The New Orleans Saints have had a historically successful passing attack since the arrival of quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton in 2006. Many receivers have been productive in this system. Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and Jimmy Graham all had the years of their careers while in New Orleans, and Marques Colston was one of the most underrated wideouts to ever play. The Saints offense had a bit of a hole to fill entering the 2017 season, after trading another productive receiver, Brandin Cooks, just prior to the draft. Today, Canal Street Chronicles continues our post season positional grades by looking at how the New Orleans receivers fared after the trade.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Michael Thomas entered the 2017 season as the Saints number 1 pass catching option following the team's trade of 2-time 1,000 yard receiver Brandin Cooks to New England last spring. Thomas ended the season as one of the best receivers in the league, and an elite offensive weapon in just his second year as a pro. Thomas had 1,245 yards to lead the team, finishing 6th in the league, and his 104 catches ranked 3rd in the NFL, also setting a Saints team record for receptions. He had 3 games of over 100 yards receiving (including playoffs), and eight more games of at least 80 yards. He was perhaps the most consistent threat in the New Orleans offense, catching at least 5 passes in 16 of the 18 Saints games. Thomas is an extremely sharp route runner, and uses superior body control, underrated athletic ability, and outstanding hands to make him nearly impossible to guard at times. He had a coming out party down the stretch of the season, as New Orleans was on a playoff run. Michael Thomas has established himself as an elite receiver, and looks to be a focal point of the Saints passing game for years to come.
Ted Ginn Jr. signed with New Orleans as a free agent last spring, and had the most consistent season of his 11-yr. career. He had nine games of at least 4 catches, and six games of over 70 yards receiving, including two 100-yd. outings. Ginn's 787 yards receiving were the second best of his career, his 75.7% catch percentage was by far his career best, and he still showed the game breaking speed to make the deep play. Tommylee Lewis showed some gamebreaking potential in the preseason, but it was clear that Ginn is still the best option to consistently stretch the field vertically in this Saints offense.
Brandon Coleman continued to show flashes as a solid complimentary target. He had 23 catches for 364 yards, and showed not only the athletic ability to make plays down the field, but also the instincts to be a threat in the red zone. Coleman is also a key for the New Orleans running attack, as the team's best blocking wideout. The big-bodied Coleman has the confidence of quarterback Drew Brees, but must be a more consistent producer for this passing game.
Another player that struggled with consistency was Willie Snead, who was perhaps the biggest disappointment on the 2017 Saints. Snead started the year on suspension, then struggled with a hamstring injury upon his return, and finished with a paltry 8 catches for just 92 yards and no scores. Snead is a restricted free agent this offseason, and hopes to regain the form he exhibited in 2015 and '16, when he produced 984 and 895 yards receiving respectively, on 141 total catches.
The Saints got very little punch from their tight end position. Coby Fleener hoped to improve in 2017, after an erratic first year with the team in 2016. He had some good moments, a 5 catch/91-yd. effort in a comeback win over Washington stands out, but was lost for the season in week eleven. Fleener has good athletic ability to be a threat down the field, but questions remain if he can be a consistent receiving threat. Josh Hill will tease fans with remarkable catches in traffic, but has never been able to produce consistently. Michael Phillips and Michael Hoomanawanui are good blockers, but provide little threat in the passing game.
Thomas's individual grade on the 2017 is an unquestioned A, but the rest of this unit had it's struggles, despite the Saints having the league's 5th ranked passing attack. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara (81 receptions, 826 yards) was a huge part of the New Orleans passing attack, combining with Thomas for 48% of Drew Brees' completions, and Ginn's totals combined for almost 62% between the three players. The failure of the other New Orleans weapons in the passing game was a factor in the Saints 3rd down struggles, ranking just 19th in the league in 3rd down conversions. Decisions must be made on restricted free agents Coleman and Snead, both young players who have been valuable contributers in the past, and both receiver and tight end are positions that the Saints could look at for major upgrades in the 2018 offseason.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END GRADE= C
How would you grade the Saints wide receiver and tight end positions in 2017?
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