Today we look at a position group that's been fairly depleted over the last few years in terms of talent. Robert Meachem bolted for San Diego, Devery Henderson got too old, and Adrian Arrington never really panned out. What's left behind a couple reliable but aging starters is a slew of youngsters with some ability but lots of unknowns. I view the receiving corp as a pretty wide open battle with so many unproven players. Predicting how this plays out in terms of the 53 man roster is difficult, but the Saints need someone to emerge as a clear cut #4 for this offense to continue to perform at the peak level. Here are the players:
Marques Colston: The quiet storm continues to be as effective and solid as ever. He did have some drop and fumble issues at times last season, but he continues to be largely very reliable. He provides a huge target for Brees that moves the chains and regardless of how well covered he is, Brees will never fear to fit a ball in a tight window for him because of his belief he'll use his frame to make the play over a smaller corner. He's eclipsed 1,000 yards in 6 of his 7 seasons as a Saint. His blocking is also a major asset. He's an unquestioned starter.
Lance Moore: Moore is a terrific playmaker with great hands, but perhaps his most underestimated quality is his route running ability which is as good as anyone in the league. Moore quietly eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last season and he's emerged as one of the team's go to targets. His slight frame is of course the negative, but he does a good job of avoiding big hits most of the time. He's also an unquestioned starter.
Joe Morgan: Before the DUI this offseason I would have told you he's a lock as the #3 receiver. While that casted a tiny cloud of doubt over his standing, I feel reasonably confident that's still the case. He only caught 10 passes last year but really made them count, averaging 37.9 yards per grab. He does a good job of stretching the field with his speed and figures to have a much increased role this year with Devery Henderson gone. The big question is whether he can do much else besides run deep routes as a receiver. I will say his blocking has come a long way and he was much improved in that department as the season wore on, which allows him to see the field more in different situations. I think he's a roster lock, but if he continues to be one dimensional in what he brings to the table, I could see another player emerging to leap frog him as the #3. Still, his play making ability is too good to ignore and his roster spot is virtually a lock.
Courtney Roby: The special teams ace is a roster lock due to his captaincy and prowess with that unit. He always seems to see an extended amount of playing time during the preseason at receiver, look reasonably good, only to never see the field on offense when the games start to count. He doesn't have great hands and doesn't run great routes, though. I still think he's good enough to help in spot duty on offense, but his role with this team is clearly as a gunner and not much else. He does offer a nice blocking complement to the running game. When he is on the field on an offensive play the Saints utilize him most in that capacity.
Nick Toon: Toon spent his rookie season on IR and will try to use that redshirt season of sorts to bounce back and prove he's ready to become one of the top four guys. His pedigree, being the son of Al Toon, is certainly a bonus in his favor. Toon reminds me a bit of Colston because of his big frame, they are roughly the same size. Colston seems to be a bit longer and lean, though, while Toon's build is a bit more compact and rounded. He can still use his massive frame to impose on corners, though, and he does have a bit more speed than Colston. Consistency will be the main key for him, like so many others. The talent and potential is very high. I believe he'll make the roster, but he's battling for that last spot or two with many others.
Andy Tanner: The Saints know what they will get from Tanner. He is extremely reliable and the ideal training camp receiver. He will give it 110% every day and do everything right, which is great influence on the other young receivers competing for a job. He also has great hands, and while he's limited physically (slight of size and fairly slow) he's one of those guys that will make all the other players on the roster earn their spot. The quarterbacks like him, too, because he has good hands and he's always in the right spot. He was very close to earning a roster spot last year before wrecking his ankle in the last week of the preseason. Sometimes it's hard for a guy like Tanner to make the team when there's hope so many other guys with superior skills will put it together, but Tanner is a talent maximizer. Tanner has been a mainstay on the scout team and practice squad the last few years and he'll be vying to finally break through to the active roster this time around. I don't think he makes the team because if you're going to be backup you either need to be good on special teams (which he's not) or be unique enough to keep around (like Toon with his rare combination of size and speed). Tanner doesn't offer that. But he's definitely got a shot after coming so close to making the team last year.
Kenny Stills: Like so many of his predecessors, that is, promising young rookie receivers, I think he's destined for IR in year one as a "redshirt season". Still has unique speed which makes him valuable to this team, both now and in the future. I've always said this offense is best when it has two guys that can stretch the field, which Meachem and Henderson used to provide. The Saints have one in Morgan, but they would love for a second guy to emerge. Stills definitely has the top end speed to possibly be that guy. He'll need to show he's able to develop other areas of his game quickly, though.
Jarred Fayson: Fayson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie by the Saints, but after getting cut he spent the 2011 season on the Colts' practice squad, and the 2012 on the Patriots' practice squad. That means he's been around Peyton Manning (who didn't play in 2011 but was around the Colts facility), Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Pretty spoiled three years of quarterback pedigree to surround yourself with right there. I think he's a long shot to make the team, but he seems like a dark horse underground favorite for a lot of fans.
Chris Givens: Not to be confused with Chris Given the Rams' receiver, he was an undrafted rookie with the Saints last season that didn't make the team. Givens is a possession receiver with decent size and ok speed. He's likely a camp body.
Saalim Hakim: Az Hakim's little brother is rumored to be the fastest player on the entire roster. He lacks experience at any level with football, but clearly it's in his genes and he has blazing speed. He has 4.2 40 speed, no joke. Jeff Duncan wrote a good article on Hakim recently that makes me wonder if he does have a shot at making this roster? Hakim was on the Saints' active roster last year for the final two games. And because he's such a devout muslim character won't be an issue with this guy. He'll have to show he can do something besides run in preseason during live games, though. I would love to see him make the team but he feels like a developmental project, perhaps meaning practice squad.
Brent Leonard: Leonard hails from UL-Monroe as an undrafted rookie free agent, so it's hard not to root for the guy as a semi local product. He's got nice size and seems to be a possession receiver with some skill. He is a long shot to make the team.
Preston Parker: Parker will bring good competition to the receiving core as an NFL veteran that's had some success in the league. He spent his three year career so far with the Bucs, and in 2011 had a 40 catch, 554 yard, 3 touchdown season. He was also their primary return man that year, averaging 9.1 yards per punt return and 22.0 yards per kick return. So he has experience and NFL pedigree for sure, and he's still young. His special teams ability is an added bonus that gives him a better shot at making the roster. He does have a majorly checkered past from his college days, so it remains to be seen if he fits in the team's model from a character standpoint. I think he'll compete and has a decent shot at making the team, but ultimately gets cut.
Prediction: Colston, Moore, Morgan and Roby are all virtual locks. Beyond that I think the Saints will keep one or two more. Nick Toon and Kenny Stills may have some advantage based on draft status but it's otherwise a crapshoot. I believe Stills ends up on IR in year one and Nick Toon makes the roster. Saalim Hakim is a sleeper pick, too, with his ridiculous wheels.