METAIRIE, La. — If the New Orleans Saints don’t draft a wide receiver in Round 1 on April 28, frankly, they’ll be dropping the ball.
despite veteran michael thomas‘Vital return from the ankle injury that wiped out his entire 2021 season, the Saints still badly need another premium pass catcher. They finished last in the NFL in passing offense last year and have not yet added to the position in free agency.
Furthermore, the Saints now hold the 16th and 19th picks after a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles — and both are in what ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay described as “the sweet spot for a wide receiver.”
“This class reminds me a little bit more of 2020, in that Henry Ruggs was the first receiver off the board at No. 12, but there were still six receivers drafted in the [top 25],” McShay said.
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In 2021, three receivers went inside the top 10. In 2019, the “sweet spot” was Round 2, where Deebo Samuel, A. J. Brown and D. K. Metcalf were selected. Regardless, New Orleans has missed out on the historic haul of receiver talent that has come into the NFL throughout all three of those drafts.
The Saints and Atlanta Falcons are the only two teams that did not draft any receivers in Rounds 1-4 from 2019-2021. But the Falcons added a dynamic pass catcher in tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth pick last year.
That’s why the Saints’ cupboard is so bare. And that’s why they can’t afford to skip out any longer.
If they don’t draft a receiver, the Saints better get on the phone immediately and offer to pay former LSU star (and local fan favorite) Jarvis Landry whatever he is asking as the top remaining free agent.
Even if they do draft a receiver, it wouldn’t hurt to add a veteran like Julius Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, William Fuller V. or Cole Beasley — despite some question marks that have left them on the open market.
The Saints have other “needs” — like left tackle, safety and defensive line. But receiver is the only one that should be bolded, underlined and circled with a red marker.
The good news is they have plenty of exciting draft options. At least one of the consensus top four should still be available among Ohio State’s Garrett WilsonUSC’s Drake LondonAlabama’s Jameson-Williams and Ohio State’s Chris Olave.
The other good thing about this year’s class is the versatility, with top receivers having “so many different traits” according to ESPN analyst Matt Bowen.
The Saints would probably have to trade up to acquire the 6-foot, 183-pounder — which is too bad since he might have the best inside/outside ability for a team that could use someone capable of lining up in the slot to complement Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Deon Harty.
“Extremely dynamic after the catch,” said Bowen, who compares Wilson to Stefon Diggs. “Upper-tier ball skills and body control to make plays on the back shoulder, front shoulder, above the rim. He can climb the ladder and finish.
“He’s gonna need some time and development in terms of the nuance and detail of running routes against professional DBs. But what I can’t coach is the sudden ability, the stop-start speed which makes him so dynamic and elusive.”
Another who might be gone before the Saints pick, the 6-4, 219-pounder is an obvious fit in the middle of the field. Maybe the most similar to Thomas — but all the harder for defenses to match up.
“I think Drake London would be a really good fit,” ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid said. “I think he could play inside and outside; he’s done both. But an underrated factor is he’s a terrific run blocker. I know that’s something [former coach] Sean Payton [valued] in the past.”
Bowen paired the Saints with Williams in his best team fits for receivers. “Explosive and sudden on tape with tremendous vertical speed… I like the fit with the aggressive mindset of quarterback James Winston … my favorite wide receiver prospect in this class.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also sent Williams to New Orleans in his most recent mock draft. And Reid agreed, “I think he actually fits the Saints the best” — though Reid predicts the 6-2, 179-pounder will go in the top 15 despite tearing his ACL in January’s national championship game.
McShay said Williams’ injury is the only thing that could land him in New Orleans’ range.
“I honestly think when it’s all said and done he’s got a really good chance to be the best receiver in this group,” McShay said.
Probably the best bet to be posing on stage with a Saints cap. Opinions are more mixed on the 6-foot, 187-pounder because of some questions about his physicality. But he is widely considered among the elite route runners in this year’s class — and anyone who watched the Saints last year knows the No. 1 trait they lacked was someone who could get open consistently.
“He’s a 4.39 speedster who is just silky smooth and a great vertical route runner,” McShay said. “I think he’s got a chance to be, if not a No. 1 in the league, a really good No. 2.”
Reid said he would be more comfortable taking Burks in the mid-20s. But the 6-2, 225-pounder could be an especially good fit if New Orleans wants someone who can line up in the slot.
“I think he’s kind of a dynamic multi-dimensional player,” said Bowen, who mentioned the way the 49ers have used Samuel so creatively as a receiver and runner while suggesting Burks could be “deployed in multiple alignments and on manufactured touches.”
“Dotson is an undersized slot receiver, but he’s a burner,” McShay said of the 5-11, 178-pounder. “And he’s just so under control. He has easy speed. And I would say in my opinion based on tape, he has the best ball skills of any receiver in this class.”
Reid believes the Saints could still find a starter in Round 2. One riser he particularly likes is Georgia’s George Pickens, who is “really starting to catch a lot of steam lately.” The 6-3, 195-pounder also tore his ACL last March but recovered in time to play the final four games and has continued to progress.