Amidst the rumblings and ridiculous squabbling over whether Jimmy Graham is a wide receiver or tight end, we come to look at the group of receivers officially listed as such on the New Orleans Saints depth chart.
It is true that in the Sean Payton-era no other Saints team saw a season with so little production from the position. Even the group of receivers in 2006—which featured Marques Colston as a rookie, Joe Horn as a fading veteran, Devery Henderson still trying to figure things out and Terrance Cooper/Jamal Jones splitting time as a fourth receiver—produced better numbers than the oft-injured and always inconsistent wide receiver corps in 2013. And that was in an offense which featured rookie sensation Reggie Bush catching a stunning 88 passes from the running back spot.
Granted, the other skill positions—yes, tight end Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and others—are more talented overall. It should also be mentioned before we move forward that defenses were more disciplined when playing the Saints’ offense this past season, not allowing Brees to throw the ball down the field nearly as often as he did in previous seasons. And the offensive lines’ struggles forced Payton to call shorter pass routes, which often meant more throws to the backs and tight ends.
In other words, be slow to assume that the Saints’ wide receiver corps is fading to a point of atrophy. The loss of 2012 breakout big play guy Joseph Morgan before the season even commenced didn’t help the unit either, at least in terms of their ability to put pressure on opposing secondaries with explosive pass plays.
As I did last Thursday with the running back position, I am aiming here to outline the state of the New Orleans Saints wide receiver position, for the purpose of determining if the team needs to address the spot in free agency and/or through the 2014 NFL Draft. The criteria again will revolve primarily around the current value, scheme fit and salary figure of each receiver on the current depth chart.
Marques Colston, Age: 30, Cap Figure: $8.3 Million
The “Quiet Storm” was more just quiet in the first half of the 2013 season, despite all indications being that he was healthy. For whatever reason, Colston was not a featured part of the Saints offense to begin the campaign. Still he put up another above average season—75 catches, 943 yards (12.6 average) and five touchdowns.
In the aforementioned first half, noise from the peanut gallery began erupting that Colston was done. At 30 years of age defenses had finally caught up to him, while his already limited quickness and speed were no longer enough to allow him to play at the highest level, at least effectively. Then the second half of the season came knocking, and Colston was mostly back to his dominant self as defenses began keying on the free agent-to be Graham and the Saints’ backs in the passing game.
Without significant film review it’d be impossible to say exactly what changed. It’s not unreasonable to think, though, that the likely cause of this change was that more attention to Graham and the backs equaled Brees looking for Colston more often. Just consider that Brees was much more conservative on the whole with his decision-making in 2013. His interception total decreased from his second worst professional season mark of 19 in 2012 to just 12 in 2013.
Just watching games, it was clear Brees threw into traffic and double teams with far less regularity than in previous seasons. The result was fewer big plays, but also fewer costly mistakes. There is a great correlation with the fact the Saints, overall, played a more conservative offensive game because for once they had a defense they trusted to hold opposing offenses down.
The point is that Colston makes the Saints offense better, whether he’s the one catching all the passes or the one taking up double and/or rolled-over coverages. His size has always been his greatest advantage, and that isn’t leaving him. He still scares defenses to no end with his ability to make almost impossible catches among multiple defenders. There’s no reason he can’t continue doing that throughout the remainder of his current contract—which runs through 2017. But Brees will continue to throw to Colston going forward only when the defense dictates it, unlike in 2012. At least that’s the hope.
In a perfect world, the Saints would be able to lessen his cap figure to open up more space to fill out the roster. But an $8.3 million cap figure for a player who makes the game easier for his teammates just by being on the field is probably worth every penny. As I wrote Tuesday, if the Saints were able to team him up with Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, and keep Graham, the Saints would be the most impossible passing offense to slow down in league history, especially given Brees’ ability to fit the football into tight spots. That may not be necessary, but a boy can dream, can’t he?