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NFL Draft

Who Will Emerge From Training Camp As Saints’ Top WR?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 7, 2021
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Training camp battles come in all locations and positions along the depth chart. Some have to deal with the starting quarterback, the most important position in the game. There are still a few teams who don’t quite know which guy is going to take that first snap at quarterback for them in Week 1. Then there are battles for the front of rotations, such as running back, tight end, or interior defensive line. There are also the classic general roster spot battles, as players giving their all for the final few spots on the active 53-man roster.

Any camp battle is fun to follow, but today we get to talk about one of the purist camp battles you’ll find, where, down in New Orleans, the Saints are trying to figure out who among their group is going to be the WR1, WR2, WR3, and beyond.

The Saints were certainly hoping they were going to get their go-to receiver Michael Thomas back for a full season in 2021 after Thomas only started five games last year due to injury. It was the first time in his five-year career that he hadn’t played at least 15 games in a season. But unfortunately, Thomas waited to have ankle surgery until June and because of this, he’ll miss significant time going into the regular season. This means that not only is the top wide receiver spot open for the Saints, their entire passing game plan will be, too.

On the Saints’ depth chart at wide receiver, we have Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Kawaan Baker, Juwan Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Jake Lampman, Jalen McCleskey, and Easop Winston Jr. Of these players, Smith saw 50 targets last season, Callaway saw 27, Harris saw 25, Johnson saw 10, Humphrey saw five, and Lewis saw just three.

In theory, Smith would likely step in as the team’s No, 1 receiver. Smith has primarily been a slot receiver for the Saints, though last season he almost saw an even split between outside work and slot work. Smith has missed some time this training camp, reports saying it’s due to an apparent leg injury, but it doesn't seem like something that will have his Week 1 status in jeopardy.

Then there’s Callaway, who, first and foremost, changed his jersey number to No. 1 this season, showing a great sense of aesthetic judgment—look good, play good. But he’s also been the focus of some encouraging words from his head coach. 

"This camp wouldn't be the proper evaluation, but last season would be," Payton said. "[Marquez] played a pretty significant role for us down the stretch when we had some injuries, and I felt like he kind of came into his own a little bit.

"You saw him in each of those games toward the end of the season gaining confidence, playing well. Now early on (in training camp), he's doing the same thing but I think we saw growth last year and I'm encouraged with where he's at."

As Thomas recovers and hopefully can join the team sooner rather than later, Smith and Callaway appear to be the best bets for the team’s top-two receiving options. Harris would likely be next in line, but he, too, has missed some practice time in camp, so that is worth monitoring. Harris went undrafted in 2019, but signed with the Saints after the draft and has been in their system ever since. In that 2019 season, Harris was the leader in punt returns, combined returns, and punt return yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

There’s no doubt that it’s a wide-open wide receiver competition in New Orleans. Regardless of where you were drafted, the Saints are in a position where they have to put whoever can help them the most out there right away. It’s a great opportunity for a young group of players to make a name for themselves.

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