The New Orleans Saints have had one of the NFL's best offenses since Sean Payton took the reigns as head coach in 2006. One of the things that made the New Orleans passing offense so dangerous was the depth of their talent. Quarterback Drew Brees often liked to spread the ball around to as many as five or six different receiving threats, all of whom had the capability to be a factor in the outcome of a game. The 2017 season was a bit of a different story. Second year wide receiver Michael Thomas established himself as one of the top receivers in the league, making his first of probably many Pro Bowl berths with a team-record 104 catch season for 1,245 yards and 5 touchdowns. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara added 81 catches for 826 yards on his way to offensive rookie of the year and his first Pro Bowl berth. Ted Ginn Jr. provided an expected big play threat, even in his 11th season, and was also a better all-around wideout than at any point in his career. The Saints got very little production consistently from their other pass catchers last year, however, prompting Payton to highlight this area as one of the team's biggest offseason focuses. Today we take a look at three players that New Orleans brought in to give additional targets for quarterback Drew Brees.
Cameron Meredith, WR
Meredith was signed away from the Chicago Bears this offseason as a restricted free agent. He was the Bears leading receiver in 2016, his second season, with 66 receptions for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns. Coming into 2017, Meredith was considered to be one of the league's up and coming wideouts, until a devastating knee injury sustained in the preseason ended his season. He's a big receiver (6'3, 207-lbs.) with the speed to make plays downfield, and can be a factor from both the slot and outside. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season opposite star receiver Michael Thomas, but Meredith is considered the early favorite to take over the number two receiving duties. He is a physical receiver that will win most battles in the middle of the field, but has the athleticism to be a threat along the sideline and down the field. We won't see much from Meredith during team OTA's and mini-camp as he finishes out his rehab, but all indication is that he will be ready for preseason. All eyes are on how quickly Meredith makes a full recovery from his knee injury, and he does have just one season of productivity, but he looks to be the ideal number two compliment to Thomas in a Saints offense who's complimentary targets struggled to consistently produce a year ago.
Tre'quan Smith, WR
The Saints drafted Smith in the 3rd round, the 91st overall pick, from Central Florida this spring. Smith led UCF in receptions and yardage in all three of his seasons with the Knights, scoring 22 career touchdowns. He has prototypical NFL size (6'2, 203-lbs.) with excellent down field speed. Smith accelerates quickly into his routes, and has outstanding body control to adjust to the ball in mid-air. He is expected to be an immediate deep threat for New Orleans, and shows the potential to be a devastating intermediate weapon for a Saints offense that struggled on 3rd downs last season. Smith's likely role, at least initially, will be primarily as an outside receiver. He will get alot of snaps against the Saints' first team defense throughout OTA's and mini-camp to showcase his abilities, while Meredith works his way back from a knee injury. His gamebreaking potential and ability on sideline routes can stretch an opposing defense both vertically and along the boundaries, also opening up short and intermediate routes for the Saints other receivers.
Benjamin Watson, TE
Watson returns to New Orleans as a free agent, after playing for the team from 2013-15. The 37-yr. old veteran had the best season of his 14-yr. NFL career with the Saints in 2015, catching 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns. After departing to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, Watson missed the '16 season with injury, but bounced back nicely last year with 61 receptions for 522 yards and 4 scores. He still has the athleticism to threaten the defense on seam routes, and is a trusted target for quarterback Drew Brees, particularly on 3rd downs and near the end zone. Watson is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and will still be expected to be an every down contributor for the Saints offense due to his versatility. He is a major upgrade to a tight end unit that produced little for New Orleans in the 2017 season.
Prior to 2017, the Saints offense had finished in the top 5 of the league in 3rd down percentage in ten of Sean Payton's first eleven years as head coach, and first in the NFL over the last three seasons. Last year's New Orleans offense dropped to just 19th in 3rd down percentage. The acquisitions of Meredith, Smith, and Watson were made specifically to improve that ranking. The Saints moved on from wideout Willie Snead and tight end Coby Fleener after disappointing 2017 campaigns. The team re-signed Brandon Coleman, who has the trust of Brees and will provide quality depth, as will returning tight end Josh Hill. Kamara and Thomas are as dangerous as any offensive players in the league, but the Saints now look to have a deeper and more talented pass receiving corps for their Hall of Fame quarterback, perhaps making a very productive offense into an elite championship caliber unit.
Which player will make the biggest impact on the New Orleans offense in 2018?
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