With a receiver group clearly lacking talent in New Orleans this season largely due to the injury of Michael Thomas, the Saints have really needed someone to step up and be a playmaker on the outside.
And while the group still isn’t quite where it needs to be, Deonte Harris has done a heck of a job producing big plays for Sean Payton’s offense.
Previously just a returner and occasional deep threat, his impact has become far greater than that, as he’s trended towards becoming the type of threat that the defense always has to account for. Whether it be stretching the field vertically with his speed, making things happen after the catch, routing defensive backs up on intermediate routes or stealing yardage on jet sweeps, his game has come a long way since 2019.
During his first two seasons, he caught 26 balls for 210 yards and a touchdown. In this season alone, he has 24 catches on a 70.6% catch rate, 407 receiving yards and 2 TDs on a 17.0 yard-per-catch clip.
His efficiency numbers match up with some of the best receivers in the entire league.
Among 103 qualifying WRs, his 17.0 yards per catch mark ranks sixth. He’s also averaging 6.0 yards after catch per reception, which ranks 15th.
The most impressive number of all is his yards per route run — 3.26 — which ranks second out of 103. And this is how he has the second-highest PFF grade in the NFL among receivers — 90.6 — behind Davante Adams.
He’s arguably been the most productive receiver when targeted in the league so far this season, which is absolutely wild for an undrafted free agent out of Assumption.
It’s been impressive to see him do what he’s done in the many different ways he’s been effective, as well.
He’s been lined up outside on 55% of his pass snaps, and he’s been lined up in the slot on 40.5% of those snaps. He can be used in so many different ways that are beneficial to his offense that it’s really tough for a defense to keep track of him.
In last week’s bout with the Tennessee Titans, Harris really showed a lot of the different ways he can beat you.
Deonte Harris, the deep threat
While yes, he has developed into much more of a deep threat, Harris is still a blazer at heart.
His speed is a gameplan-changer for defenses, and Sean Payton dialed up a great way to utilize that speed on the play above.
The Titans show a Cover-1 Man look pre-snap, and indeed deploy Cover-1 Man post-snap.
The Saints max-protect and call this Go-Crosser type play, which is really just a Cover-1 beater.
The key here is Tre’Quan Smith’s crossing route in the middle of the field. This route creates a dilemma for the middle safety, as it leaves Harris by his lonesome on the weak side of the field with all of the routes flowing to or on the strong side.
The safety has to cover to the strong side, which leaves the deep left half of the field wide open for Harris to occupy. Deonte puts a nasty move on the DB and stacks him, and the rest is history.
Big play solely created on the foundation of Harris’s speed. And a nice throw by Trevor Siemian.
Deonte Harris, the weapon
Just a normal jet sweep for six yards? That can’t be that big of a deal, right?
Well, the individual play itself might not be, but the effect plays like this have on the offensive gameplan is a big deal. And I’ll show you how.
When you have a player who can horizontally stretch a defense this quickly with a simple play like this, it causes the defense to adjust. The defense has to be prepared to take off and seal the edge or meet him at the edge in an efficient manner to prevent free yardage like Harris got on this play from happening.
That takes focus and recognition. But what it takes away is focus and recognition to the opposite side of the ball.
And Sean Payton capitalized on this later on in the game.
Watch how the initial motion of Harris pulls defenders to the left just a bit, allowing for this crease to open for Mark Ingram on the toss.
By the time Ingram catches the toss, he has two blockers and two defenders in front of him on the edge. He can thank Deonte Harris for that, as the defense was far more worried about his jet sweep threat than him pre-snap, which resulted in a walk-in TD.
Great play-calling and execution utilizing Harris as a decoy.
Deonte Harris, the coverage influencer
The 5-foot-6 speed demon can also cause chaos for a defense in the short passing game.
The Saints run a simple Smash concept to the bottom of the screen here, with Harris on the short out and Marquez Callaway on the corner route. Callaway can thank Harris for this play as well.
The Titans are in a Cover 4 zone shell. But Janoris Jenkins, who is responsible for the deep left sector on the weak side, is so worried about Harris on this play that he voids his area of the field to cover him.
This leaves a big window for Callaway to fill, and Siemian throws him a nice, accurate ball for a big gain.
There are many other plays that you can point to that show Harris’s impressive development as a player through the past couple of years.
As a route runner, a playmaker and a pass-catcher, he’s getting better every year. And he’s trending towards becoming a star if he gets enough touches.
It will be fascinating to see how coach Payton continues to use his talents in this offense, and especially for the rest of this year, as the team is obviously low on healthy talent.
As for now, you can’t help but think that the more this guy has the ball in his hands and the more he’s on the field, the better it is for the Saints.
What do you think of Deonte Harris? 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.