If you ask anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints last year what their primary issue was, the answer would be one word: Receivers. The lack of offensive weapons for the Saints plagued them all season, whether it was with Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, or Taysom Hill under center. It put an exorbitant amount of pressure on the defense, and it led to a team that finished one game shy of the playoffs.
At receiver, the Saints had Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harty, and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey running routes primarily. They combined for 127 catches, 1,894 yards, and 14 touchdowns. For comparison, 2019 Michael Thomas caught 149 passes for 1,725 yards and 9 touchdowns. Now, there are dozens of factors up in the air regarding Thomas. His injury rehab and status with the Saints remains uncertain, but should he return in 2022, it would be a huge boon for a Saints offense that desperately needs targets.
It would particularly help if Winston were still slinging for the Saints. If Winston is comfortable with a receiver, he can be extremely accurate. He completed 71 percent of his passes to Chris Godwin in 2019, while completing 60 percent of his passes on the season. Though Mike Evans is a better analogue physically to Thomas, Godwin runs more similar routes to Thomas, who isn’t as physical at the point of the catch as Evans.
Hill to Thomas is actually a known quantity. In four games together in 2020, Hill completed 30 of 37 passes to Thomas for 343 yards. Thomas’s catch percentage was up just over 80 percent. That is up with Thomas’s most efficient numbers, whereas his 11.6 yards per catch were in line with his career numbers.
For all of the quips about Thomas’s tendency to run slants, they are his most effective route and easily his most targeted. In 2019, Thomas had a DVOA of 32.8 percent being targeted on slant routes. That was 36 targets. However, all of his best routes were in the intermediate section of the route tree. He was at 22.8 percent on out routes and 20.7 percent on curls. Thomas may be average in terms of physicality at the point of attack and yards after catch, but there’s no denying that his route running is impeccable.
Thomas coming in won’t solve everything, but if the Saints do get him back and draft a complement at wide receiver (adding another target is KEY), it would give the Saints a lot more to work with throwing the ball next season. It goes without saying that adding a quarterback is the priority, whether it’s in-house or otherwise, but wide receiver has to be addressed. Callaway appeared to be on the upswing late last season, so making him comfortable could also help the Saints next year.
Of course, all of this is moot if something happens with Thomas in the offseason that leads to him being off the team. But for all of the talk about trade packages and drama, the Saints hold leverage in that situation. Thomas isn’t giving indication one way or the other how he feels, so for the time being it’ll be about taking things one step at a time this offseason and filling in pieces as they go.
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