Many felt that the New Orleans Saints would add a wide receiver with an early pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. New Orleans did not. Instead, they waited until the 7th round to select South Alabama WR Kawaan Baker with the 255th overall pick. The Saints have had terrific luck with wide receivers who have slipped until late in the draft or not drafted at all, especially during the Sean Payton era.
One of the greatest players in franchise history, Marques Colston, was selected with a 7th round pick. Lance Moore, a member of the team’s Hall of Fame, was an undrafted pickup after being discarded by the Cleveland Browns. Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead were also undrafted wideouts who made significant contributions during their time with the team.
Deonte Harris was an All-Pro kick returner as an undrafted rookie from Assumption College. Marquez Callaway emerged as a reliable target after going undrafted last year from Tennessee. Fellow rookie Juwan Johnson was another undrafted project that earned playing time down the stretch of last season.
Today, we have a closer look at the Saints' 7th-round selection to see if he can be another gem unearthed by the team at the position.
KAWAAN BAKER, WIDE RECEIVER (SOUTH ALABAMA)
Baker was a football and track star at Hapeville Charter Academy in Georgia. Lightly recruited, he chose South Alabama University. After a redshirt year, he was the primary kick returner and a reserve receiver for the Jaguars in 2017.
Working his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2018, Baker caught 33 passes for 451 yards and 4 touchdowns. He added 251 yards rushing and 9 scores while receiving honorable mention All-Sun Belt Conference recognition. Repeating that feat in 2019, Baker led South Alabama with 35 receptions for 574 yards and 5 offensive touchdowns.
He was named second team All-Sun Belt as a senior last season, pulling in a career-high 51 catches for 659 yards and 8 scores. In four years with the Jaguars, Baker caught 126 passes for 16 touchdowns. He added 376 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns while averaging nearly 20 yards per kickoff return.
Despite his collegiate experience, Baker is still developing his game as a wideout. He looks unsure of himself when navigating through zone coverages at times. Doesn't display natural hands and has struggled with drops. Needs to bring his hands up quicker on timing throws.
Baker is still learning how to use his body to shield defenders from the throw. He needs to be more physical and decisive at the top of his routes and improve his route precision. Faces a steep learning curve after facing cornerbacks from the Sun Belt Conference to now at the NFL level.
Baker's improvement as a route runner has been evident over the last two seasons. His patterns were much more crisp and confident, especially in 2020. He has the size to stand up against bigger corners, with the speed to challenge defenses deep.
Showcasing his outstanding athleticism at his Pro Day, Baker has instant acceleration, explosive leaping ability, and very quick feet. An elusive runner in the open field, he is a home-run threat on short receptions and a valuable weapon on end arounds.
Baker accelerates into his pattern to put defenders on their heels. He adjusts to the ball well on deep balls and shows solid body control. His athletic talents and competitive fire gives him an advantage on contested throws.
Kawaan Baker is still developing as a route runner, but showed improvement each year at South Alabama. He’ll have to show that he can handle the drastic jump in competition, but his ability to play special teams gives him an advantage for a roster spot.
Baker has the versatility to be effective as an outside receiver or from the slot. He has the frame to match up against bigger defensive backs. His explosive acceleration and tremendous leaping ability makes him a big play threat, giving him the potential to be a draft steal.