The New Orleans Saints have had great luck finding productive wide receivers in the late rounds of the draft or as undrafted collegiate talent, especially since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006.
One of the greatest receivers in franchise history, Marques Colston, was a 7th round selection in the 2006 draft. Lance Moore and Willie Snead were signed away from other teams after entering the league undrafted. Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr, Keith Kirkwood, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, and Deonte Harris have all had some success after coming to the Saints as undrafted rookies.
New Orleans added two more undrafted wideouts this spring. Juwan Johnson from Oregon and Marquez Callaway from Tennessee each faced uphill battles to make a talented roster. The cancelation of offseason team activities and preseason games because of COVID-19 health concerns made that challenge even greater for the incoming rookies.
Johnson made a strong enough impression to be kept on the practice squad, but Callaway was even more impressive, surprisingly being elevated onto the active roster as the team entered the regular season. Both players would have an impact this season, and Callaway is the subject of today's Year-in-Review spotlight.
Inactive for the season opener against the Buccaneers, Callaway was activated in Week 2 against the Raiders because of an ankle injury to All-Pro WR Michael Thomas that would keep him sidelined for six weeks. He played in 13 offensive snaps against the Raiders, and just two the following week against Green Bay, failing to record a catch in either contest. He’d have his first career reception during a Week 4 win at Detroit, resulting in 16 yards.
After playing 48 total snaps in his first three games, Callaway saw a spike in his offensive duties because of a rash of injuries to the New Orleans receiving corps. He played 52 offensive snaps during an overtime victory over the Chargers in Week 5,catching 4 passes for 34 yards. Callaway also took over kick return duties for an injured Deonte Harris in that game, averaging 11.5 yards per punt return and 28.5 on kickoff returns.
Callaway led the Saints with 8 catches for 75 yards on a team-high 10 targets in a Week 7 win against Carolina. That would be his most productive outing of the season. As the team's receivers returned to health, he stepped back into a complementary role on offense but continued to be a vital part of the special teams coverage units.
Callaway would record just 2 receptions for 11 yards over a four-week stretch, but had two crucial fumble recoveries on special teams that fueled a victory over San Francisco. He’d suffer a hamstring injury against Denver in Week 12 that forced the team to place him on injured reserve. Callaway returned for the last two games of the regular season, catching 6 of 8 targets for 67 yards.
Marquez Callaway finished his rookie season with 21 receptions for 213 yards, two fumble recoveries on special teams, and averaged 11.1 per punt return and 23.5 per kickoff return.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton praised Callaway's physicality and route precision in training camp, two things thought to be a weakness coming out of Tennessee. Those traits, combined with his speed and athleticism, could make Callaway another in a long line of successful wide receivers that have emerged from obscurity for the New Orleans Saints.