If you thought that the annually top-ranked, high-powered New Orleans Saints offense was one of the NFL's very best last year with young superstar players such as Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, just imagine putting another dimension with it by adding a brand new player who last season had an insane 13 touchdown receptions on only 59 catches and averaged 19.9 yards per catch.
It'd probably make you sick to your stomach if you're an NFL defensive coordinator. That's likely what the situation will be for opponents in the upcoming season ahead that's set to get underway in less than a month and a half from now, when they have to face the young man who potentially can become the "new sensation" of the Saints offense: rookie WR Tre'Quan Smith.
Out of his 168 career catches, 41 of Smith's receptions went for 20-plus yards, establishing him as an elite-caliber downfield threat, which surprisingly came despite Smith's lack of top-end "deep speed".
At the NFL Combine, Smith only ran a 4.49 40; which isn't necessarily the type of speed that you'd typically want in a deep threat / downfield target wide receiver.
But obviously when he's on the field, Smith has a "2nd gear" that allowed him to consistently blow past some of college football's better defenders during his time at the University of Central Florida.
One of the reasons that he wasn't drafted higher than where the Saints were able to grab him with the 91st overall pick in Round 3, is because Smith is still actually learning HOW to play the WR position, and scouts feel that he still has some growing to do in other areas such as hand-eye coordination and route-running.
A former basketball player and track star, Smith still needs to learn the nuances of the position and must get used to attacking all of the field, instead of just down along the sidelines — where a majority of Smith's big plays occurred for the Golden Knights from 2015 to 2017.
Smith spent three seasons on the UCF campus based in Orlando; where the Golden Knights program was a self-proclaimed national champion last year after going 13-0 to conclude the 2017 season.
Smith "broke out" by tallying 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 59 total receptions last year, which is pretty remarkable since it means that he averaged a ridiculous 19.8 yards per catch.
Those numbers led the team in catches, yards and TDs, and was named to the All-AAC 1st Team.
The Golden Knights finished the season with an undefeated record (13-0), but weren't chosen to compete in the College Football Playoffs.
But they were extended an invitation to the Peach Bowl, where Smith really opened eyes and LITERALLY caught nearly everything thrown in his direction in the final quarter.
It was that game that may have erased any lingering doubts about his ability, and it was one of the main reasons why Smith chose to leave UCF early and declared for the 2018 NFL Draft.
That decision was made easier at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine this past February, when Smith's 40-yard dash time, vertical jump and broad jump still measured better than current NFL stars such as Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown.
And now since arriving in NOLA, Smith has worked exclusively at times with both wide receivers coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson and head coach Sean Payton throughout OTA's and Mini-Camp, and the likelihood is that the staff will find a way to "carve out" a role for him within the parameters of the team's passing game at some point.
“He's long. He's athletic in and out of his cuts. (He) Still needs to work on his lower body strength but he's handled the install well,” Payton said during the Rookie Mini-Camp back in early May. “I think he's a quick study. He's big and he's doing a good job."
Smith will be reporting to Camp next week where he's expected to hopefully become a quick-study alongside receivers Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., and Cam Meredith, while looking to get as many possible reps that he can with quarterback Drew Brees.
The camp battle between himself and 33-year old veteran Ginn to become the designated deep ball target / downfield option in particular, should be one of the most fun to watch this Summer.
Make absolutely no mistake about it: this kid has HUGE potential — especially in the following Saints seasons that still lie ahead in the future.
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill made the observation recently that the long-term "fit" of Smith within the Saints offensive scheme, could become very interesting. Underhill says that Smith did a little bit of everything in college last season; and the offense he is coming from relied heavily on screens with downfield passes thrown in.
Underhill adds that Smith provided a high level of value in both aspects, mainly by being a strong blocker and getting deep. He proved adept on go, post, seam, deep crossing and corner routes the past two seasons, which makes him an obvious candidate to run some deeper routes, something that Ginn, who caught 75.7 percent of the passes thrown to him last season, does well.
Smith also could play a role in who makes the team as the fifth receiver, if New Orleans chooses to keep one. Additionally, Underhill notes that Smith's blocking ability could change some things that Payton and the team look for, from that spot.
Smith in the past has been singled out for his elite blocking skills; and in fact, an anonymous scout told Rotoworld that Smith "may have" been the best blocking wide receiver he saw in the entire 2018 draft class. Underhill says that blocking is an essential element in the New Orleans offense, considering how often the team likes to run the ball and throw screen passes.
Clearly that's an area where Smith excels, and although current #4 WR Brandon Coleman has always been the Saints "primary" run-blocking receiver in the past, Smith could very well assume that role designation as well.
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) November 14, 2017
Underhill says that the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith looks like he’s a "fit" in the Saints offense, but the question is if he can steal snaps from one of the team’s other receivers, as a rookie. If Smith is able to get up to speed quickly, there's a scenario where he could push to eat into their snaps.
Underhill also notes that fellow WR and recent free agent signee Cam Meredith will need to prove that he’s healthy after recovering from a severe knee injury suffered when he played for the Chicago Bears; and while the 33-year old Ginn had a good season, there’s also a scenario where Smith could eat into Ginn's role depending on the situation(s).
One thing is for sure: Payton has a lot of weapons, and a lot of different ways that he can use them. Underhill adds that Payton now just has to figure out the best ways to cause issues for defensive coordinators.
And utilizing his "newest sensation" in the offense is one of them.
Well that's the reason why I'm here
Are you ready for a new sensation, new sensation
Gonna take you on a new sensation, new sensation
A new sensation, a new sensation
A new sensation
Smith was always a potential draft target of the team's scouting department throughout the 2018 Draft process; and when General Manager Mickey Loomis was asked at his post-selection press conference if the team drafted Smith due to concerns with their current wide receiving corps, he brushed off that idea and said that it simply was a case where Smith was THE best available player on the Draft Board at that exact moment.
“No. No. I think this is a case where at the point in the draft where we were at this was a player that was graded the highest in the group where we were," Loomis explained. "I wouldn’t say there was a glaring hole (on the roster) or anything like that. This was a player we liked a lot and we’re glad to have him.”
The Saints apparently had Smith on their radar early in the off-season, and Loomis credited the scouting deparment for their work in evaluating the young prospect.
“Our scouting department had high grades on this guy. They talked about him early on. . .He’s was impressive in the interviews we had with him. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl also.”
As for Smith himself, he just wants to get to work and do the best that he can, but he too is aware of the new role that he can assume as the team's probable brand new #4 WR on the depth chart.
"They want to throw the ball. I know Drew Brees is a great quarterback, terrific quarterback. They want to get the ball downfield and score touchdowns. They want to get the ball in play-makers hands. And my job is to come in there and do what is best for the team", Smith told reporters after the Draft.
"I want to come there and build a great relationship with Drew Brees, build a connection, that receiver-quarterback connection.”
He'll get that opportunity, for certain. The only question now is when and how often.