Who would’ve thought in the middle of last season that in less than a year, we’d be writing articles about the diverse and exceptional skill sets the New Orleans Saints receiving core?
Well, a lot can happen in an off-season.
With the sudden additions of first-round pick Chris Olave and free agent acquisition Jarvis Landry, along with the healing of former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas, this group has gone from rags to riches really quick.
And not only is it now a talented group of playmakers, but it’s a talented group of playmakers who possess specialties that complement each other very well.
Obviously, with Michael Thomas, you’re talking about the bell cow of the offense – a guy who can lead you in targets, catches, touchdowns, catch rate, you name it – and you feel good about basing your offensive attack around his abilities as an uber-efficient and reliable possession receiver who runs flawless routes primarily on the outside.
With Jarvis Landry in the slot, he’s looking to kill you over the middle when the focus isn’t on him. Whether it’s mismatches against linebackers, savvy route running or creating yards after the catch, he’s another handy pass-catcher who seems to always be open.
And then you’ve got the deep threats – Chris Olave and Deonte Harris. Olave may turn out to be more than just a deep threat as time goes on, but at least for now, he and Harris’s main job is to stretch the defense vertically and create opportunities underneath for guys like Alvin Kamara, MT and Landry.
Of course, you’ve also got your ancillary parts in Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith who can make plays when their names are called or when someone is out hurt – and often times when you least expect them to.
They all fit a certain archetype that you often see in successful receiving corps, causing constant headaches and things to account for from opposing defenses.
This receiving core actually reminds me a bit of some previous groups under Drew Brees and Sean Payton, when it comes to complimentary play and positions - specifically the groups in 2016 and 2017.
In 2016, it was Mike Thomas at the X receiver spot, Willie Snead in the slot and Brandin Cooks as the deep threat on the outside. And in 2017, it’s pretty much the same except Ted Ginn Jr. instead of Cooks and some more turnover in the slot.
These renditions of the offense worked so well not only because of the caliber of the players involved, but because of the different levels of concerns they created for defenses they faced.
And with the current roster, they can easily field a similar presentation of problems.
You’ve still got your X with MT, your new and improved Willie Snead in Landry, and you’re hoping the combination of Olave and Harris can be about what Brandin Cooks was – One guy to dominate one-on-one matchups and garner double teams, one guy to make hay over the middle from the slot and one to throw bombs to.
Heck, you’ve even got a better version of Brandon Coleman back in the day with Tre’Quan Smith, who can play outside or in the slot and is a fantastic run blocker.
The one guy who I’m curious to see where he fits in is Callaway. While he showed some good flashes last year, he definitely isn’t ready for the share of targets he was presented with in 2021 and struggled at times to create separation against good cornerbacks.
That being said, he’s got good size, speed and ball skills as a backup X receiver. He just hasn’t shown the slot versatility yet to be super versatile and moved around to different spots in the offense.
I would look for him to learn from and spot Mike T next season at that outside X spot and be ready to fill in if an injury hits, as well as try to learn the slot role.
He’s young, talented and could be a key contributor to the offense for years to come if he keeps his nose to the grindstone and learns from those ahead of him.
Overall, the Saints’ receivers provide a lot to get excited about heading into the 2022 season, which feels great to finally be able to say.
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