The draft slowly approaches and there seems to be a lot of questions concerning the New Orleans Saints’ offseason.
The defense has been elite (the best in football for two years in my opinion), so going defense in the first round wouldn't make much sense. Bring back the same core, with last year's first round pick Payton Turner returning healthy and adding to the pass rush.
Last year was beyond troubling for the offense and mainly for health reasons. Jameis went down after leading the team to a 5-2 start. The O-line was never healthy. Kamara missed games, Deonte Harris missed time and Mike Thomas missed the entire season. The list goes on. So what’s the plan to quickly becoming championship contenders again? The Saints restructured Michael Thomas’ contract, creating cap space and all but guaranteeing his return. So the plan should be simple: Add a weapon on offense and stay healthy.
Kamara is arguably the best offensive player in football and the 0-line has shown top 5 production when healthy. I expect Thomas to return the same top 5-6 receiver we saw before the surgery and don't see a reason to think otherwise. He’ll be fresh and his social media’ clearly insinuates he's locked in. Deonte Harris is a more versatile weapon than given credit for and Marquez Callaway should be more than viable with defenses not being locked in on him as WR1/WR2 anymore. Drafting a receiver with the first pick (round 1, pick 18) in a fairly top-heavy draft could be the piece to get this team over the hump. Here’s a look at the top three prospects the Saints should pick.
- Jameson Williams (Alabama)
- Jameson Williams is electric before, during and after the catch. His linear route-running and speed could open up this offense for many reasons. Having another weapon on top of Thomas and Harris that can take the top off a defense would be a nightmare for defensive coordinators, with Kamara in the backfield. Williams posted a FBS-best 11 touchdowns of 30-plus yards in 2021. He has an expansive catch radius and plays with strong hands. Williams routinely won one-on-one matchups and the threat of his speed/route-running allows him to “sit” in zone coverages well. He's dangerous in the RPO game, the middle of the field, down the field, everywhere. Track speed, strong hands and fluid route running should and will allow Williams’ game to translate to the NFL smoothly. His understanding of leverage (especially on deep routes) is something a lot of receivers don't excel at, but Williams does consistently. Putting him into this Saints offense as a “decoy” behind Thomas and Kamara would make everything easier for everybody, newly-promoted OC Pete Carmichael included.
2. Treylon Burks (Arkansas)
- Treylon Burks is the ideal possession receiver. At 6-foot-3, 230-pounds, he has a build similar to Michael Thomas, but a little bigger. Burks posted more than 1,100 yards receiving to go with 11 touchdowns in 2021. Arkansas lined up Burks at the X, slot and sometimes in the backfield. The way they used him reminds me of how San Francisco uses Deebo Samuel, and I believe Burks would excel in that role in New Orleans. Burks routinely made the first guy miss after the catch, but I believe his most dynamic trait is his ability to easily snag 50/50 balls. His breaks coming out of routes are raw, yet smooth. He's dangerous all over the field, but I believe the slot would probably be best for him in the league. His release off the line on top of his spatial awareness could cause huge issues for defenses, specifically implementing him into this Saints offense. Burks’ combination of speed and size is unrivaled in this draft class.
3. Chris Olave (Ohio State)
- Chris Olave is seemingly one of (maybe the best) route runners in the 2022 NFL Draft. On top of that, he’s a big play waiting to happen. Olave plays as fast as any receiver in the draft and comes with a route tree polished at all three levels. He posted more than 900 yards receiving to go with 13 touchdowns in 2021, in just 11 games. Olave consistently created tons of space on routes, and that may be the number one thing you want out of a receiver coming into the league. Similar to Williams and Burks, Olave can pretty much be lined up anywhere. Where he routinely lines up will be simply decided by the preference of the play-caller/scheme. Pairing Olave’s hard sells on his route stems with his acceleration at the top of routes, he could mold into the perfect fit for New Orleans.
The Saints’ quarterback situation is still in the air, with endless names being thrown out in terms of who will be given the keys to the offense. However, while I could be wrong, I believe it’s just talk. I expect Jameis Winston to return to the team and the only way I don't see that happening is if the team brings in a proven quarterback, like Russell Wilson. Either way, I believe it’s a win-win. The QB market isn't as appealing as made out to be, especially taking into consideration the solid play we saw from Jameis up until the injury (while playing with a vastly injured team). The quarterback ‘problem’ won't be a problem anymore and adding one of these three receivers could land this team in serious Super Bowl contention, barring any health setbacks.