Opportunity is Knocking for Willie Snead
Attention is rightly paid to the players with the biggest reputations – the high draft picks and expensive free agents. But NFL teams take all kinds to build their rosters. In this series, I’ll be studying players who are primed to break out for the New Orleans Saints.
Willie Snead IV took an odd path to the NFL. He went undrafted out of Ball State in 2014 despite lighting football fields on fire all throughout his career. The stocky receiver failed to catch on with lackluster receiving corps in Cleveland and Carolina, but may have struck gold with the New Orleans Saints.
Legendary receiver Marques Colston, arguably the best in franchise history, simply couldn’t run or contest catches last year. Colston never won with speed and it took nearly a decade for what little he had to go. Once it did, Colston wasn’t able to move the sticks anymore. He couldn’t separate from defenders and years of bone-crushing hits sapped his physicality.
Going into the fall last year, Brandin Cooks looked to be the only reliable wideout on the roster. Then Snead arrived. He tore up training camp, making the most catches of all players (22) and matching tight end Ben Watson in targets (25). Combine that with some impressive special teams contributions and Snead won his spot on the roster fair and square.
What’s interesting is that Snead’s special teams contributions won his audition to make the team, but his emergence as the second receiver made him too important to cover punts. Snead played four or more special teams snaps in every game but two in the first eleven games, but saw three or fewer in the last five, finishing with little more than 15-percent of special teams snaps to his credit.
Snead is a very intelligent football player. The high school quarterback also played safety and linebacker before making the move to receiver full-time, which helped build his skill set as a pro. He discussed that experience in reading coverages and reacting accordingly last year.
Snead’s ability make clutch adjustments and find open zones is what let him hang on with the Saints, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
So how does Snead win if he’s not very fast or big? He does what other receivers who are more gifted athletically can’t with craftsmanship. Snead may be the best route-runner on the team. He understands how to set up cornerbacks with his stance before the ball is snapped, as well as how to consistently disguise where and when he’ll break out of his route once he’s racing upfield.
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The addition of Ohio State’s Michael Thomas will be huge for Snead moving forward. He sniffed 1,000 yards as a starter, coming up short by only 16 yards, and converted 68.3-percent of his 101-targets. It’s not likely that Snead will get those many opportunities again in 2016, but the cards are in his favor.
Snead’s “demotion” to the third receiver from the second option will be huge for his production. He’ll be drawing coverage from other teams’ third corners rather than one of the top two options. That’s the difference between facing Atlanta Falcons corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford or second-year nickel corner Jalen Collins, who was thoroughly mediocre in his NFL debut.
There’s no telling what Snead could do in that situation, but it’s safe to say he’ll bag more than three touchdowns in his second year starting.