Wide Receiver/Tight End
Coming into the season, I expected the Saints to have one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. Unfortunately, that never quite came to fruition.
After breaking the single-season receptions record, expectations were high for Michael Thomas to defend his crown as the reigning Offensive Player of the Year. However, due to various injuries, he was limited to just seven games.
What is fascinating is his splits with Brees and Hill. Whereas Brees would feed him with targets in previous seasons, Thomas had under 100 combined receiving yards in the three games the veteran quarterback started in.
With Hill, however, he averaged 85.75 yards/game. Also, his average depth of target increased by 1.5 yards, meaning that he was used much less in the short passing game. Many have said that Thomas has been vaulted up by Brees, but is the opposite true?
He has the skillset to do damage working down the field, as we saw with Hill, and it will be exciting to see how he performs next season, should he remain with the team.
Then, there is Emmanuel Sanders. There was a lot of hype surrounding the 33-year-old when the Saints signed him to a two-year contract this offseason, and it appeared that he wasn’t living up to expectation. Yet, his overall numbers are practically identical to last season:
2020: 51.9 yards/game, 8.9 yards/target
2019 51.1 yards/game, 9 yards/target
The main difference for Sanders was how he was used.
His average depth of target was lowered by 1.6 yards, which explains why he averaged over a yard less per reception last season. Thus, he was more of an intermediate threat for New Orleans, despite the fact that the team tried to get him involved on passes down the field.
However, in the last three games of the season, he averaged 75 receding yards and 15 yards/receptions, meaning that not only did he step up with the team’s lack of receiver depth, but Sean Payton may have finally found out how to use him.
Tre’Quan Smith was seen as a breakout candidate after a two-touchdown performance against the Lions in Week 4, but that didn’t end up happening. He averaged just 32 yards/game this season, and also was held to under 20 receiving yards in half of his games.
His overall inconsistency makes him very difficult to evaluate, though he still provides the team with some semblance of a big-play threat.
Speaking of inconsistency, Jared Cook also tends to be volatile with his performance. Between Weeks 10 and 12, he had one catch for six yards. Yet, he also mixed that in with various peak performances (51 yards in Week 8, 82 yards in Week 16).
His propensity for dropping passes (61.7% catch rate) remained a problem, and since he couldn’t produce as many big plays, his yards/game (33.6) was down nearly 17 yards! As a pending free agent, I’d be surprised to see him return.
In all likelihood, the team’s starting tight end next season will be third-round rookie Adam Trautman.
As the team’s No. 2 tight end, he showed his prowess after the catch (7.8 YAC/receptions), and was a chain-mover for them, converting the first down on more than half of his receptions. He’s a perfect fit for Sean Payton’s offense and is someone to keep a close eye on next season.
After that, the Saints also got more than expected from undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway, while Deonte Harris also played more of a role on offense this season before going down with injury. Considering all the injuries they dealt with at the receiver position, it is surprising that they were able to maintain a somewhat productive passing attack.
Overall Receiver Grade: C+