I thought the receiving core depth WITH Joe Morgan was suspect at best entering training camp. When he went down, I wasn't sure what to think. Then I was thrilled by the Steve Breaston signing. Now? I'm not even sure Breaston will catch up fast enough to make the team because the core is so loaded. How things change quickly, but I was thoroughly impressed by how many capable pass catchers the Saints have battling for a roster spot.
Barring something crazy, I'm guessing the following players have no chance: Jarred Fayson, Tim Toone, Brent Leonard, Saalim Hakim. Hakim is the one of those four I'd say has a 1% shot because he's the fastest player on the roster. He hasn't shown anything else, though, so I'm starting to think he's a long shot. I will say, though, I had Preston Parker in this group before Friday, so a huge preseason game for any of these guys could change things.
That leaves the following with a legitimate shot at making the team: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Nick Toon, Kenny Stills, Andy Tanner, Steve Breaston, Preston Parker and Courtney Roby. I feel pretty good about these eight players, including Roby as a backup that can come in on occassion and block or even catch a pass or two. But we all know Roby's value to this team is for a completely separate discussion, so we can omit him as we explore how this plays out. I do think Roby is a roster lock, and I believe the Saints will keep five receivers not named Roby. It's possible they just go with four besides Roby, but with Colston not at 100% and Morgan out for the season, they will want the extra guy due to all the uncertainty, and the fact that a lot of these guys are good and deserve to make the team.
So obviously Colston and Moore are the unquestioned starters and they are locks. After that I think the most secure guy is Nick Toon. What I saw from him was just one preseason game, but he ran good routes, he was a willing blocker, he showed us the nice frame and body control that Colston has, and on top of that he showed good hands and enough speed to get separation. I was super impressed and I firmly believe the guy is 100% ready to contribute in a real way this season. I say this because he's polished and well rounded. There's no obvious deficiencies in his game that I can see and the diversity he offers makes him quite valuable. I'm not sure if he's "amazing" at any one thing yet, but I think he is above average in all aspects. That should make the Saints comfortable putting him on the field in a multitude of situations.
After that it's a total crapshoot. I think you have Tanner, Stills, Parker and Breaston battling for two spots. Tanner is probably the least talented and the lowest ceiling, but he has fantastic hands and he's the most intelligent and hard working of the bunch. Durability is a question mark with him, but he is definitely firmly in the mix. Breaston just joined the team so he's way behind in learning the playbook and didn't get much of a chance to play in this last game. I do think he'll get a lot more reps this week. At first I thought Breaston was clearly signed to be the number 3, but now I'm wondering if he was just insurance in case these youngsters didn't pan out? If it's the latter, he's in trouble because they seem to be panning out.
Stills showed he can get behind a defense and be an explosive playmaker. Unlike Toon, though, he is clearly not ready. But we saw from Joe Morgan last preseason exactly what we're seeing from Stills right now. If this offense needs a field stretcher, Stills has already clearly demonstrated he can be that guy. Joe Morgan caught 10 passes last year, let's not act like he's an all world player. He was just good at fulfilling his role and being a one trick pony last year. If that's truly all the Saints need and that's more valuable to the offense than a more polished and rounded receiver, Stills has the exceptional speed and can give them that. He's faster than Morgan, so he can fill that role. He won't give you secure hands all the time, he won't give you blocking, and he won't give you great routes, but he will force defenses to account for him on a fly route because of his speed. That's another X factor that makes him hard to cut, even if he's not ready and the most raw of the four vying for two spots.
Preston Parker in my eyes wasn't even in this discussion until his performance Friday. But now he has to be, because he played excellent. He also has return ability, so his special teams contribution as a backup receiver helps his case. Could Parker be a threat to Roby if he has gunner ability? I doubt it, but worth considering.
Stills is either going to make the team or be put on IR. The Saints love him as a project and will not risk losing him. So this year will either serve as a "redshirt" season, or he'll be thrust right into Joe Morgan's role. I think the Saints will continue to use him frequently in the preseason to see if he can make plays. If he shows anything, I think he'll be on the team. If he continues to drop passes, fumble end arounds and have tons of miscues, then they'll shelve him. But I do think the Saints really want this to work out.
So then you have Breaston, Tanner and Parker. Parker can give you special teams play, so that's appealing. Breaston can a little bit too, but he carries less value there. If healthy, Breaston is the best receiver by far of this group. Tanner is just one of those guys you hate to cut, and the coaching staff loves him. Ultimately if I had to pick right now I think Parker and Tanner get cut because Breaston is just too good to pass up on. But my opinion from week to week can change very quickly.
Regardless of how it plays out, though, I feel good about receiver position even with Morgan out for the season. I never thought I'd be in a position to say that this season. The depth here is quality and I'm surprised to say that. If Steve Breaston doesn't make this team, that means the guys ahead of him are better and that's a pretty impressive and deep receiving core to have.
How do you see this playing out?