The Saints simultaneously have the league’s best wide receiver and struggle at the position. Let’s take a look, piece-by-piece at the New Orleans receivers from 2018.
No doubt the best part of the Saints passing game last season. 125 catches, 1,405 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns. Breaking the Saints record for most receiving yards in a season. He broke the NFL record for most catches in a player’s first three seasons, elevated himself to a superstar level as the league’s best receiver, and will be entering the final year of his rookie contract looking down the barrel at a massive impending extension with a team, group of players, and city he loves and has taken on an identity with. Michael Thomas really needs no review because it’s February 19th and he’s probably still making catches. He even recorded the NFL’s best catch rate by a receiver with over 100 targets with an incredible 85% and became the second player ever in Saints history to catch more than 100 catches after becoming the first last year. The chemistry between Brees and Thomas is unmistakeable and they force opposing teams to gameplan for them.
In 2018, teams committed their entire defense to stopping his production and could barely make that work. Unfortunately for the Saints, the options outside of Can’t Guard Mike were inconsistent at best. Consider this, Thomas lead the Saints in receiving yards 11 of 16 games, not out of the ordinary for your #1 guy. However, in only three of those games was the second leading Saints pass catcher a wide receiver. In almost every case otherwise, it was Ingram or Kamara. The Saint will be looking to improve upon Michael Thomas’ supporting cast this offseason but they may find some of those improvements in house.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Ginn started off the year okay with 12 catches, 135 yards, and 2 touchdowns over the first four games but went down with an injury in the Week 4 matchup against the Giants and didn’t return again until Week 16 and the playoffs. When he returned against the Steelers he put together a solid game of 5 catches for 74 yards. That Week 16 game was only the 3rd time a Saints Receiver was second to Michael Thomas in receiving yards. It took until week 16 to get that third instance in.
Ginn is going to be 34 next year and entering the final year of his contract in New Orleans. He’s still speedy and can still affect a game with his veteran savvy. His value has been outstanding for the Saints even though his catch rate dropped this year from his career best 75.7% in 2017 to 56.7%. Helping the Saints open up the field in the passing game is where Ginn really shows his value, spreading out defenses and forcing safeties to play over the top.
This was one of the biggest disappointments of the year, not just because he ended up hurt again and on injured reserve when the team was struggling to find another receiving option, but also because his production on the field wasn’t super outstanding either. he only saw 10 targets over his 6 games played, none of which came over his final three games.
Meredith is more than certainly a cap casualty candidate this offseason along with Kurt Coleman and A.J. Klein, however the Saints may not have enough ammunition at the position to do that. Giving him another shot alongside Dez Bryant next year might be the better choice.
We all know Smith lacked consistency throughout the season. Big game, disappear, big game, disappear, and so on. He flashed enough to be excited about his future though; putting together a pair of 100 yards receiving days against Washington and Philly.
He’ll get more opportunities to prove himself and become more consistent next season over training camp where he also excelled last year.Hopefully the rookie will set himself up to take on Ted Ginn’s #2 position as the primary deep threat opposite Michael Thomas and his shiny new contract in 2020.
Kirkwood was a welcome surprise out of the slot after getting his chance against Cincinnati after the Dez Bryant injury sent him to IR. Kirkwood was so surprisingly good that even though the Saints signed veteran WR Brandon Marshall to help out the receiving corps, he never saw the field. Kirkwood is another one of those undrafted slot receivers a la Lance Moore that I think will make the need of pursuing one in free agency a moot point once given the chance.
He only piled on 13 catches in 8 games but did so to the tune of 209 yards and 2 touchdowns. 16.1 yards per catch and 2 touchdowns on 13 catches ain’t so bad. He’ll be exciting to watch during training camp as he gets more reps with the first unit and gets to develop outside of the practice squad.
Carr showed up a couple times during the season but wasn’t a focal point by any means compiling less than 100 yards on the season but did score 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Carr, Kirkwood’s emergence was good for the team but bad for his snap counts. Carr should be valuable depth next year though as the Saints’ only current backup pure slot option.
What a season Tommylee had. Didn’t really have a role in the offense at the beginning of the season. Inactive for the major portion of the year due to Cameron Meredith getting time as well as Keith Kirkwood. Comes back against Atlanta and becomes one of the four undrafted players Drew Brees throws a touchdown to in that Thanksgiving game at home. Makes a big play against the Bucs two weeks later and then fumbles out of the endzone in the slugfest against the Panthers in Carolina. Things settled down for the guy and the team gets to the playoffs, Focusses in as a returner with four offensive snaps against the Eagles in the wildcard round and four against the Rams only to get pummeled by Nickell Robey-Coleman and seared into infamy as the recipient of the most egregious no-call in NFL history that more than surely kept New Orleans from reaching the super bowl. Yikes. Some fans even blamed TLL for the no-call saying he didn’t sell the hit enough.
The poor guy probably doesn’t have a place on this team next season depending on what Rizzi wants in a returner. But what a season. He’ll get a shot for sure, but he’s looking like an odd man out. Even as an AAF candidate his value is shot due to the lack of a return game.
Bryant somehow felt like more of a Saint than some players that were on the roster all season even though he only had one day on contract not on Injured Reserve. He obviously had a place on this team just from watching the Cincinnati Bengals game and all of the X’s that were thrown up throughout. He wants to come back and Sean Payton wants him back if his rehab goes well.
The Saints should be pleased with what they have at receiver, but should, as they did throughout the season, continue to pursue taking the unit another step further. There’s an unhealthy narrative that the Saints don’t have much to improve on their team going in to 2019 but WR is one of those sneaky needs that the general fan or national analyst won’t always pick up on. If the Saints can add another piece in the middle of a very top-heavy unit capped off by Michael Thomas and followed up by role players, they’ll be in better shape next year to maintain the incredible offensive explosiveness we saw ahead of week 13. Could Dez Bryant be that guy? Should the Saints pursue Golden Tate? (Yes.) Will Marquise Brown or Deebo Samuel fall far enough? We’ll see what happens throughout the offseason as things are going to start heating up soon as February begins to draw to a close.
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