The New Orleans Saints could use some help in this unit.
With trade rumors circling around Jamison Crowder and Sterling Shepard, the Saints still have time to find a quality pass-target if they so choose. That’s not to say Michael Thomas isn’t quality – he’s absolutely untouchable, a golden god with silky smooth hands and a bullet of a body that can run the pigskin up and down the field. But the Saints will need more than Thomas to have a successful season.
Here are the Saints’ wide receiver options for 2021:
- Michael Thomas
- Tre’Quan Smith
- Marquez Callaway
- Deonte Harris
- Kawaan Baker
- Juwan Johnson
- Lil’Jordan Humphrey
- Jake Lampman
- Jalen McCleskey
- Easop Winston Jr.
Thomas played in just seven games last year due to injury, and while hopes are high that he can reproduce his 2017-19 Pro Bowl numbers next season, he can’t be the only reliable target. Who else can step up and make an impact in the Saints passing game?
Of the list, the players most likely to break into the starting lineup are Smith, Callaway, and Harris. The Saints have long expected Smith to become the No. 2 wide receiver, but Smith never earned the spot.
Ever since he was picked in the third round in 2018, Smith has been inconsistent and unavailable, starting only 23 games in three years at New Orleans. Based on last season’s “meh” numbers, Smith has become a polarizing topic of conversation for Saints fans. Some think this year is his breakout year, others think the Saints are better off without him.
Callaway is another contestant for the No. 2 spot who’s drawn just as much controversy as Smith. He could be the biggest sleeper of the season or the biggest flop.
As an undrafted rookie, he came onto the team with people expecting very little of him, and the lack of pressure may have helped him achieve a fairly successful first season with the Saints. Harris, too, was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent and won First Team All-Pro in his rookie season. Last season, Callaway and Harris combined for 41 receptions for 399 yards and one touchdown. Keep an eye on these two to up those numbers in 2021.
New Orleans Saints: Wide receiver unit looks thin going into season
A dark horse for that No. 2 spot might be rookie Kawaan Baker, who New Orleans plucked out of the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Sean Payton has called him a “high IQ player for the receiver position” and his numbers from his collegiate career make him look like a damn steal: he totaled around 1,800 receiving yards with 16 touchdowns, both his school’s all-time highs. As a junior, he led the team with 35 catches for 574 yards, and as a senior he was averaging 12.9 yards per reception.
During his Saints Minicamp interview, Baker emphasized chemistry and “learning the plays” as his preliminary goals with the team. He said, “Gotta execute. Alignment, assignment, and just doing what I came here for is definitely my focus now.”
Sounds like a player who knows what he wants and how to get it.
The rest of the Saints’ wide receivers are worth mentioning but hardly worth elaborating on (Sorry, guys). Johnson will enter his second year with New Orleans after recording 39 yards last season. Humphrey played in eight games during two seasons and has one touchdown to show for it. Lampman hasn’t played in the league since 2016, and the homegrown and previously undrafted McCleskey may have played his best football at Oklahoma State and Tulane.
Easop Winston Jr., New Orleans’ most recent signing, impressed immediately in a Saints work out session in May and gets a chance to make it in the big league.
So, these are your Saints’ 2021 wide receivers. You may look at them and grumble, but they’re part of the team. For now.