Just in case you may have missed it so far: the Saints News Network for the past week and a half has began a series of articles covering the positions on the New Orleans Saints team roster that could use an upgrade in the 2018 off-season, so that the team can remain a viable Super Bowl contender going forward as they were in the 2017 season; in which they finished 11-5, won their division, and were a mere 10 seconds away from playing for a Conference Championship.
Those first 3 articles didn't have a series title however, which we'll now begin referring to as "Making The Saints Even Better in 2018", and this is the 4th article of the series — which is that New Orleans still could use a 3rd option at wide receiver next season.
While #1 WR and emerging NFL "superstar" Micheal Thomas and veteran #2 WR Ted Ginn, Jr. are both solidly entrenched at their positions moving forward, both #3 WR Brandon Coleman and #4 WR Willie Snead are now restricted free agents.
As of this moment, there are ZERO guarantees that the Saints plan on bringing back either Coleman or Snead, and the possibility exists that the Saints will NOT offer a tender for either player. (Per current estimates, an offer with no compensation attached from any NFL team to a player with Restricted Free Agent status is estimated at $1.9 million, according to OverTheCap.com).
So.....what options are out there if the Saints move on from either Coleman or Snead, or perhaps even BOTH of them?
With that in mind, this morning we're taking an early look at some of the possible options for the Saints at the wide receiver position in 2018; that likely will be available via either 2018 NFL Free Agency or the 2018 NFL Draft.
PLEASE keep in mind: the Saints don't have a 2nd Round Pick (which they used to trade up and take superstar rookie Alvin Kamara in last year's Draft), but as of this moment do have TWO 5th Round and 6th Round picks to go with their 3rd, 4th, and 7th Round picks: so the chance that they'll draft a WR is VERY likely.
And these next few players listed (we didn't list them all) are among the best available.
And we start first with......
2018 NFL FREE AGENCY
JARVIS LANDRY, MIAMI DOLPHINS
The Saints could entice the 25-year old Landry, who starred as a high school All-American WR for Lutcher High School and then played collegiately at LSU, with the chance to come back "home" — as well as an opportunity to play for a winning team and also get to team up with a future Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees.
Miami can head off any drama by working out an agreement before free agency opens on March 14th and it has the option to franchise/transition tag him, which would bring him back for one year; but the relationship between Landry and Dolphins management hasn't exactly been the greatest, and the team doesn't seem all that inspired to shell out the $15-16 mill a year that the Convent, La. native will likely be seeking.
This past season, Landry led the NFL in receptions (112 catches) for 987 yards and 9 TD's. In his 4-year NFL career thus far, Landry has caught exactly 400 passes for 4,038 yards and 22 TD's. And an added bonus if the Saints were to sign him: he's an outstanding punt and kick returner, too.
Landry's 400 catches during his first 4 NFL seasons are more than anyone ever, and he'll end up owning the record for most catches after five seasons because he’s only 26 catches away from setting that mark. Additionally, he's now a two-time Pro Bowl selection and believes he’s worth every penny of what his agent has already told the Dolphins he wants.
For the Saints, it would simply come down to how much money they're willing to pony up for a player who would likely become the designated slot receiver in the Saints offense and serve as a complement to #1 WR Michael Thomas.
The catch however is that the Saints are VERY UNLIKELY to give ANY WR more money than Thomas will be getting for his new deal in the near future, making Landry's return back to Louisiana a long shot at this point unless he comes down from his asking price and decides to give New Orleans a "hometown discount".
DONTE MONCRIEF, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Former Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief isn't from Louisiana like Landry, but he is a native of Raleigh, Mississippi — approximately 170 miles northeast of New Orleans (about a 3 hour drive). Moncrief was drafted by the Colts as a junior in the 3rd Round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and has had an "up and down" NFL career already at only age 25.
As Colts.com beat writer Andrew Walker notes: in 2015, in just his 2nd year in the League, Moncrief really began to blossom, as evidenced by his 64 receptions, 733 yards and six touchdowns. As a direct result, most observers felt that the Colts were going to feature one of the best 1-2 punches at wide receiver in the NFL, as the team’s top target — the slick, speedy T.Y. Hilton — was already a perennial Pro Bowler, while Moncrief provided the perfect blend of both speed and size at 6-foot-2 to make big plays all over the field for QB Andrew Luck.
But Walker adds that Moncrief would fall victim to the injury bug the next two seasons, and after appearing in all 16 games his first two years in the league, he’d appear in just nine and 12 games, respectively, in 2016 and 2017. He battled through those issues to catch an impressive seven touchdowns in 2016, but his most recent season last year included career lows in receptions (26) and touchdowns (two).
However, Moncrief still has PLENTY of potential, and at 25, he has also has the time to improve but has to show everyone that he isn't injury-prone (as he's been labeled). Some Saints fans will remember that coming out of Ole Miss, Moncrief was projected to blossom into a NFL "superstar". Could a "change of scenery" and playing "close to home" for the Saints, be the impetus for Moncrief to get his career back on track?
PAUL RICHARDSON, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Despite Richardson's "break out" 2017 season last year for the Seahawks, ESPN 710 AM Radio Seattle's John Clayton doesn't believe the team will pay a top dollar amount to keep him in the Pacific Northwest. Last Thursday, the well-respected and long-time NFL analyst speculated that the Seahawks would only be willing to give Richardson $5.5 million per year but wouldn't go above $6 million. Clayton noted that it was his belief their organization would rather save that extra money and instead pay wide star wide receiver Tyler Lockett when his contract is due to expire at the end of 2018.
Richardson, the Seahawks' 2nd Round Draft pick back in 2014, only turns 26 in April; and just like Moncrief of Indianapolis has tremendous upside, which is assuming he can stay healthy. The Saints seemingly could and would outbid Seattle for his services if they feel Richardson could flourish in their offense in New Orleans.
The oft-injured Richardson has put together back-to-back healthy seasons for the first time since his junior year in college in 2013, with last season being his best. The former University of Colorado star burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2014 with 29 catches and a touchdown, looking like he just might be the future at wide receiver in Seattle. Unfortunately, he ended up tearing his ACL in the playoffs that season and only played in one game in 2015.
After being limited to a back-up role (21 receptions, 1 TD) in 2016 as his knee fully recovered, Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, and it would be very interesting to see what the speedy Southern California native could potentially do at the slot position in a high-powered offensive attack like the Saints have.
SAMMY WATKINS, LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams are more than likely going to place the Transition Tag on Watkins since it would cost them less money to pay him the average of the Top 10 at a player's position. But players are free to negotiate with other teams, and the original team gets nothing in return if it declines to match an outside offer — which a team like the Saints could potentially make to Watkins if they were so inclined to do so.
ESPN's Rams beat writer Alden Gonzales notes that the Rams gave up a 2018 second-round pick and a valuable depth piece, cornerback E.J. Gaines to snag Watkins away from the Buffalo Bills in a trade last August. Los Angeles would like to keep him for more than one season, but Gonzales says that they would probably be hard-pressed to commit to anything long-term at this point, given his injury history and recent production.
In his first season with the Rams after spending an injury-filled first 3 seasons in Buffalo (2014-2016), Watkins was productive but didn't exactly "set the world on fire", either. He actually stayed healthy in 2017, although he still only finished with only 593 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns but drew just 67 targets, a mark topped by 90 others in the NFL.
Nevertheless, the 6-foot-1, 232 pound Watkins is a former All-American at Clemson University who dominated the competition at the college level, and played a part in the Rams' resurgence last year (12-4 and the NFC West Division title), and still has the ability to become a serious weapon within the right situation for the right team. If the Rams don't Transition Tag him, the Saints could make him an offer, assuming that the Dallas Cowboys (who are said to be his biggest admirer) don't outbid everyone for his services.
2018 NFL DRAFT
CHRISTIAN KIRK, TEXAS A&M
As of this very moment (a lot can change between now and April ), the top 2 WR's in the 2018 NFL Draft Class — Courtland Sutton of SMU and Calvin Ridley of Alabama — are both expected to already be "off the board" when the Saints finally pick in the 1st Round at #27 overall. So we begin first with the talented Christian Kirk of Texas A&M, who likely would have been ranked ahead of Sutton and Ridley in this year's WR class were it not for the fact that the Aggies essentially had horrible play from the QB position last year.
In spite of that, Kirk still managed to make 71 catches for 919 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017; and also has the ability to "take it to the house" on kick and punt returns. .Kirk finished his three-year career with 234 receptions for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns. Additionally, he had six punt return touchdowns and one kickoff returned for a score.
NFL.com NFL Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah says that Kirk is a compact, muscled-up WR who's built like a running back and plays in the slot as well as outside. He's an exceptional route runner, understands how to leverage defensive backs, sell double-moves and cleanly enter/exit the break point. He also has strong hands and tracks the ball smoothly, does a lot of work in the middle of the field and doesn't let heavy traffic affect his concentration.
Jeremiah compares Kirk to Lions WR Golden Tate and believes he can have similar success. If he falls far enough in Round #1 to where the Saints are picking, it could be hard for New Orleans to pass on a player who seemingly would be the "perfect complement" to Saints #1 WR Michael Thomas.
MICHAEL GALLUP, COLORADO STATE
Gallup set a school record 100 catches in 2017, and had a total of 21 receiving touchdowns and 2,685 receiving yards in his two seasons at Colorado State. He was also a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver, and is playing in this weekend's Senior Bowl as well.
Gallup was also Pro Football Focus's highest graded WR in all of college football in 2017 (with a 92.1 rating), and they placed him on its All-American team. He also earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America and was a second-team selection from the Associated Press.
Oh, and by the way: Moore did it while earning the reputation along the way as a "highlight reel-maker", by making what appeared to be difficult grabs often look easy. That's the opinion of CBS Sports Draft Analyst Chris Trapasso, who notes that Gallup isn't "flashy" but he's a consistent "chain-mover" with top-notch ball skills.
— Draft Analyst (@DraftAnalyst1) January 23, 2018
CSU WR Michael Gallup runs really well. Stops and accelerated in his breaks very efficiently. No wasted movements
— John Sigler (@john_siglerrr) January 23, 2018
As a reference for you older Saints fans: he's this generation's version of former LSU and Saints 1980's WR Eric Martin. He's just NOT going to drop anything thrown his way. Gallup as of now is currently one of the "biggest risers" in recent Mock Drafts (ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. even has him going to the Cowboys at #19), and is just one of a handful of players for the Saints to actually consider taking a WR with their first selection at #27 overall.
JAMES WASHINGTON, JR., OKLAHOMA STATE
The 6-foot, 205 pound Washington had great production during his four years at Oklahoma St., catching 226 passes for 4,472 yards and 39 touchdowns, averaging 19.8 yards per reception as the top target for QB Mason Rudolph, who is also among the best in this year's 2018 Draft Class at the QB position.
The Stamford, Texas native was awarded with the 2017 Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver and was also tabbed as a unanimous All-American. He led the nation with 1,549 receiving yards, as well as 119.2 yards per game. He also led the nation in catches of at least 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards during the 2017 season, and the 4,472 career receiving yards mentioned above rank as the 2nd-highest total in Big 12 Conference history.
USA TODAY Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling says that Washington is smooth route-runner with reliable hands, can beat defenses over the top or after the catch, and his solid frame allows him to work through contact and win contested catches. At worst, Easterling says that he’s a high-end No. 2 receiver at the next level, with a limitless ceiling.
.@CowboyFB WR James Washington showed off his polish as a route-runner yesterday. One of the keys to being a 'deep threat' is having the ability to track the ball & accelerate to it; he has that in spades. #SeniorBowl
— Emory Hunt (@FBallGameplan) January 24, 2018
A potential pairing of Washington and Michael Thomas in the same WR corps would open up a number of possibilities for the Saints offense — although with them having already used this year's 2nd Round pick to move up and draft Alvin Kamara last year — it's hard to imagine that the Saints would take Washington over the "best player available" at the #27 spot.
ANTHONY MILLER, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
Miller will not be participating in this Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile after sustaining an undisclosed injury, but still should have more opportunities to raise his draft stock over the coming months, via the NFL Scouting Combine and his Pro Day in March — where he can prove himself worthy as one of the top players at his position in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Miller finished his career as the Tigers’ all-time leading receiver, hauling in 96 passes for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. And those "eye-popping" numbers last year were the follow-up to his season before in 2016, when he put up nearly identical numbers of 95 catches, 1,434 yards, and another 14 touchdowns.
Fan Sided Factory of Sadness NFL Draft Analyst Sam Penix compares the 5-foot-11, 190 pound Miller to Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown, and says that Miller is extremely quick, can change direction on a dime, and with the ball in his hands, displays great vision and can take a screen pass and break a big gain off of it. Penix adds that Miller’s size makes him appear as a slot receiver, and while he is exceptional there, he also has the ability to be effective on the outside.
This is where not having a 2nd Round pick could potentially hurt the Saints (not that they regret for a single moment having traded up last year for Alvin Kamara), since it's a guarantee that Miller will be long gone before New Orleans is back on the clock again at the end of Round 3.
AUDEN TATE, FLORIDA STATE
Tate — who has been compared to Giants WR Brandon Marshall — led the Seminoles with 10 touchdowns during the 2017 season, becoming only the second FSU receiver since 2007 to have 10 or more. He closed his college career with three TDs in Florida State's win over Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl.
Fan Sided Ebony Bird NFL Draft analyst Chris Schisler says that at 6-foot-5, Tate is a big bodied wide receiver who can go up and get the football, and notes that just about every one of his 16 touchdowns for the Florida State Seminoles was a display of his acrobatic ability. In terms of raw, physical attributes, Schisler says that Tate is unmatched.
Tate's career numbers weren't great because he sat on the bench for a majority of his 3 years with the Seminoles, and didn’t even get on the stat sheet until his 2nd year during his sophomore season in 2016, when he caught 25 passes for 409 yards and 6 touchdowns. Making matters worse: FSU’s starting quarterback went down for the entire season last year, in the opening game against Alabama.
Nevertheless, Tate’s numbers suggest that he has big play capability despite his "late bloomer" reputation among NFL scouts, several of them who feel that Tate would have been wise to remain in college for his senior season in 2018. However, it's probably unlikely that the Saints would take a chance on Tate at #27 since it would be considered a "reach" at this point, unless he has a performance at next month's Scouting Combine that convinces them otherwise.
D.J. MOORE, MARYLAND
Often compared to former NFL superstar WR Steve Smith, Moore might just be the most underrated WR in this year's entire 2018 NFL Draft Class. Coming off his best year at Maryland, Moore had 80 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior for the Terrapins during the 2017 season.
He also won the Richter-Howard Award (given annually to the Big Ten’s best receiver) and was ranked in the Top 10 in every category in Big Ten receiving stats. He finished 1st in receptions, 1st in yards and 6th in touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Moore has drawn rave reviews for his ball skills and run-after-the-catch ability, that will likely see him taken off the board within the Draft's first few rounds.
Canal Street Chronicles NFL Draft Analyst John Sigler says that Moore has all the qualities to thrive in New Orleans, playing bigger than his size and displaying a great catch radius by confidently catching away from his body. He was Maryland’s whole offense last year, catching passes from four different quarterbacks and being the only player on his squad to break the 1,000-yards from scrimmage mark.
Sigler adds that Moore's combination of reliable hands, detail-oriented routes, and big-play potential as a runner both before and after the catch make him almost certain to be an early round pick (he's another one of the "biggest risers" in recent Mock Drafts); but unless the Saints trade up to get back into the 2nd Round, it would seem to be a long shot for New Orleans to still have a chance to snag him at the end of Round 3.
DAURICE FOUNTAIN, NORTHERN IOWA
There are a bunch more of WR's for the Saints to consider in this Draft, but we end our list right here with the young man who many observers consider to be the "biggest sleeper" among this year's 2018 WR Class: Daurice Fountain.
The former Northern Iowa wide receiver, who was regarded as one of the most impressive players last week during practice for the East-West Shrine Game, was named offensive MVP during this past Saturday’s event at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fountain racked up a game-high 61 receiving yards on three catches for the East squad, also adding 40 punt-return yards on two attempts. West knocked off East, 14-10, in the final minutes.
USA TODAY NinersWire Draft Analyst Jerod Brown says that Fountain has unreal athleticism that begins with a rare blend of size and explosiveness. At nearly 6-foot-2, the 22-year old has body control that is prototypical of a number one receiver. Fountain recorded vertical and broad jumps that were 40 inches and 11-foot-1-inch, respectively, and that’s before pre-Combine specific training.
Brown adds that Fountain's "firehose" 34.5-inch arms have NFL scouts talking, and it’s clear to see why teams will be wanting to get a closer look. The elite physical traits aren’t just in one category — they’re all across the board. And Fountain has used that physicality, paired with solid hands and toughness at the catch point, to stand out thus far in the early 'draft season' process.
Fountain racked up 943 yards and 12 touchdowns on 66 receptions in his final season at Northern Iowa, finishing as just the sixth player in program history to be ranked in the Top-10 for catches (150), yards (2,077) and TDs (23). As of now, Fountain is being projected as high as a 3rd Round pick, and could be just the right fit as a "3rd option" for Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the Saints offensive attack in 2018..........