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Film Study: Marquez Callaway starting to come alive

It was a slow start to the season for the hyped young receiver, but it seems like he’s found his footing in the Saints offense.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After starting the first two weeks of the season with just three catches for 22 yards, New Orleans Saints receiver Marquez Callaway has officially turned it on since then.

In Weeks 3-5, the former Tennessee Volunteer has caught 10 of 14 targets for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

In that span, Callaway’s 20.0 yard-per-catch rate ranks second in the league among 81 qualifying receivers. His 87.1 PFF receiving grade ranks fifth, and his 3.08 yards-per-route-run rate ranks seventh.

But what caused this sudden flip in production? Well, it’s been a number of things, which we’ll dive into now.

For one, he’s simply had more opportunities. In Week 1, the Saints got up early and played pretty conservatively by keeping the ball on the ground for the most part. And in Week 2, Jameis Winston barely had enough time in the pocket to take a breath, much less find Callaway downfield consistently.

So, when the protection got a little better for Jameis when he dropped back to pass, Callaway began to see more targets.

It also seems like Sean Payton has figured out the most effective ways to deploy Callaway as far as route concepts lately.

Last year, Callaway mostly made his money finding holes in zones on short, in-breaking routes like slants, hunt routes, quick hitches, etc. But obviously, a lot of that had to do with an old, injured Drew Brees being his quarterback.

Callaway’s true strengths are being fast and athletic at a good size and having good ball skills — the ingredients of deep threat.

And that’s how Coach Payton has started to use him — as a vertical stretcher of defenses on the outside.

We saw this against the Giants, as Callaway got behind the G-Men’s Cover 3 look on a Post pattern.

The Saints run a Yankee concept versus this one-high safety look, with Callaway on the Post and Taysom Hill on the deep crosser.

Winston’s read is the single-high safety. If he bites down on the crosser, let it rip deep on the post. If he stays back, hit the crosser under him.

As you can see below, the safety does the prior, which activates this ball for launch.

Plays like this are why Callaway has the 6th-highest yards-per-catch mark (17.1), as well as average depth targeted (15.9), in the league so far this season. He’s also hauled in four-of-six contested catch opportunities, including that nasty Hail Mary snap against WFT.

But the reason plays like that are so huge is because they create plays like this more consistently:

Now, this is a good route by Callaway, but look how much the cornerback is respecting his speed here.

This is a week after he cooked a DB for a huge gain on the aforementioned play and I think that respect of the deep ball can create many more opportunities on the outside on plays like this.

Now, this isn’t to say Callaway is only capable of running Post, Go and Comeback routes. But I think using the threat he poses downfield to the offense’s advantage is smart.

Callaway has been playing the X receiver position in Michael Thomas’s absence, lining up outside on 79.6% of his snaps. And he’s been going up against opposing teams’ best corners.

This is probably why he hasn’t had more success against man-to-man coverage in 1-on-1 situations.

But when MT returns and we see him against worse corners every week, he should win more in those situations.

With a healthy Thomas, these complimentary receivers like Callaway will start to look a whole lot better and be a lot more appreciated.

It’ll be interesting to see how Callaway is utilized once the former Offensive Player of the Year returns, but these past few weeks have been good to see from the young guy.

What do you think of Marquez Callaway? 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 @AndrewBell_98.