Sean Payton expressed his confidence in New Orleans Saints' wide receiving corps for 2021. It begs the question, why are there so many skeptics about this up-and-coming unit?
Who is No. 2? Who will step up? Do the Saints need another veteran to come in this season? Can they threaten defenses? Who's the fastest? Does the coaching staff trust the unit?
The list of questions has surrounded the New Orleans Saints receiving corps for a few years.
It appears to be a deep drop-off in talent after Michael Thomas and his status as the 2019 AP OPOY, 2x All-Pro, and single-season receptions' record status.
But is this a fair assessment for the New Orleans receivers?
On Tuesday, Sean Payton expressed confidence in his receivers.
"They're doing well. "They're doing very well. And, part of that was, a number of those guys played more snaps last year because of injury.
And I'm encouraged. I liked the way that room was is coming together.
You know, there are a few guys that got more snaps a year ago because of some of our depth issues, and I think that's helped them," shared Payton.
SAINTS RECEIVERS AFTER MICHAEL THOMAS
2021 has Tre'Quan Smith as the next veteran wideout in the receiving unit. New Orleans chose Smith out of the UCF program in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Smith had 14 game appearances in 2020 and battled a few injuries. Tre'Quan spoke about his injuries on Wednesday, "I've been trying my best, this offseason just work on the minor things that may lead up to it, even though it's not hurting now and just, fixing it and tweaking it and making sure as far as possible, so, I don't have no ankle injuries this year."
The Saints will need him to have consistent availability in his fourth season. Smith's production in New Orleans includes 80 receptions and 1,109 yards with 14 touchdowns.
We have seen glimpses of potential in Tre'Quan Smith since landing with the Saints. He has caught history-setting catches from Drew Brees since 2018.
In January, he caught two touchdowns when New Orleans fell to Tampa Bay in the 2021 NFC Divisional playoff game. One touchdown, in particular, is of interest for the upcoming season - the one from quarterback Jameis Winston.
Tre'Quan also shared that Winston reached out to him and other receivers during the offseason and conducted workout sessions.
This connection is critical for 2021 because Winston is in a contentious quarterback battle with Taysom Hill for the starting quarterback position.
Jameis is bonding with wideouts and included second-year players like WR Marquez Callaway, TE Adam Trautman, WR/TE Juwan Johnson, RB Tony Jones, Jr., and veterans RB Ty Montgomery and TE Nick Vannett in the offseason drills.
Wednesday's media minicamp media sessions also included wide receivers Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway.
According to SNN beat reporter John Hendrix, both players praised rookie wide receiver and seventh-round draft choice Kawaan Baker for his work ethic.
Both Harris and Callaway are interesting pieces to the receiver group's puzzle.
As an undrafted rookie in 2019, the 5-6 and 170-pound All-Pro excelled as a punt and kick returner. Last season, before a few nicks and bruises, Harris was able to effective as a receiver by catching 26 passes on 31 targets for 210 yards and scoring one touchdown. His speed and shiftiness in the playoff games versus Chicago and Buccaneers should have New Orleans coaching staff figuring ways to get him more involved in the offense for 2021. Harris discussed with reporters that on offense, he wants his "role to expand."
2020's undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway took advantage of injuries and became a reliable receiver for Saints quarterbacks. His knee injury in Denver landed him on injured reserve for several weeks. He returned to the 53-man roster for the home Christmas Day contest against Minnesota. Callaway's 21 receptions on 27 targets for 213 yards have many Saints fans believing he can evolve as a 'go-to' pass catcher in Sean Payton's offense.
Behind Thomas, Smith, Harris, and Callaway are wideouts Kawaan Baker, Jake Lampman, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Juwan Johnson, Jalen McCleskey, and Easop Winston.
Humphrey and Johnson have been activated for games in 2020 and know the New Orleans offensive schemes. Lil'Jordan Humphrey is moving into his third season with the team.
Will he solidify a role on the active squad instead of sitting on the practice squad awaiting elevations as he did the past two seasons?
Will Johnson transfer his size and receiving skills to the tight-end position as reported last week?
Despite the appearance of a perceived drop-off of talent, the New Orleans receivers are full of talent, confidence, and potential.
Each player has value for head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael to lock in these assets and mold them into weapons for either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill.
Can this receiving corps be menacing and threaten opposing defenses? Yes.
Coach Payton gave his vote of confidence in his receivers so much that the club did not pursue a veteran during the offseason.
Still, just how potent can they be in 2021?
We shall see.
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SNN Saints Associates