The New Orleans Saints have one of the best young wide receivers in the league in Michael Thomas. The rest of the Saints wideouts, however, struggled at times a year ago. Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. had one of the best years of his career in his first season as a Saint, but Brandon Coleman, Willie Snead, and Tommylee Lewis were inconsistent in their production. Snead departed as a free agent this past offseason, but New Orleans signed productive wideout Cameron Meredith away from the Chicago Bears, then used a 3rd round pick on Central Florida's Tre'quan Smith. One other name to look for as a potential contributor in 2018 is the subject of today's undrafted rookie profile.
Keith Kirkwood, WR (Temple)
Kirkwood, like many players, began playing football as a young boy, but basketball was his first love. He led his Neptune High School basketball team to the New Jersey state finals as a junior. He then returned to the gridiron his senior season, earning a scholarship offer to the University of Hawaii, where he scored 4 touchdowns on 12 catches in seven games with the Rainbow Warriors. He left Hawaii after his freshman year, enrolling with Temple after the death of a close friend, and also wanting to be closer to his daughter Aria. Kirkwood received a medical redshirt in 2015, then blossomed into a team leader over his final two seasons. Balancing the responsibilities of a father, as well as the demands of college football, Kirkwood was still a standout in the classroom, making the American Athletic Conference All-Academic team three years in a row. He was given a single digit number in his senior year (#5), traditionally given to players at Temple for exceptional character and leadership. He excelled on the football field as well, catching 87 passes for 1,319 yards and 11 touchdowns over his final two years with the Owls.
Kirkwood has excellent size (6'3, 220-lbs.) for a receiver versatile enough to be equally effective from either outside or slot positions. He possesses good speed for a big wideout, running a 4.45 second 40-yd. dash at his pro day. He has a long stride in the open field, opening up ground quickly against defenders to make plays deep; nearly 30% of his career receptions went for over 20 yards. Kirkwood is fearless over the middle, has strong hands to secure the ball and absorbs contact while moving upfield for extra yardage. He typically has great positioning, using his big body like a basketball player and shielding defenders from the ball. He can be a bit slow on his release off the line of scrimmage, and struggles to get separation at times. He does need to get sharper on his intermediate routes as well, although he does excel at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. Kirkwood is a deadly threat near the goal line, nearly 16% of his career catches went for touchdowns, 16 career scores on just 103 receptions.
The New Orleans Saints have historically had good success with late round draft picks or undrafted players at wide receiver. Franchise hall of famers Danny Abramowicz was a 17th round draft choice in 1967, and Eric Martin was selected in the 7th round of the 1985 draft. More recently during the Sean Payton era, Lance Moore was an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns who joined the Saints in 2006, the same season that Marques Colston was selected in the 7th round by New Orleans. Snead joined the Saints in 2015 after going undrafted the previous year, and both Brandon Coleman and Tommylee Lewis were picked up by New Orleans after going undrafted in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The Saints receiving corps has some talent, with the superstar Thomas, trusted veterans Ginn and Coleman, and the new pickups in Meredith and rookie Smith. Given the challenges that Keith Kirkwood has already overcome, it may be a wise bet to wager on another successful outcome for Aria's father.