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Saints 2021 offseason preview: Pass Catchers

Saints receivers 2020 season was marred by injuries

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2020 Season Review

The 2020 Saints passing game was marred by injures to its two most important players. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas only played two full games together in 2020, as they both suffered injuries that held them out of multiple games. The season was ultimately lost for Michael Thomas, as he was injured all year and even when he was able to play, it was with Taysom Hill at QB for a majority of his playing time.

New addition Emmanuel Sanders led all receivers and tight ends in yards and receptions, but had his fewest total yards since 2017, a year in which he only played 12 games. Tight end Jared Cook caught 7 touchdowns in 2020, the second highest total of his career after catching 9 in his first season as a Saint. Both players however were released this offseason in an effort to get the team back under the cap.

The most encouraging thing about the 2020 season for the Saints pass catchers was the production of the younger players. Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris all showed signs of taking that next step towards being a solid #2 option in the passing game. With the departure of Sanders, it is a good bet that at least one of these players will have a breakout season in 2021.

2020 Personnel

(Player-Position-Snap Count)

Deonte Harris-WR-196

Michael Thomas-WR-441

Adam Trautman-TE-450

Emmanuel Sanders-WR-652

Jared Cook-TE-531

Marquez Callaway-WR-305

Lil’Jordan Humphrey-WR-107

Josh Hill-TE-406

Tre’Quan Smith-WR-705

Juwan Johnson-WR-182

Offseason Departures

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Emmanuel Sanders

The veteran wide receiver was released this offseason after just one year in New Orleans. The move was cap motivated, as Sanders was an older player that the Saints could not afford with their salary cap issues. Sanders’s departure will hit hard, as he was the most reliable Saints receiver last year, but if Michael Thomas can return to form and Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris are ready to make the next step, I don’t think the Saints will miss Sanders all that much.

Jared Cook

Jared Cook’s tenure with the Saints unfortunately will be remembered for a costly fumble in the playoffs. Despite this, his career in New Orleans was quite good. Cook was the most productive tight end the team has had since trading Jimmy Graham, registering his best two seasons in terms of touchdowns in his short tenure with the Saints. The time was right to move on however, as his regression was becoming more evident as the 2020 season went on.

Josh Hill

Josh Hill was released in early March after eight years in New Orleans, just as his 3-year contract was ending. Hill was always a reliable backup TE during his time in New Orleans, but never broke out into #1 option. His 2019 season looked promising, as he registered career highs in yards and receptions, but after a big regression in 2020 to just eight receptions on the year, Hill was cut loose to go join his old position coach in Detroit. Hill was a team veteran who had been here longer than any other wide receiver or tight end on the team, his production on the field can be replaced, but his presence in the locker room will be missed.

Potential Free Agent Targets

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Kenny Stills

A Saints reunion for Kenny Stills could be beneficial for all parties. A deep threat like Stills would fit very well with the strong armed Jameis Winston, and Stills could be in search of stability after spending two years with the dysfunctional Texans. The former Saint is still just 28 years old, and could be a good addition if Deonte Harris still needs a year or two to become as dangerous a weapon in the pass game as he is in the return game.

Dede Westbrook

Westbrook suffered a season ending ACL tear in October 2020 after back to back 600+ yard seasons. Westbrook is a quick WR with great ability in the slot who has produced good numbers despite bad QB play in Jacksonville. If he can get healthy and the Saints are willing to take a chance, he could be a potential difference maker late in 2021 and into 2022.

Potential Draft Targets

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Kadarius Toney-WR

It would be a stretch to assume that Toney would be around at 28, but if a trade up is necessary, the Saints will likely not have to move up too far. Toney is being mocked in the early to mid 20s, and would be a great addition to the Saints. He is an incredibly shifty player who makes escapes that do not seem possible at times. After developing into a true WR in his final year at Florida, his draft stock shot through the roof to almost a guaranteed first rounder. He would be the best WR the Saints could get without trading into the top 12, and would be an instant weapon for the Saints offense.

Amon-Ra St. Brown-WR

USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a very productive WR all three years he has suited up for the Trojans. Named after the Egyptian god of the sun, St. Brown tallied 478 yards and 7 TDs in just a six game season in 2020, and went for over 1,000 yards in 2019. St. Brown has good speed and strong hands, and will achieve NFL success if he is put in the right position and works hard.

Brevin Jordan-TE

Kyle Pitts is the consensus top TE prospect in the 2020 draft, and unless the Saints pull off a blockbuster trade, he will be unavailable when the Saints are on the clock. If the Saints are looking for a replacement for Jared Cook, they should take a long look at Miami TE Brevin Jordan. Jordan is the #2 or #3 tight end prospect on most draft boards, behind Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. Jordan is more of a vertical threat than Freiermuth, and I feel he would fit better into the Saints offense, as they already have plenty of possession style receivers in Michael Thomas and Adam Trautman. Jordan could bring a deep threat to the tight end position that is not provided by Trautman and would fit well with Jameis Winston. It may even be possible for the Saints to grab him in the second round as well.

2021 Preview

The Saints receivers and tight ends will look slightly different in 2021. Other than running back Alvin Kamara, the top two receivers in 2020 will not be returning for 2021, as both Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook were released in the offseason. The good news is Michael Thomas should return to full strength in 2021, and the Saints could see a breakout season from one of Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, or Deonte Harris in a year that will ultimately be decided by the play of new quarterback Jameis Winston.

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