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Sean Payton gave one of the best pieces of fantasy advice in recent memory two years ago, if he said of rookie receiver Michael Thomas: “I don’t follow fantasy football, but shoot, I’d try to have him. ”
Unfortunately, the New Orleans coach isn’t doing any favors in that department this summer.
Outside of Thomas, the pecking order for the rest of the Saints’ wide receiver corps is one of the hardest to pin down in the entire NFL. Their pre-season usage has offered little guidance. And Payton said after Saturday’s win at the Los Angeles.
Newcomer Cameron Meredith has excellent potential in New Orleans’ offense if he returns to full health after signing as a restricted free agent. And he appears to be on the mend from the significant knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season with the Chicago Bears precisely one year ago on Aug. 27. But he remains a piece in progress after missing a couple of weeks with an unspecified ailment early in camp.
Meredith has zero catches in 48 pre-season snaps — including a dropped pass that turned into an interception two weeks ago. And he played mostly with the backups this past Saturday.
Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. was underrated as the Saints’ steady Number 2 receiver last season and could be again in 2018. Having been even better in the playoffs (12 catches for 187 yards and a landing in two games) than having been in the regular season (53-787-4). But the 33-year-old now has more competition for that “No. 2” role. And it didn’t help his stock when Payton called him out for running the wrong route twice in the second pre-season game.
Rookie third-round draft pick Tre’Quan Smith, meanwhile, has been one of the most exciting players in camp — routinely making splash plays in both practices and games. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Central Florida has shown an attractive combination of size, speed, hands, and big-play ability, and he leads the Saints in catches (11), yards (147) and touchdowns (1) this pre-season. However, Smith has been limited to mostly just playing the “Z” position as he continues to work on assignments and alignments.
Then there is second-year receiver Austin Carr, who felt like a forgotten man for most of the summer — until he played with the starters as the primary slot receiver ahead of Meredith on Saturday and caught three passes for 38 yards.
All of that leaves little room for third-year pro-Tommylee Lewis (who appears to be on the verge of losing his kick-return job to newcomer Brandon Tate), veteran Michael Floyd or impressive undrafted rookie Keith Kirkwood, among others.
“Listen, you wish you could keep seven or eight, right? ” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, ever the diplomat. “I feel like I’ve got some pretty good chemistry with a lot of guys. Wish we could keep them all. ”
But if you’re expecting to hear the old cliché of “This is a good problem for the Saints to have” — well, not so fast.
The quantity of candidates is nice. But the Saints need to figure out which ones they can count on.
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