Oh, what could have been?
Willie Snead quickly rose to stardom for New Orleans in 2015 when he finished the year with just under 1,000 receiving yards and 3 TDs. He backed that up in 2016 with 895 receiving yards and 4 TDs. In both of his first two seasons with the Saints, Snead had to compete for touches with Brandin Cooks. He also had Marques Colston in 2015 and Michael Thomas in 2016.
Colston retired. Cooks was traded away. Michael Thomas was entrenched as the new #1 WR for the Saints, but that meant the #2 role was firmly in the grasp of Willie Snead. With Cooks out of the way and Thomas typically running routes on the outside, Snead could see his already-productive numbers increase. He could be Drew’s primary read on certain routes, and would be an elite third down option as his above-average hands (~70% catch rate in his first two seasons) made him a reliable target on short and intermediate throws for Drew Brees.
And then came the DUI. Snead was arrested for a DUI right before the start of the 2017 preseason and was suspended for the first three games.
And then came the injury. As soon as Snead came back to practice coming out of the suspension, he injured a hamstring which kept him out of the next two weeks.
After missing so much time, Snead was clearly not in football shape (both mentally and physically it seemed), and was not able to immediately gel in the Saints offense once he returned. He finished the entire season (11 games, starting 7), with just 92 total yards. To say that his performance in 2017, a contract year as Snead is a restricted free agent this offseason, was a disappointment would be a massive understatement.
It ended up being for naught as the Saints would go on to lose to Minnesota in the divisional round of the 2017 playoffs on the final play of regulation, but Snead almost became one of the heroes on the night. With the season on the line, Drew Brees and the Saints offense lined up on 4th-and-10 with 45 seconds left in the game to try to take the lead. Drew Brees throws a dart to Snead who catches the ball and gets out of bounds to stop the clock. (Let’s all ignore his overthrow on a gadget play earlier in the game, OK?)
Will that one play be enough for the Saints to bring back Willie for 2018? Time will tell. But it’s hard to know just how productive he would be for the Fleur-de-lys even if he were to return.