Year #3 for New Orleans Saints wide receiver William "Willie" Lee Snead IV wasn't supposed to go like this. The team's #2 WR when he is actually in the starting line-up and a key contributor for the Saints offense in the past 2 seasons since the Saints signed him to their Practice Squad at the very end of 2014; Snead hasn't exactly had a "smooth" start to the 2017 NFL season.
Snead had to serve a three-game suspension for an off-season alcohol-related incident back in June, and he obviously was forced to miss the first 3 games of the season; and then was inactive with a hamstring injury in Week #4 against the Dolphins.
Despite Snead's absence, the Saints offense hasn't skipped a beat — thanks in part mostly to the young man who has emerged as another key contributor himself within the team's offensive scheme, in Snead's fellow WR and 3rd year teammate Brandon Coleman.
In the 4 games that the (2-2) Saints have played in Snead's time away, Coleman has grabbed 8 out of 11 targets for 137 yards, with two of them going for TD's along with a 31-yard 4th quarter reception that "put the game away" for New Orleans in their win against Miami over in London.
However, make no mistake about it: the Saints STILL have a great "need for Snead" — and now the only question as the Saints get back to work after their Bye Week is: will they finally have him back for the Lions?
Snead has become an integral part of the Saints offense since he burst upon the scene in 2015 Training Camp and has carved himself out a role as the must trusted and reliable target for Drew Brees over the last two seasons.
In 2015 and 2016 combined: Snead has caught 141 passes for 1,879 yards along with 7 TD's, for a Saints offense that has continued to remain as one of the NFL's top-rated offenses of the past decade.
Last season, Snead played in a total of 736 snaps within the Saints offensive scheme last season, including 77% of the time as the designated "slot WR" — where he had the 4th most yards (707) , the 4th best yards per route run (1.89), and a catch rate of 74.7 percent; which ranked 6th among all NFL players at the slot position, according to Pro Football Focus.
Additionally, he was ranked 5th overall in the League in separation from NFL defenses when targeted, with an average of 7.3 yards in the air — gaining 3.39 yards of separation on his targets in the slot, versus just 2.0 on the outside.
Now if you don't consider yourself a fan of "X's and O's" or a bunch of stats and numbers but simply just enjoy watching the players play, then know this: Willie Snead has a VITALLY IMPORTANT role for the New Orleans Saints, and his possible (and hopefully likely) return this week against a somewhat reeling Detroit Lions defense, would be a welcome sight.
That was a sentiment echoed last week by Saints senior offensive assistant and WR's coach Curtis Johnson; in an exclusive one-on-one interview that he had with NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune beat writer Herbie Teope.
"I think Willie is missed just because of his ability to do everything," Johnson said. "We just need an everything guy.
"He brings a physicality to him in his game, he's a business man, brings a lot of emotion in his game. We just need that and on some of those third downs, you would love to have Willie because that's what he does."
Teope notes that the severity of Snead's hamstring injury is unclear at this point, though it's probably more that safe to assume that the past week's Bye Week has given Snead some extra time to get healthy, with a clear-cut goal of returning to the starting line-up and finally making his long-anticipated 2017 regular season debut against Detroit.
When asked by Teope just how much he looked forward to getting Snead back in the rotation, Johnson replied:
"A lot, a ton," Johnson said emphatically. "He just takes a little bit off of everybody's plate and just the overall responsibility."
Snead's obvious chemistry with Brees, along with his ability to read zone coverage, is what makes him so vitally important to the Saints offense. There's no other way to emphasize just how much that the Saints REALLY DO have a "need for Snead".
We'll know more later this week as the Saints return to practice this morning and make preparations for the remainder of the week for Sunday's upcoming game, as to Snead's injury status and availability to play against the Lions.
The Saints will release their final injury report on Friday, and as long as there haven't been any "setbacks", then we should see Snead back on the field this Sunday in the Superdome.
If Snead does play, he'll more than likely draw one-on-one coverage from Lions CB Quandre Diggs, who covered Snead in the slot in the two teams' meeting last season and limited Snead to only 2 catches for 38 yards on 6 total targets from Brees.
Snead will no doubt want to have a good performance in his season-debut and in front of the home crowd at the Superdome, but will also look to fare much better this time around against Diggs.
But more importantly, Snead will simply want to "get back into the flow of things" and reclaim his rightful place within the Saints offense.
And undoubtedly, he'll want to continue from where he has left off from the previous 2 seasons; and will look to be a key contributor once again for a team looking to finally get back to the NFL Playoffs after a 3-year absence.
If William "Willie" Lee Snead the 4th can keep up the trends that he's established for himself and the Saints franchise in his first 2 full years in the NFL, that goal might just be something that both he and New Orleans can accomplish together.......