Of all the teams in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints are undergoing severe offensive changes, especially with their receivers. The retirement of quarterback Drew Brees would hit the franchise hard, no matter how little he had left in the tank. The Saints didn’t bring back their leading receiver in Emmanuel Sanders or top tight end in Jared Cook. Their star receiver Michael Thomas only played in seven games this past season due to nagging injuries. There will almost no doubt that Thomas will get back to his elite level of productivity in 2021. Even with an All-Pro caliber performance from Thomas, New Orleans will need more help from the Saints passing game from other receivers and tight ends.
New Orleans Saints Need Wide Receivers and Tight Tends to Step Up
Tre’Quan Smith – Wide Receiver
Since being drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Saints have expected Tre’QyN Smith to step up as the number two deep threat receiver. While he has made strides this past season by playing in 14 games and ten starts, Smith has not asserted himself as a key playmaker for the offense. In three seasons, Smith has caught 80 receptions on 119 targets for 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has never accumulated more than 448 yards and five touchdowns in a single. With a new quarterback starting under center, the Saints could use a breakout year from Smith in the upcoming 2021 season. Smith is also playing in the last year of his rookie contract. A breakout season would give him a solid new deal for the foreseeable future with New Orleans.
Marquez Callaway & Deonte Harris – Wide Receivers
Despite the talented roster full of playmakers, injuries from Thomas, and inconsistencies from other receivers have given former undrafted receivers in Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris a chance to rise in the depth chart. Last season, Callaway and Harris combined for 41 receptions for 399 yards and one touchdown. Both receivers are currently two on the depth chart behind Thomas and Smith. Both players may be upon to be starters if injuries hamper New Orleans and their receivers. They are not usually receivers to be relied upon as to be the consistent playmakers. Regardless, if Callaway or Harris start, they will need to play like they can lead the Saints passing offense. This season will be a critical year for both Callaway and Harris as they will need to show they can be relevant for the Saints active roster.
Nick Vannett – Tight End
It has been a tough offseason for the Saints as they had to release vital players. The Saints had to let go four tight ends, including Jared Cook and Josh Hill. They were able to sign former starting Denver Broncos tight end Nick Vannett on a three-year deal. While Vannett has found himself on the field consistently, he was primarily a blocking tight end. Last season for the Broncos, Vannett caught 14 receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown. His most productive season was in his final season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2018, where he caught 29 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. With the Saints relying on multiple tight ends set, Vannett could himself becoming a reliable pass-catching tight end.
Adam Trautman – Tight End
With the team having a multiple tight end offense, they will need second-year player Adam Trautman to step up. The Saints selected Trautman in the third round (105th overall pick) in the 2020 NFL Draft. New Orleans wanted Trautman to be their potential long-yard tight-end playmaker. Last season, Trautman started six of the 15 games played in a deep tight end depth chart. Trautman caught 15 receptions for 171 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 11.4 yards per reception, which was third among all returning receivers who have caught at least ten receptions. His ability to get open through effective route running and separation skills make him a potential reliable target. Trautman could be a surprising playmaker in 2021 as a deep-yard threat for their passing game.
Kawaan Baker – Wide Receiver
New Orleans made a surprising pick for the versatile and explosive former South Alabama Jaguar in receiver Kawaan Baker. New Orleans drafted Baker in the seventh round (255th overall pick) in the 2021 NFL Draft. He would be the second-ever former South Alabama Jaguar selected in the NFL Draft in school history. During his four years at South Alabama, Baker caught 126 receptions for 1,829 yards and 16 touchdowns. Baker was a threat as a slot receiver and on the outside. He also rushed for 376 yards and 11 touchdowns on 92 carries due to his ability to be elusive as a jet sweep runner. Finally, he returned 29 kickoffs for 543 yards. Baker can be a versatile and dynamic playmaker for New Orleans. He has proven to be relied upon consistently for an underperforming Jaguars offense. Baker could see his role in the offense increase if he continues a highly productive offseason.
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