Regardless of whether it is Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston at quarterback for the New Orleans Saints in 2021, look for either to get the most out of wide receiver Deonte Harris.
After bursting onto the scene as an undrafted free agent in 2019, Harris has already made a name for himself as one of the most electric return specialists in the NFL, earning First Team All-Pro honors his rookie year. With the retirement of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, a quarterback with a stronger arm is likely taking over at the helm, and that could mean big things for Deonte Harris in the passing attack.
Here are three ways we could see Deonte Harris and the Saints attack opposing defenses in 2021.
1. The #2 seam route when running Four Verticals
Ted Ginn, Jr., the Saints previous deep threat from a time when Brees had the arm to utilize one, 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.
Sean Payton usually only dials up these “home run” shots 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 with both quarterbacks.
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 return of a healthy Michael Thomas and the threat of Alvin Kamara catching passes out of the backfield, Deonte Harris would likely be receiving single coverage by the opposing defense. It would then be up to Harris to take advantage of it.
Here’s a similar route against zone coverage vs. the Panthers in the playoffs in 2019:
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 (sound familiar?), 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 of Jameis Winston 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 - our go-to Harris comparison - 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 hasn’t been picked up since he left after the 2019 season. Most of the Saints primary receiving options specialize in routes that consist of quick breaks and reading of the underneath coverage like Michael Thomas.
Harris has an opportunity to fill parts of Ginn’s route tree, at a more efficient level than Ginn ever did. If Deonte Harris can just give us a little taste of what he did in the Wild Card round against the Vikings earlier in 2018, it could make all the difference for the Saints’ passing attack in 2021. Just the threat of Harris with the deep pass could do wonders for players like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and even Taysom Hill to catch passes underneath.
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.