What do you get if you pair four middling starting quarterbacks with a nonexistent wide receiver group?
Nothing. You get nothing.
In 2021, the New Orleans Saints felt the painful repercussions of failing to adequately pad their receiver room. What resulted was a lot of ugly, sludgy, and mostly unwatchable football.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the 2021 receiver group ranks as the worst among those of all other seasons during the Sean Payton era.
The top three receivers on the team during regular season were Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, and Alvin Kamara, and they recorded a combined total of 129 receptions, 1,707 yards, and 14 touchdowns — all franchise lows since 2006.
The next worst receiver group was that of 2020, when Kamara, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jared Cook led the team under an aging Brees arm.
Fans hoped that once Brees retired, a more youthful and robust quarterback could up the production levels and bring the team’s overall passing yardage back to a respectable range.
At the very least, the team should have finished above the lowly New York Giants, but they didn’t (not in net passing yardage, anyway).
After taking one giant leap backward, where does the team go from here?
New Orleans Saints hit rock bottom in receiver production levels in 2021
For starters, the 2022 NFL Draft.
Sports Illustrated’s John Hendrix listed some prospects that could potentially be on the Saints’ radar come April:
"Jameson Williams (Alabama), who is going to be coming back from an ACL tear, was a rising prospect. His draft stock is going to be something to watch. Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Chris Olave (Ohio State), Jahan Dotson (Penn State), and Treylon Burks (Arkansas) are some of the top names to watch leading up to the draft."
NOLA will also want to re-evaluate current rostered players and whether they should be a part of the rebuilding process next season.
Michael Thomas should be fully healthy in 2022, but there’s a sizable chance that Thomas and the Saints will mutually part ways this offseason: Thomas may want to start fresh, and the Saints need the cap space.
Other receivers’ futures in New Orleans remain in question, mainly Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Tre’Quan Smith, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Kenny Stills. Of them all, Callaway and Harris will most likely stick around, but nothing is guaranteed.
Not that they could financially afford it, but the Saints won’t find a solution to their receiver problem in free agency. Their cap space situation prevents them from shelling out any large contracts to high-profile players, and NOLA doesn’t typically spend big on wide receivers in free agency, anyway.
In the past decade, the team has spent just $37 million on the wide receiver position, representing 6.4 percent of NOLA’s total spending.
This offseason, as the Saints’ premier cap space wizards start doubling down (expect almost every player’s contract to be restructured), we’re excited and anxious to see how the wide receiver group will develop.
They’ve already hit rock bottom last season, so the only way to go is up….right?