Saints Roster Projection: Wide Receivers

johnsigler
Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton watches over his team during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton watches over his team during the final day of minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Orleans Saints roster will suffer some scheduled paring-downs this year, but knowing they’re coming won’t make it any less painful.  Little more than half of the players on the 90-man roster going into training camp will still be here come opening day against the Oakland Raiders in September.

One area the Saints roster struggled to compete last year was with pass-catchers.  There were some bright spots, like the emergence of runningback Mark Ingram as a viable threat, and the revival of Benjamin Watson’s career.

But for the most part, head coach Sean Payton’s rhythm-based passing attack couldn’t get going.  The offense has averaged 27.4 points per game since 2006, but last year scored 27 points or more only seven times.  The need for upgraded pass-catchers was obvious this spring.

Wide Receivers (5)

  1. Brandin Cooks #10
  2. Willie Snead #83
  3. Michael Thomas #13
  4. Brandon Coleman #16
  5. R.J. Harris #14

The Saints roster usually carries five receivers into the first week of the season, though last year they only kept four.  Three of those four are returning this year, with rookie Michael Thomas succeeding Marques Colston.  In my projection the Saints are youngest at wide receiver with an average age of 23.5-years old, so this should be a great group to grow up around Drew Brees.

I’m predicting an undrafted free agent to blow up in a big way this summer and make a strong push for a spot in the wide receiver rotation.  It’s happened before with talented guys like Lance Moore, and most-recently Willie Snead.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

R.J. Harris destroyed everything put in front of him at New Hampshire in college, and had a strong preseason last year but ultimately wasn’t ready to get into the active roster.  Instead, he spent 2015 on the Saints’ practice squad working on the nuances of his game:  route-running, getting separation with finesse, and making clean catches away from his body.

I only saw a little of Harris in the public-open minicamps, but I liked what I saw and it matches with what he’s done before in game situations.  Harris looks like a legit option to fill in for Devery Henderson as the designated deep-threat downfield who can reliably reel in those “home run” passes and make a big gain.

Harris has a tough road ahead of him to win that fifth receiver spot, but I won’t be surprised if he makes it happen.  The Saints roster needs a solid receiver who can fill that niche, and I’m not confident that Brandon Coleman can do it after his inconsistencies last year and in live action at minicamps.

I like the potential of some guys on the fringe of the roster, like undrafted rookies Tommylee Lewis (Northern Illinois) and Jared Dangerfield (Western Kentucky).  But if I were to choose a dark-horse candidate to have an impressive debut in Sean Payton’s offense, it would be R.J. Harris.

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