To put it gently, Sunday the 5th of January of the year 2020 wasn’t a great day to be a Saints fan. While the majority of the NFL cheered the victory that the Tennessee Titans took over the New England Patriots, fans were stunned in New Orleans.
Their team had lost not just in the playoffs, but in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild Card they had so narrowly fell into, nearly avoiding it—if only a play in a Saturday game weren’t decided by a manner of inches.
For New Orleans fans, the focus now shifts to the off-season, and (hopefully) getting Drew Brees one last shot to lead his adopted hometown to its second Super Bowl victory. Their focus goes to finding a difference maker on the offensive side.
Michael Thomas carried this offense this season, as he and Drew Brees put up historic numbers as catcher and passer, respectively. It still wasn’t enough, when it came down to it. The offense looked stagnant on Saturday against the Vikings and looked desperately in need of a play maker. Not only that—the offense needed a difference maker. A spark, you could say.
With just a minor number of holes that look to need filled in the off-season, the Saints have their options, and luckily for them, a few of those holes happen to be the preferred position of many a talented draft prospect, in a relatively deep class at spots like offensive line and wide receiver. They’ll be set up to have a good chance at finding that spark when the draft rolls around on Thursday, April 23rd.
Let’s take a look at on player who would have an immediate impact on this Saints’ roster—and could very well be that spark that they so badly needed.
Background: A wide receiver was always on the cards for the New Orleans Saints. Even more so now that they are picking higher than expected. The difference between being No. 30 or No. 31 and being No. 24 may not seem like much to the non-draft eye, but it makes all the difference in the long run if you can hit on your picks.
Shenault would, without a shadow of a doubt, be a hit.
Shenault was a standout in the most literal way during his time at Colorado. Coming from a family of athletes (his mother was a basketball player at Dubuque (IA) and still owns the single season records for points scored, and rebounds per game, Shenault was primed with all the physical tools needed to be an impact player at the wide receiver positions. Not only that though, he comes with the personality of a hard-working team leader, something you can never have too many of.
Back in July of 2009, Shenault’s father was killed while switching seats around the family car on a long road trip in Texas. Since that moment, when he was ten years old, Shenault has let his dreadlocks flow down the back of his jersey in memory of his father, Lavishka Shenault Sr.
Shenault had minimal production in his freshman year as a Colorado Buffalo, but earned valuable experience playing in each of the team’s 12 games. He caught seven passes for 168 yards, which is a far cry from the extremely impressive numbers that he put up in his sophomore year, this season. A first-team All-PAC 12 selection, he was the first Colorado offensive player to be named to that team since Paul Richardson back in 2013.
Shenault led the country in receptions per-game with 9.6 in 2018 and put up prolific numbers despite nursing a turf toe injury that he had surgery on in December of 2018 (it caused him to miss a massive three games of action). He was voted the team MVP that season. This year, he collected the small sum of 52 catches going for 721 yards and racked up four touchdowns while adding another 136 yards and two scores in the run game.
Scheme Fit: Shenault is very versatile, but teams will likely want to use him for the most part as an outside X-receiver. Sometimes he can slide into the slot—more on that extreme multi-tool skill in a moment.
Projected Round: First, potentially in the second half. Has the ability to rise, but in a stacked wide receiver class, it will be tough.
Body Type: Thick. That’s about all that needs to be said. One thing I’ve really liked about Shenault is that he uses that thickness and built-up body to fight for extra yardage if he’s got nowhere to go. He’s great at breaking the first contact and has plenty of ability to open plays after the catch.
Explosiveness, Pop: That last fact in the section above brings us to Shenault’s ability to make a big play out of nothing. Whatever NFL team gets him, gets an immediate key to unlock the field, and explode downfield for massive yards, especially in man coverage with little or no safety help.
There are, however, some negatives to Shenault’s game, visible on his tape from the three seasons as a Buffalo.
Negatives: The most glaring omission (at least, partially) from Shenault’s skillset comes in the fact that his versatility ended up hurting him just a bit. His route running has suffered due to being treated as a Swiss army knife, and he should be recognized as an average technician based on film. If you watch the film from this last season, you see slight growth—something that should be a positive sign. For now, however, the route running isn’t quite the likes of some of the receivers in the 2020 class.
Another negative worth mentioning comes in the plays he’s not involved in. Shenault was often asked to block, especially when treated as a tight end (thanks to that mentioned plus physicality), Shenault would sometimes show minimal effort on the block—whether or not that changes when he gets to the NFL remains to be seen.
Overall: When it comes to the modern NFL’s offensive game, you can’t over-value the type of player that can function at a first-class level in many different positions on the field. You want your best players on the field as much as possible. Shenault gives you that. Some creative offensive coordinator is going to get a fun player on their roster when they take the young man from Colorado. So long as they use him right, he’s got the ability to find his way in route running and other skills, and become a big-time weapon, potentially even a No. 1 option.
Sean Payton, your weapon is calling from the great state of Colorado.