Now that Jameis Winston is set to return as the New Orleans Saints quarterback in 2022, the team will begin to address the offense around him. While the loss of Terron Armstead leaves a big hole on the offensive line that must been tended to, the Saints will look to add talent at pass-catcher as well. Having the quarterback and offensive line in place will be important but, as we saw in 2021, the team will struggle without viable receivers.
The expected return of Michael Thomas, who holds the NFL single-season record for most receptions, will obviously help improve the situation. However, the Saints should be intent on adding talent around him, particularly talent on the perimeter. New Orleans is in need of a field-stretching receiver that can add a complementary deep threat to the team’s passing attack. Here are four options New Orleans could pursue this offseason to serve that role.
Free agent: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
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I’ve been pounding this drum for a while now, but at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with 4.37 speed, Valdes-Scantling would be a huge addition to this Saints offense. Opposite Thomas, the Green Bay free agent would bring a new dynamic to the position. With Ted Ginn Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders in years pass, there was a legitimate threat to push defenses vertically. But with Valdes-Scantling you get a big-bodied receiver to go along with that.
In 2020, Vales-Scantling led the NFL in yards per catch with 20.9. He did so with a considerable amount of targets (63) while appearing in all 16 games that season. His 18.1 average depth of target (ADOT) would have ranked first among all New Orleans receivers who caught more than one pass in 2021. This is an area where the Saints have a real opportunity to open up from years past. They have the quarterback to do it, and if 2012 was any indication, Pete Carmichael has the talent to call it.
Free agent: Will Fuller V
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After an abbreviated three-game season in Miami, former Houston Texans deep threat Will Fuller V is looking for his next team. If Fuller wants to go to a system where he’ll be able to continue to his role as a deep threat, New Orleans could be a good landing place working with Jameis Winston. Winston worked with a similar style receiver in Breshad Perriman his final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fuller had his best season in Houston in 2020 wherein he caught 53 passes for 879 yards and bringing in 8 touchdown catches. That season, he averaged 16.6 yard per catch despite his ADOT clocking in at just 12.5. This happened because even though Fuller wasn’t doing much after the catch, he was still being targeted heavily underneath despite half of his touchdown catches coming from targets 20 or more yards downfield.
An adjustment to using Fuller in more of a vertical route treat could maximize him as a threat as long as he can avoid injury and drops. This is exactly what Saints wide receiver coach Kodi Burns did with Cedric Tillman last season with the Tennessee Volunteers. The change led to Tillman jumping from 67 receiving yards in 2020 to 1,081 in 2021.
Draft prospect: George Pickens
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The former Georgia Bulldog averaged just over 15 air yards per target each of his three years in the SEC. Pickens is a perennial deep threat player in the body of an x-receiver. A good combination to have. The same combination is causing the league to drool over fellow draft prospect Treylon Burks, who could be the first wide receiver off of the board in the year’s NFL draft. As for Pickens, his stock goes anywhere from the first round to early day three. That would allow the Saints to potentially sneak in to select him in the second round if they land another key position in the first.
Pickens is a fiery, physical and fast receiver who has the speed to stretch defenses and the muscle to bully defensive backs in one-on-one situations. Both pieces of the formula bode well when potentially lining up across from Michael Thomas, who will draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Not to mention that Pickens is quite the trash talker. Nearly an offensive version of the Saints’ own C.J. Gardner-Johnson. If there was a place he could thrive most authentically on the field, New Orleans is it.
Pickens came back from injury in time to help his collegiate teammates win a National Championship to close out the 2021 season. He was then able to perform at the NFL scouting combine running a 4.47 40-yard dash while adding a 33″ vertical leap at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. A very good set of numbers to complement his unique skillset.
Draft prospect: Romeo Doubs
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With Pickens being an early-round selection, Nevada wide receiver Romeo Doubs could be someone to look at later. He’s another guy that checks the “height-weight-speed” boxes. At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, Doubs has been a viable deep threat in the Mountain West Conference. His 111.3 receiving yards per game was eighth in the FBS in 2020. In 2021, he topped 1,000 receiver yards again and led the Wolf Pack 80 catches and 11 touchdown receptions.
Doubs would be a very exciting late-round selection, though there will be question marks around his transition to the NFL level. But with the raw talent and measurables he possesses, there’s enough to work with. One downside for Doubs is that he didn’t test at the Combines, tweaks his ankle a week later and therefore could not test during Nevada’s Pro Day. So it will be up to teams brining him in for visits to get a closer look at his athletic numbers. If he can impress there, he may be able to get the shot he deserves.