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Three ways Deonte Harris can be utilized in the Saints’ 2020 passing attack

Deonte Harris is a dynamite returner, but how can his skills be put to use in the Saints offense in 2020?

NFL: DEC 08 49ers at Saints Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A fan favorite among Saints players heading into the 2020 season is First-Team All-Pro returner Deonte Harris. The lightning quick 5-foot-6 receiver won the Who Dat Nation over with his electric abilities on special teams during the 2019 season.

Not only that, but fresh on the minds of fans is the 50-yard missile he hauled in from Taysom Hill in the Wild Card round vs. the Vikings. So, it’s safe to say everyone is excited to see him back on the field come time to start the season.

The question is: Will we see more of him?

I’d certainly assume so. In addition to leading the league in combined kick and punt return yards, the Assumption-product was pretty effective in the small sample size of touches he got on offense.

Including the playoffs, Harris combined for 11 touches and 105 yards in 2019. That’s over 9.5 yards per touch, which is a yard higher than Taysom Hill’s 2019 average.

Once again, this is an extremely small sample size. It’s tough to glean much more from it than what he could *potentially* do, rather than what he *will* do. Nonetheless, it is intriguing to think about, plainly based off of how dynamic he is with the ball in his hands.

With the departure of Ted Ginn Jr., there is now a role available in the offense: the deep threat. Harris might be inexperienced, but he at least deserves a job interview.

Despite scrolling through Twitter and seeing comments like “Drew Brees can’t throw deep anymore! Why do we need a deep threat!?”, they definitely need one on the roster. Speed is a necessity in the passing game. And it’s not just for bombs down the field. It’s about horizontally stretching the defense, as well, with crossers, jet sweeps, etc.

Harris could be the right guy for this role.

With that being said, let’s look at a few different ways Harris’s speed and explosiveness could be utilized this upcoming season.

Harris wasn’t much more than a gimmick offensively for most of last season. Of his 11 touches, only two came on conventional plays. The other nine were either jet sweeps, quick screens or end-arounds.

And I’d expect his touches on these gimmicky plays to continue to rise, given his effectiveness on them.

On those nine trick plays, he averaged over five yards a touch.

As far as non-trick plays, there’s a path to his touches rising in that category as well.

With Ginn gone, there are a few routes that require speed and/or elusiveness up for grabs in the Sean Payton playbook. Three come to mind, in particular.

1. The #2 seam route when running Four Verticals

Ginn was targeted eight times, with five catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns, on seam routes from 2017-2019. Some of those targets came when running this play.

Ginn is the #2 receiver in a trips left formation here. The Cardinals are in a one-high look, and run Cover 3 zone. As we know, the weakness of Cover 3 is the seams.

The Saints run Four Verts, and Ginn fills the seam to the play-side. Brees hits him for a big gain.

Here it is against man coverage. The Texans are also in a one-high look, but are manned up underneath. And Ginn out-runs a pressing Aaron Colvin for a huge play on third down, late in the fourth quarter.

Harris has ran it from this alignment before, in college.

To be able to effectively run this route, you need to be able to diagnose coverage and adjust your route accordingly. Four verts is run differently vs. every coverage.

Harris seems to have the speed to be able to win deep against man, but he’ll need to be able to read the safety to bend the route correctly when facing zone. Doing this would allow him to find the most-vacated part of the zone, with the most room for error for the QB throwing to him.

At this point in his career, Brees usually only throws routes past the sticks like this to receivers he really trusts. So, it’s important that Harris gains that trusts in whatever limited practice time the Saints see this offseason.

In other words, just don’t do this:

2. Deep crossing routes

Of all the routes Ginn was targeted on in his tenure with the Saints, a large chunk of them came on deep crossing routes. If Harris is to be a larger part of the Saints’ offense next year, this is probably where he’ll make a good chunk of his money.

Ginn produced some pretty explosive plays running this route in 2017. In this season alone, he was targeted on 13 crossers and caught 11 of them for 235 yards and three TDs. Now, these numbers also include short crossing routes, but the point remains that it’s a good way to utilize receivers with speed.

Take this one against Atlanta for example:

The Falcons are bracketing Alvin Kamara underneath, and have a safety shaded deep over Michael Thomas. This means Ginn is one-on-one in the slot with Desmond Trufant, so he presses vertical, then breaks deep on the crosser. The rest is history.

With the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints now have a stable of proven playmakers in the passing game that includes him, Michael Thomas, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara. So, if Harris is running a route, he’s most definitely going to have the least attention on him by the defense, much like Ginn often did.

Here’s a similar route against zone coverage vs. the Panthers in the playoffs:

The Panthers are in what looks like Cover 6 zone, with two deep defensive backs on one side and one deep corner on the other. Kurt Coleman, the middle safety, shades over a bit too far towards Michael Thomas, leaving Ginn access to the middle of the field.

James Bradberry is in charge of manning the deep left side of the field, and he’s a bit late getting over, so all Ginn has to do is out-run him over the top. And that he did.

If Harris can beat one man somewhat consistently, like we saw him do against the Vikings, he can create some ginormous plays down the field in 2020, whether it’s Taysom Hill or Drew Brees getting it to him.

3. Slide routes

The slide route is effectively a flat route, but it comes from a receiver or tight end lined up from the opposite side of the formation. It’s usually run off of play action.

Here is Ginn running it in 2018 against the Falcons:

This one is run out of a tight formation, and the defender covering Ginn has to make up a ton of ground to get there. And he does get there, but once he does, he’s singled up against a shifty receiver in space.

It’s yet another route that could get Harris out in open space and let him put his speed and elusiveness to work.

Ginn isn’t the only one who the Saints have targeted on slide routes. Here’s Taysom Hill running it against the 49ers last year:

Hill is lined up as an H-back here, which Harris surely won’t be doing much of. But Hill is just another guy on the roster who is great with the ball in his hands, like Harris. And Sean Payton loves to come up with ways to get guys like that the rock in beneficial situations.

Look for him to try and get Harris a touch in this fashion at some point next year.

The reason Ted Ginn Jr. is brought up so much in relation to Deonte Harris is that the entire route tree he ran is available as of now. Most of the Saints primary receiving options specialize in routes that consist of quick breaks and reading of the underneath coverage. Sure, Emmanuel Sanders has speed, but his bread and butter is running a similar route tree as Michael Thomas.

Harris has an opportunity to fill parts of Ginn’s route tree, at a more efficient level than Ginn did. And yes, it is true that the Saints deploy a West Coast offense that primarily consists of short-to-intermediate level throws, but it doesn’t take many deep balls to gain a defense’s respect.

If Deonte Harris can just give us a little taste of what he did in the Wild Card round against the Vikings earlier this year, it could make all the difference for the Saints’ passing attack in 2020.

How do you think Deonte Harris will be utilized next year? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.