New Orleans Saints: Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
It’s been an offseason of transition for the New Orleans Saints, and the changes the team has implemented at the wide receiver position should make for a deeper, more dynamic receiving corps in 2014.
Coach Sean Payton runs a fast-paced, pass-heavy offense in New Orleans, and having a capable group of wide receivers is essential for the Drew Brees-led unit to be successful.
Although the Saints fielded another potent offense in 2013, the wide receiving corps failed to perform up to its usually high standards. In fact, only one New Orleans wideout (Marques Colston) was among the team's top four receivers. The group struggled to get open against some of the league’s better secondaries and was physically manhandled in two losses to the Seattle Seahawks.
General manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints front office made significant adjustments this offseason.
The first order of business was to release 30-year-old veteran Lance Moore. New Orleans then traded up in the first round of the 2014 draft to select explosive Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks. The Saints also signed some highly regarded undrafted free agents at the position, and a couple of these acquisitions could compete for roster spots.
These transactions should result in a stronger, more reliable receiving corps in 2014 as New Orleans sets its sights on another playoff run.
Following, in descending order, is a detailed analysis of the current group of Saints wide receivers, with each slide representing a slot on the depth chart.
10. Steve Hull
Undrafted free-agent acquisition Steve Hull only played one season at wide receiver for Illinois, but the converted former safety made the most of his position change last year.
The 6'2", 200-pounder demonstrated consistent improvement as the 2013 season went on, and by the end of the year, he was one of the nation's most productive wideouts. He piled up over 700 receiving yards during the last five games of last season, and he finished the year with nearly 1,000 yards.
Hull is a long shot to win a spot on the Saints' final 53-man roster, but he's sure to show up every day in practice with a competitive fire.
9. Seantavius Jones
With players such as Marques Colston and Terron Armstead occupying starting positions, the Saints have proven they’re not averse to giving small-college players a chance to come in and show what they can do.
At wide receiver, undrafted free-agent acquisition Seantavius Jones of Division II Valdosta State could be a player who contends for a spot on the final roster this year.
As a senior last season, he grabbed 55 receptions for 777 yards, and he proved himself a capable scoring threat with 13 touchdowns.
There's no shortage of stiff competition in front of him, but Jones' size and his ability to come down with the ball in traffic could give Sean Payton and the Saints coaching staff something to think about.
8. Brandon Coleman
The New Orleans front office has a proven track record for bringing in undrafted free agents, and this year’s find could be wideout Brandon Coleman of Rutgers.
Coleman didn’t hear his name called on draft day, but he didn’t have to wait much longer before the Saints came calling with a contract.
At 6’6” and 225 pounds, he makes for a huge target on the outside. His outstanding size enables him to post up on smaller defenders when the ball’s in the air, and it also helps him fight off jams at the line of scrimmage.
Coleman is big, quick and athletic, and he has a realistic shot to make the final roster this fall.
7. Andy Tanner
For the better portion of the 2010-2013 seasons, Andy Tanner has been unable to escape the New Orleans practice squad. The gritty wideout from Midwestern State is back again this season, however, as he continues his quest to make the Saints’ final 53-man roster.
He was named to the active roster for last season’s opener vs. the Atlanta Falcons, but the stint was short-lived, and he was soon waived and signed to the practice squad again.
Tanner brings an outstanding work ethic and a reliable pair of hands to the table, but he’s probably on the outside looking in—again—for a spot on the active roster this season.
6. Joseph Morgan
Depth on a receiving corps can sometimes be crucial, especially for a team with championship aspirations. In his fourth season as a pro, Joseph Morgan can provide that for the Saints.
He caught 37 passes in his first full season on the Saints' active roster in 2012, but an injury rendered him unable to build on that performance in 2013. He missed the entire season last year after suffering a torn ACL in training camp, and he returns this season looking to play a major role in the Saints offense.
The versatile Morgan can line up on the outside and in the slot, and he can also contribute in the return game. He could be pushed for a roster spot by rookies Coleman and Jones, but his experience and knowledge of the offense should win out in the end.
5. Robert Meachem
Robert Meachem has been on the receiving end of some big scoring plays in his six seasons with the Saints, and he’ll be looking to contribute again in 2014.
A first-round pick for New Orleans in 2007, he’s a proven weapon in the Saints’ deep passing game, and he’s quite familiar with the ins and outs of Payton’s offense.
After spending a year with the San Diego Chargers in 2012, Meachem returned to New Orleans last season and caught 16 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. He re-signed with the club this past April, inking a one-year deal.
The Saints will rely on the well-seasoned Meachem to provide solid depth this coming season.
4. Nick Toon
Entering his third NFL season, the time is now for Nick Toon to make an impact in the New Orleans offense. A former fourth-round pick for the Saints, he spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
Toon saw action in eight games in his second year last season and caught just four balls for 68 yards.
The son of former NFL great Al Toon, he has more than adequate height for the position at 6’4", and he displayed exceptional hands throughout a stellar collegiate career at Wisconsin.
Toon should see the field early and often this year in three- and four-wide sets, and now that he’s familiar with the offense, he could enjoy a fine season as a possession receiver.
3. Brandin Cooks
A strong running game and the ability to convert on 3rd-and-long are vital elements to a successful offense. A truly elite offense, however, needs a little more.
Explosive playmakers who can put the ball into the end zone in a variety of ways can turn an already potent offense into a lethal one. When the Saints selected Brandin Cooks in the first round of this year’s draft, such an electrifying weapon is just what they envisioned.
The 2013 recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s best receiver, Cooks set Pac-12 single-season records with 128 catches and 1,730 yards. He also scored 16 receiving touchdowns.
Cooks can line up on the outside, as well as in the slot, and he should be a difference-maker for New Orleans in both the short and deep passing games. He’s also a capable punt returner, and in time, he should seize the No. 3 slot on the wide receiver depth chart.
2. Kenny Stills
Much is expected of Kenny Stills in 2014. The second-year man hauled in 32 receptions as a rookie last season, and his average of 20 yards per reception led the NFL.
With Moore no longer in New Orleans, Stills will be given a bigger role in the New Orleans passing attack. His downfield speed should make him a feared home run threat in the Saints offense, and his ability to make the difficult catch will go a long way toward earning the trust of his quarterback.
As his chemistry with Brees continues to improve, look for Stills to flourish as the Saints' No. 2 receiver this season.
1. Marques Colston
The elder statesman of the New Orleans receiving corps, Marques Colston is back for his ninth season in the black and gold.
Since his arrival as a seventh-round draft pick back 2006, the 6’4” former tight end has been one of Brees’ favorite targets. He’s long and rangy, and he uses his size extremely well in one-on-one situations.
Colston’s numbers dipped a bit in 2013, as he battled a lingering injury for much of the season. He failed to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in five years, but he still has what it takes to perform at a high level in Payton’s offense.