First things first, we need to address the elephant in the room: Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots this offseason, and he will absolutely be missed in the Saints offense in 2017. No single player will be able to replace what he brought to the Saints offense, rather it will take a combination of players to hope to replicate Brandin’s value for New Orleans last year.

One such player the Saints will turn to is veteran free agent acquisition Ted Ginn Jr., formerly of the Carolina Panthers. The Saints also are bringing back second-year wideout Michael Thomas and the underrated Willie Snead to the team in 2017, along with all-potential-but-no-production Brandon Coleman and tiny speedster Tommylee Lewis.

As an undrafted free agent, the Saints also brought in local LSU product Travin Dural into the fold, who has an outside shot of making the roster and contributing to the 2017 Saints either on Special Teams and/or as a pass-catching wide receiver.

So here’s why they’re better in 2017:

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

I know this isn’t a fair analysis, but let’s play wizardry with the Saints’ receiving corps’ statistics from 2016 and find a way to replace the 1,203 yards from Brandin Cooks.

Michael Thomas missed the Saints’ first matchup with Tampa Bay last season, otherwise averaging 76 receiving yards per game. If we can assume Michael Thomas plays in a full 16-game season in 2017, then we should get (theoretically) an extra 76 receiving yards in 2017. Subtract that from Cooks’s 1,203 yards, and now we only need to find 1,127.

Likewise, Willie Snead only played in 15 games last season with a turf toe injury, averaging 60 yards per game. If we get a fully healthy Snead, we can hope for another 60 yards there, bringing us down to 1,067.

Signing Ted Ginn Jr. also eats a big chunk of Cooks’s missing yardage. In 2016, Ginn finished with 850 scrimmage yards in the Carolina Panther’s offense. Subtract that 850, and now we are only missing 217 yards.

Brandon Coleman took a major step back in 2017 after the addition of Michael Thomas. Even after the retirement of Marques Colston, there were just too many looks needed for Cooks, Thomas, and Snead, that Coleman just wasn’t given a fair shake in the offense. While Ginn has come in as a deep threat for the Saints, he won’t require the same level of attention from opposing defenses, leaving Coleman a shot of at least replicating his 2015 numbers (as opposed to his 2016 stats). In 2016, Coleman only contributed 281 yards in the Saints offense. In 2017, though, Coleman had 451 yards. If we can assume Coleman is merely able to replicate his 2015 “success,” then we get another 173 receiving yards in 2017. Subtract that from the remaining Cooks total, and now we only need to replace a meager 44 receiving yards.

But do we really expect Thomas to not progress at least a little in the Saints offense in his second season in the NFL? Should moving from Cam Newton (one of the least accurate passers in the NFL) to Drew Brees (the most accurate passer in the history of the NFL) not help Ted Ginn’s numbers? It’s not outrageous to also assume growth from both Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead in 2017. That’s not evening mentioning with Tommylee Lewis and/or Travin Dural could bring to the Saints’ receiving corps.

Make no mistake: losing Brandin Cooks hurts. But with Drew Brees still at the helm, the Saints group of receivers might actually put up better numbers next year.