After Brees’ retirement and leading receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ departure, the New Orleans Saints find themselves in a tricky situation with their passing targets under the most fire. New Orleans declined to add receivers in free agency or early in the draft (they did get Kawaan Baker in the 7th round), which puts added pressure on their current lineup to perform this season.
Michael Thomas assumes the title as the Saints’ one reliable wide receiver, but only because there’s not really any competition. Thomas only played in seven games last season, recording 40 receptions and 438 receiving yards in a season cut short by an ankle injury. The fact that the New Orleans Saints’ best option wide is a recently injured player doesn’t bode well at all.
Barring a truly catastrophic season, Thomas likely won’t be traded and will serve as the cornerstone of the New Orleans Saints’ passing offense. If he can rebound from last year’s injury-plagued season to match his career average in yards per game (85), he’s on track to pass Marques Colston as the franchise leader in all-time receiving yards in less than three years.
Behind him, though, is a vast and empty sea of Saints’ pass-catchers who haven’t lived up to their potential. See what Ben Linsey from PFF has to say about New Orleans’ lack of receiving depth:
"The receiving depth behind Michael Thomas will likely mean that he will see 2019 levels of target share. In that 2019 season, Thomas single-handedly recorded over 50% of the team’s receptions and receiving yards coming from the wide receiver and tight end positions — a statistical outlier when comparing across the remainder of the NFL. Secondary options headlined by Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Adam Trautman mean a similar performance may be necessary this season."
Linsey is speaking extra delicately about the New Orleans Saints’ weaknesses. When he says “secondary options,” he really means “last resorts because there are no good options.” When he lists Smith, Callaway, and Trautman, he’s referring to those certain people in a group project who don’t get any work done, and Thomas is left with all the responsibility.
One could argue that Smith could become one of New Orleans’ top deep threats with a breakout year. Emphasis on “could.” In his college days, Smith caught 59 passes for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns…but that was three years ago. Smith hasn’t gone a full season for the Saints, and his highest receiving yardage came last year (448), which is roughly what Michael Thomas also did. Injured.
The New Orleans Saints’ receiver depth (or lack thereof) is extremely concerning.
Smith did account for 22 of the New Orleans Saints’ first downs and hauled in a career-high 34 receptions with four touchdowns, and who knows? With a stronger arm in Jameis Winston, Smith could see some serious improvement in production, but going into the season he’s not anyone’s first choice receiver by any standard.
Callaway, the undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, recorded an average of 10.1 yards per reception last year, catching just 21 passes in 11 games. His future on the team leans toward “unlikely to make any real impact.”
And then there’s Trautman, who has a bit more potential to break into the offense with Jared Cook and Josh Hill out of the picture. He caught 15 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown in 2020, but the real question is how well he’ll work with Winston. Here, the future brightens, just a tad.
In Winston’s final year with the Bucs, he targeted Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard 88 times for 70 receptions between the two tight ends (which made up 18 percent of Winston’s completions overall). Depending on Trautman and Winston’s chemistry, Trautman could be an explosive spark to a much-sagging receiver lineup.
The New Orleans Saints have other pass-catcher options in Garret Griffin, Ethan Wolf, and Dylan Soehner, but on paper, their receiver depth is as threadbare as it gets. Take a look at the Saints’ greatest strength for a more optimistic outlook (or just a mood-booster in general), and pray that their tame deep threats grow some teeth this season.