Saints Wide Receiver Draft Prospects after the Senior Bowl

Kyle T. Mosley

Michael Thomas’ record breaking season was extraordinary.  The Saints need to give Thomas support and add another weapon in their receiving corps.

Michael-Thomas-Production
Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

Thomas was the team’s top receiver and accounted for 72.5% of the Saints’ receiving production.  Saints quarterbacks Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater's top three wide receivers were WR Michael Thomas (1,725 yds), Tedd Ginn (421 yds), and Tre’Quan Smith (234 yds) in 2019.  Ginn and Smith only totaled 655 yards of offense in which were less than 1,070 yards from Thomas.  Compared to the next productive receiver on the team, the Ginn-Smith tandem was highly underwhelming.  TE Jared Cook missed two games for the Saints because of injury.  Yet Cook slated 43 receptions, 705 receiving yards and 9 TD’s in his first season with New Orleans. The need for another wide receiver is an understatement.

DRAFTING A RECEIVER?

This year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama had an influx of solid wide receiver talent for NFL scouts to meet and evaluate for the NFL Draft in April.  The Saints have several positions to review before free agency begins on March 18th.  One of the most glaring need for the team will be at wide receiver.  The precedent for Saints GM Mickey Loomis and the scouting department has been to analyze the free-agent market and tender an offer to a veteran.  However, the past couple of years have not produced the desired results for New Orleans at wide receiver.

The last two major wideouts the Saints front office has signed were Tedd Ginn (2017) and Cam Meredith (2018). Both players were up and down for the team with Meredith’s career plagued by injury and Ginn’s tenure riddled with inconsistency. Salary cap issues may have contributed to why Loomis did not make a “big splash” signing at the wide receiver position in recent years. The conservative approach signing and drafting high-profile receivers are not the norm in New Orleans. They drafted Michael Thomas in the second round (47th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft from Ohio State University. It’s safe to say this was an excellent choice for the team.

SENIOR BOWL PROSPECTS

New Orleans needs someone to complement Thomas. A player with the ability to separate from NFL cornerbacks and make downfield plays. Here are three prospects from the Senior Bowl that excited quite a few talent elevators.  

But will they be available in the 2020 NFL Draft at #24 for New Orleans?

Van Jefferson - WR Prospect for the New Orleans Saints
Jan 23, 2020; Mobile, Alabama, USA; South wide receiver Van Jefferson of Florida (14) grabs a pass in front of South cornerback Kindle Vildor of Georgia Southern (2) during Senior Bowl practice at University of South Alabama s Jaguar Football Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Van Jefferson - WR (Florida)

Stats: 49 rec | 651 yds | 6 TD

Good luck getting a handle on his technical savvy at the position. He’s one of the purest route runners out there, with the toughness to make plays; Very AJ Green-like in that regard.  

Emory Hunt - Football Gameplan

I like the fact Jefferson is not too small and can handle press coverage for the Saints' role to bookend Michael Thomas.  He is 6'2 and weighs 197 lbs.  Jefferson's father is former Houston Oilers' draftee and NFL player WR Shawn Jefferson.

Denzel Mims from Baylor University - WR Prospect
Nov 23, 2019; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Denzel Mims (5) celebrates during the game against the Texas Longhorns at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Denzel Mims - (Baylor - 6' 3", 215 lbs)

Stats: 66 rec | 1,020 yds | 12 TD

Denzel Mims may not as explosive of an athlete as former Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, but he definitely plays with the same level of both dog & aggressiveness that #88 used to play with.  

Emory Hunt - Football Gameplan

Mims' skills are similar to Michael Thomas.  Drew Brees could use another intermediary route playmaker at this point in his career.

WR KJ Hill - New Orleans Saints WR Prospect
Jan 25, 2020; Mobile, AL, USA; North wide receiver KJ Hill of Ohio State (17) runs back a punt during the 2020 Senior Bowl college football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

K.J. Hill (Ohio State University - 6' 0", 195 lbs)

Stats: 57 rec | 636 yds | 10 TD

Ohio State WRs continue to make a name for themselves in Mobile. Last year it was Terry McLaurin, this year it has been both Austin Mack and KJ Hill who have turned heads. Florida WR Van Jefferson was also a BIG💰maker this week, showing fluid athleticism/impressive feet/routes.   

Ric Serritella - NFLDraftBible.com

Get a glimpse at his quickness on the goal-line:

Hill is another intriguing prospect for the Saints. He is not a big name to most, but his performance this week at the Senior Bowl was solid. His size, body and movement is like former NFL WR Steve Smith, Sr. The Saints have successfully drafted other OSU players with Thomas, Lattimore, and Bell in the past. Could 2020’s NFL Draft continue the synergistic trend between the New Orleans and Ohio State players? 

WR Justin Jefferson - New Orleans Saints WR Prospect
Dec 28, 2019; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) reacts after his fourth touchdown during the second quarter of the 2019 Peach Bowl college football playoff semifinal game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jefferson (LSU - 6' 3", 192 lbs)

Stats: 111 rec | 1,540 yds | 18 TD

Jefferson was not taking part in the Senior Bowl.   Many LSU and Saints fans are already clamoring for the team to draft WR Justin Jefferson.  The problem in Jefferson’s case, is availability at #24.  The big play wideout was exposed to Sean Payton’s techniques via former LSU’s passing game coordinator Joe Brady.  Brady was on the Saints coaching staff for 2 years (2017-2018) and left to accept the position at LSU.  Brady introduced receiving training and techniques that enhanced the LSU receiver's output in 2019.  Jefferson had an outstanding season with the Tigers where the St. Rose, LA native caught 111 receptions for 1,540 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns en route to the College Football National Championship. 

The Saints draft process will evolve due to free agent exists, signings, and the team's NFL combine scouting ahead of April’s 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas.  The Saints tendency over the years is to focus on the interior offensive and defensive lines.  Two players will impact maneuvering by the Saints - OL Andrus Peat and DL David Onyemata.  Re-signing the lineman could solidify two strong units for the Saints as they continue a path toward another Super Bowl championship.  Therefore, drafting a wide receiver at #24 in the first-round may not be a huge priority for New Orleans.

The Saints News Network will have more Saints and NFL Draft coverage from noted NFL Draft experts before April's 2020 NFL Draft.  

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