The second-year New Orleans Saints wide receiver can capitalize on a golden opportunity and climb the receivers' depth chart while Michael Thomas is on the mend.
Marquez Callaway, 23, is in a prime position to take his shot and claim a prominent role within the New Orleans' receiving corps.
Life in the Jungle, as well as the NFL, is not fair. The old lion and pride leader can fall at any time. Suddenly, new leadership comes in the form of a younger and aggressive male lion who will take over a rule to the pride.
By all means, I am not saying the Saints All-Pro wide receiver's 2021 season is over, but an opening is now available in New Orleans. With an opening, opportunity rises for a player to ascend the depth chart and fill the void.
These are rare opportunities in the NFL, and especially rare for an undrafted free agent like Marquez Callaway.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE DEPTH CHART
New Orleans will need a new No. 1 receiver. The question is, who?
Should they stay with the players already in the locker room? Or, should they sign an available veteran free agent? If the situation becomes dire, would general manager Mickey Loomis seek a trade?
Michael Thomas will be back in the Saints receiver rotation sometime this season — five weeks is an estimate per Saints beat reporter Larry Holder. All eyes will shift focus to wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Can he claim a leadership role and shine — or could Marquez Callaway or another receiver?
It will be difficult for any New Orleans receiver to duplicate Thomas' production. Since being drafted in 2016, Thomas' incredible 78% reception rate is the best among wide receivers in the NFL.
However, the mark was achieved by having one of the most accurate passers in the league's history tossing him footballs — Drew Brees. Winston or Hill will have to elevate quarterbacking and efficiently connect with Smith, Callaway, Harris, Humphrey, Baker, and Johnson.
CAN CALLAWAY CAPITALIZE ON THE OPPORTUNITY
My gut feeling about the young 6-2, 204-pound undrafted free agent wideout wasn't wrong. Last season, during a video call with media at training camp, I asked Sean Payton, "what had he seen from him" and the progress of Callaway.
Coach responded, "There's been glimpses, you know. He's got speed. He had a few snaps today, where you see it in special teams. He certainly has the one, two. He's learning. He's obviously learning at a very quick pace."
Sean Payton on Callaway Video from 2020 Saints Training Camp
CALLAWAY'S 2020 PRODUCTION
Callaway made the 53-man roster in 2020. Brees and Hill relied on him as an offensive target in his 11 game appearances. Though his numbers won't blow you away — 21 receptions, 27 targets, 213 receiving yards, and 429 all-purpose yards — weren't overwhelming but showed promise.
The hidden statistics are what made Callaway's 2020 contributions special for the team:
- 10 first downs out of 21 receptions
- 58 yards in YAC
- 155 yards the ball traveled to him as a target
- 2 broken tackles
- 0 Drops
- 99.5 Quarterback Rating when targeted
Callaway has an opportunity this upcoming training camp to instill confidence in Sean Payton, Pete Carmichael, CJ Johnson, teammates, and his new quarterback — either, Hill or Winston.
VALUABLE TIME WITH WINSTON THIS OFFSEASON
The hand tilts in Winston's favor with the loss of Thomas. Why? Because Winston was the quarterback to gather Smith, Callaway, Harris, and Johnson under his wings and trained with these receivers most of the offseason.
Did the time with Winston develop positive football relationships enough for it to translate into positive on-field production in 2021-22?
From the videos and players' minicamp interviews, Winston cultivated an on-field and off-the-field bond. The quarterback and receivers worked out together, ate meals together, and had collective film study. These subtle nuances of team-building can factor into more first downs, key plays, and touchdowns during live game action.
CAN CALLAWAY MAKE THE LEAP?
Can Callaway transition from a role player to the No. 2 or No. 3 player in the receiver rotation? Or, can he battle Smith and other receivers and ascend to the No. 1 slot with Thomas out of commission for several weeks?
He must be available and consistent. Availability is the key. Coach Payton's pet peeve is an unavailable player. Callaway's 2020 knee injury kept him from having a full season.
For Sean Payton to devise schemes for Callaway, he must remain healthy and do not let the football touch the ground.
Last training camp, he was just an unknown rookie trying to make the team. In this training camp, Callaway will be the second-year player battling to earn a higher spot in the receiving corps.
The opportunities will come with an increased number of reps, targets, along with his increased knowledge of the Saints' offense.
Will he capitalize and emerge as one of the primary weapons for Sean Payton this season?
We shall see.
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