New Orleans Saints positional previews: Wide Receivers

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Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Indoor Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Indoor Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates with wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) after a touchdown against the New York Giants during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Giants 52-49. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates with wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) after a touchdown against the New York Giants during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Giants 52-49. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

We keep panning across the New Orleans Saints roster as the time keeps ticking down to training camp, and today’s focus is on the wide receivers.

In 2015, the Saints wide receiving corps put together tremendous success for quarterback Drew Brees. Being highlighted by four primary weapons: Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Brandon Coleman, Sean Payton’s offense gained 3,120 yards and 18 touchdowns on 232 receptions by the group.

Heading into the new season, it’s easy to say that the receiver spot is rich with talent and is highly underrated. Here’s the suspect lineup competing for a job over the next few months.

Brandin Cooks, 3rd season

As the team’s most productive season from a year ago, Brandin Cooks was the lone player to top 1,000 yards receiving for the Saints. In 16 full games, Cooks hauled in 84 receptions, 1,138 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Clearly, Cooks made the ‘quantum leap’ from his rookie season, and was a legitimate threat for Drew Brees and company. He also had four 100-yard receiving games last season, and led all receivers with 981 offensive snaps (82.8 percent).

For 2016, Cooks is the leader of the receiving corps. In terms of stats, Cooks may very well regress. However, we don’t mean that as a bad thing. He’s still one of the scariest parts of a very terrifying aerial attack for the Saints. In late September, Cooks will turn 23, which is something many forget about. The future is bright for No. 10.

Willie Snead, 2nd season

Willie Snead was and is the epitome of what hard work and determination gets you. In just a few short months, Snead went from being a virtual long shot to a roster lock through consistent production. In 15 games, Snead racked up 984 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on 69 receptions. The Saints offensive game plan heavily included Snead, who saw 101 targets and 797 snaps (67.3 percent) last season and emerged as the team’s No. 2 receiver.

Needless to say, opportunity is knocking for Snead to become very special to the Saints. It’ll be interesting to see how defenses account for him while having to focus on a host of other players. Snead could be in for a huge season if he gets lost in some anticipated opposing secondary shuffles.

Brandon Coleman, 2nd season

Someone will have to replace the production of the departed Marques Colston. Could that be Brandon Coleman? 2015 didn’t go as well as many thought for the Rutgers product, as Coleman finished with 454 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns on 30 receptions. However, you can’t ignore that the progression came for the 6-foot-6 receiver. Aside the Detroit Lions game in Week 15, Coleman played strong down the stretch, hauling in over 50 percent of his production in just four games.

I placed Coleman on my ‘way too early’ roster bubble in early June, and the pressure will build for him to produce early with other rookies and younger players threatening. Knowing the scheme and Drew Brees should help Coleman in 2016.

Vincent Brown, 5th season

The only ‘veteran’ receiver in the mix for the New Orleans Saints heading into training camp is 27-year-old Vincent Brown. The Saints added him on May 23 after he beat out other veteran wide outs Hakeem Nicks, Denarius Moore, and Nathan Palmer. Brown was a third-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2011 (82nd overall), and didn’t exactly live up to the hype in his first two seasons. Not much stock should be placed into Brown, but he’s sure to bring a thing or two with the amount of experience he has under his belt.

Kyle Prater, 1st season

Take the term ‘1st season’ loosely, as it’s solely based on the accrued experience of a player. Kyle Prater is one of three Saints facing their second year, but were primarily practice squad guys in 2015. Prater, who just turned 24, was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Northwestern University. He latched on with the Saints last May, but was later released in mid-August. He’d return on a reserve/future deal in February. Prater has excellent size at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and made some plays during last year’s camp. Call him my very underrated sleeper of 2016.

R.J. Harris, 1st season

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but R.J. Harris is making plays again. The University of New Hampshire product originally joined the Saints post-draft as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and was occasionally a standout during training camp. However, it wasn’t enough to call for a final roster spot, but Harris latched on with the team’s practice squad (and other clubs) two separate times during the season. Harris comes from a strong military background with his family, so he knows what hard work is all about. The guy is humble, and by just having a few interactions with Harris, he’s easy to root for. Harris could very well become this year’s Willie Snead.

Reggie Bell, 1st season

One of the first reserve/future contracted players to join the Saints in 2016 was Reggie Bell. He was previously on the team’s practice squad last October after being waived by the Washington Redskins. Bell’s another quiet player to keep tabs on as training camp progresses, as he looks to break into the mix of a crowded receiving corps. The 5-foot-11 wide out’s best utilization figures to be in the slot.

Next: The Rookies

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