Saints hope depth develops at wide receiver

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Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith vs. Panthers
Saints WR Tre’Quan Smith enters his second NFL season in 2019 (Photo: Parker Waters).

(Second in a series)

METAIRIE – Depth at wide receiver has been a question mark for the New Orleans Saints for more than a year.

They signed Cameron Meredith as a veteran free agent last year and used a 2018 third-round draft choice on Tre’Quan Smith to address the need.

They signed veterans Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate after training camp was under way a year ago, but neither worked out and both were released at the end of the preseason.

During the season they signed Dez Bryant after Meredith’s surgically repaired knee continued to give him problems and required a second surgery.

After Bryant suffered a season-ending Achilles injury without ever playing a down, the Saints signed Brandon Marshall to replace him and he caught 11 passes before being released.

All of that changed very little.

Smith was impressive in training camp and the preseason, but caught a modest 28 passes for 427 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season.

The Saints believe Smith, Keith Kirkwood (13 catches, 209 yards, two touchdowns) and Austin Carr (9-97-2) are all capable of evolving into more productive players.

So even though they have just two proven wide receivers – All-Pro Michael Thomas and steady veteran Ted Ginn Jr. – the Saints did not draft a wide receiver nor did they sign a significant free agent at the position,

“They didn’t have to,” Smith said. “They’ve got me and Keith there – great players. I’m kind of happy they didn’t (bring in another wide receiver). That just shows that the organization believes in us and believes in our ability.”

The Saints also have running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook as primary weapons in the passing game. Kamara has caught 81 passes in each of his first two seasons and Cook had the most productive season of is 10-year career last year when he had 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns for Oakland before coming to New Orleans as a free agent.

Receivers

Wide receivers: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn. Jr., Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, Cameron Meredith, Simmie Cobbs Jr., Rishard Matthews, Chad Hansen, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler, Cyril Grayson Jr., Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

Departures: Dez Bryant, TommyLee Lewis

Returning: Thomas, Ginn, Smith, Kirkwood, Carr, Meredith, Cobbs

Arrivals: Matthews, Hansen, Harris, Butler, Grayson, Humphrey

Projected starters: Thomas, Ginn

Training camp storyline: The spots after Thomas and Ginn are up for grabs. Smith and Kirkwood are next in line, but if they don’t show more consistency someone could surpass them. Meredith already has taken a pay cut and was sidelined during mini-camp so if he doesn’t demonstrate that he’s healthy and effective early in training camp his roster spot could be in jeopardy. Matthews was a late signee and Harris, Grayson and Humphrey are all interesting undrafted free agents.

Quotable: Ginn on the Saints not bringing in a significant wide receiver – “They believe in us. They believe in what they have.”

Tight ends: Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold, Garrett Griffin, Alize’ Mack

Departures: Benjamin Watson, Michael Hoomanawanui

Returning: Hill, Arnold, Griffin

Arrivals: Cook, Mack

Projected starter: Cook

Training camp storyline: The pecking order after Cook is wide open. Hill’s experience likely makes him the No. 2 tight end. Arnold was switched from wide receiver at the start of training camp last summer. Mack’s talent exceeds the low-round draft selection (No. 7).

Quotable: QB Drew Brees on Cook: “Obviously, a lot of attention goes to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and so I think having a weapon like that in addition to the other pieces that we have as well, I think that they complement each other really, really well.”

 

This is the latest installment of Crescent City Sports’ comprehensive Saints training camp preview. Here is the schedule for the unit-by-unit overviews:

June 13: Backfield (Quarterbacks and running backs)

June 20: Receivers (Wide receivers and tight ends)

June 27: Offensive line

July 4: Defensive line

July 11: Linebackers

July 18: Secondary (cornerbacks and safeties)

July 25: Special teams (kicker, punter, long snappers)

The Saints are scheduled to report to their Metairie headquarters on Thursday, July 25 and begin training-camp practice the next day.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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