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Saints, D.J. Chark could end LSU Tigers talent drought

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How many talented players need to go through Baton Rouge before New Orleans picks one?

AUBURN, AL - LSU Tigers wide receiver D.J. Chark (82) secures a touchdown catch against the Auburn Tigers defense at Jordan-Hare Stadium, though officials ruled time expired before LSU was able to run the play. Sad!
AUBURN, AL - LSU Tigers wide receiver D.J. Chark (82) secures a touchdown catch against the Auburn Tigers defense at Jordan-Hare Stadium, though officials ruled time expired before LSU was able to run the play. Sad!
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I’m not an LSU Tigers fan. I say that now so you’ll understand that I’m not a biased homer (I studied at the University of Southern Mississippi, the Magnolia State’s only beachfront campus. #SMTTT).

That established, D.J. Chark offers the Saints a chance to finally add some talent from the in-state recruiting champs. Aside from an undrafted free agency flier on wide receiver Travin Dural last year and a mid-round pick spent back in 2010 on defensive tackle Al Woods (now on his fifth stop with the Indianapolis Colts), the Saints haven’t considered prospects out of LSU under head coach Sean Payton’s management.

Things could change sharply with Chark, a legit first round prospect. He had a great combine, measuring in at 6-foot-2 7/8 and 199-pound while hitting the 90th percentile in athletic testing: timing a 4.34-second 40-yard dash (95th percentile), a 40-inch vertical jump (92nd), and a 129-inch broad jump (91st). Chark opted out of agility drills but could check those boxes at his pro day. At any rate, he’s proven to be incredibly explosive in the short area while possessing scary long speed.

That’s elite athleticism, and something the Saints could really use at wide receiver. Michael Thomas was their only real threat on critical downs last year, and Ted Ginn Jr lived his best life as graybearded option on underneath routes and the occasional deep look, but New Orleans definitely needs someone else to help them find that next gear.

See, this is where Chark comes in. His 40-time backs up what you’ve already seen on game tape: the guy can seriously move. He’s a threat to bust open a route twenty yards downfield on any given play, similar to another first rounder in Will Fuller (now of the Houston Texans). But unlike Fuller, Chark doesn’t carry the injury history or inconsistent hands - he dropped just two of his forty-two targets last year, and that’s with a cast of characters who weren’t top-ranked recruit Myles Brennan throwing to him. Notoriously poor quarterback play and poorer execution on offense have limited other Tigers receivers in the past, like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

And sure, Chark has his own issues. He isn’t physical and struggled to get open against press-coverage, which is admittedly true of most college receivers. But that was my main takeaway from his reps in Senior Bowl practices back in January. He’ll thrive best in an offense that uses crafty route combinations and formations to scheme him open - something Payton’s Saints teams have excelled at. It’s tough to imagine a better fit out of the gate for Chark than New Orleans.

So go ahead and have this idea on the back-burner. Chark is the latest in a string of wide receivers to average 20-plus receiving yards in college and break the 4.41-second barrier in the 40-yard dash, and like them I anticipate him to be picked in the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round. I won’t be shocked if the Saints make that happen at the twenty-seventh pick.