No team in the NFL had fewer passing yards per game than the New Orleans Saints in 2021. There were a few reasons for this—quarterback instability after Jameis Winston’s injury, the season-long absence of receiver Michael Thomas and a high run-play percentage—but their lack of a deep-threat receiver was one of the biggest. That’s what puts rookie receiver Chris Olave in one of the best positions to thrive among all NFL rookies in 2022.
Coming out of Ohio State, Olave had always been touted as one of the best receiving prospects in this year’s draft class. He’s an elite route-runner with a high football IQ, a great ability to separate, and some upside in generating yards after the catch. As a result, Olave has the potential to create big plays as a deep-threat receiver or even by generating extra yards once the ball is in his hands. That big-play ability was even further underscored by a strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in March with his 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds placing him firmly in the top 10 receivers who participated.
Now that Winston is back after suffering a knee injury halfway through the 2021 season, the Saints’ passing attack under offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael should be a stronger piece of New Orleans’ offense than it was last year. Winston has a proven ability to sling the ball downfield when asked to do so, and Olave presents him with the perfect target to throw to in those opportunities. Over three out of four seasons and under two different quarterbacks at Ohio State, Olave boasted an average depth of target longer than 15 yards. From 2019 to 2021, Olave led college football with 19 touchdowns on targets 20 or more yards downfield.
Not only does Olave have the exact skill set the Saints have been looking for, but he also has a receiver room full of talented mentors. Thomas should (finally) be back healthy for the 2022 season after missing a season and a half with an ankle injury, and the Saints brought in veteran receiver Jarvis Landry in free agency.
Olave might have to fight for some targets in his first year as a pro with the extra talent New Orleans will have on the outside after a lackluster 2021, but he’ll also have the chance to learn from a couple of the NFL’s most experienced pass-catchers. If Olave establishes himself during training camp or early in the season as the Saints’ best deep-threat target, he may not even have to fight for many targets after all.
The Saints have gone a few years since they’ve been able to take advantage of a receiver with the skill set Olave has. The waning years of Drew Brees featured a steady decline in average depth of target; that’s why Thomas made a name for himself catching short passes and creating yards with the ball in his hand. Last year, New Orleans passed the ball less frequently than 28 other teams in the NFL and didn’t have their starting quarterback for more than half of the season.
In 2022, Olave will bring his elite route-running and big-play ability to the Big Easy and pair it with a quarterback known for his rocket arm. With that duo will likely come a much stronger Saints passing game and the potential to compete with Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a division title.
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