2019 Summer Positions Breakdown: WR and Michael Thomas is About to Get Paaaaaaaid

The look on number 33’s face is the only thing more beautiful than Michael Thomas here

Alright, alright, alright. This is gonna be huge and exciting! I was gonna combine wide receivers and tight ends, and then I looked at the current roster and saw 13 receivers and 5 tight ends!! So uh yeah I’ll just stick to receivers here. This is by far the largest summer group competition. And the reality is that there’s, at most, 4 spots available for 11 of these guys to compete for. 9 of the 11 receivers qualify for the practice squad so there’s that. Except that a practice squad only has 10 total spots, aaaaaand can’t be filled until cut players clear waivers. Have I bored you yet? Yes? Well hold your breath a bit longer, and let’s get to know these new faces that won’t matter in a few months! But first…

THE DEFINITES

Michael Thomas (6’3″, 212 lbs) Fun Stat: had 97 more catches in 2018 (125 total, most in the NFL) than the Saints receiver with the second most (Tre’quan Smith, 28 receptions)

This man is about to get paaaaaaaaaaaid!!! The latest reports is that his agent is asking for $22 mil a year. He deserves every penny. Can Loomis pull it off and not break the Saints’ piggy bank? That’s the real question. But Mickey has proven time and again that he’s a magician with money. By that I mean he makes money problems disappear and then reappear years later. Michael Thomas will be the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL before training camp. For 5 minutes.

Ted Ginn, Jr. (5’11” aka “a Drew Brees’ 6 feet”, 180 lbs) Fun facts: in his lucky 13th season at age 34, Ginn is the O.G. of the 5 Ohio State Buckeyes on the team. Can you name all 5 without looking it up?

Ginn is coming off of a knee injury that curbed his numbers last season, and despite being 34 years old, his steady production was missed. Mark my words, Ted Ginn, Jr will be a Saints starter in 2019, but will he be #2? He’ll need his speed and decent hands, and cowering from a high schooler named “White Lightning” (Who looks nothing like Burt Reynolds by the way) does not instill confidence as a fan.

Tre’quan Smith (6′ 2″, 210 lbs) Fun Stat: had the second most receiving TDs in 2018 with 5 (Thomas had 9, Kamara had 4)

This guy has so much potential, it’s ridiculous. The elephant in the room has been “can he make that year 2 leap?” By all accounts I’ve heard and read, there’s nothing to say he can’t. It’s Tre’quan’s spot to lose, and he could potentially break out as the true number 2 receiver. He had some great flashes last season, but his footwork and separation left a lot to be desired. But those issues are VERY correctable, and between that and learning the playbook, Smith could see a lot of action in 2019. Fingers crossed because Tre’quan is a much more exciting name than…

Keith Kirkwood (6′ 3″, 210 lbs) Fun fact: it took 5 Saints players going down with injuries to promote Kirkwood to the 4th receiver slot by the end of 2018.

Lemme take a moment to explain the improbable journey of Keith Kirkwood. The short of it is that he was all but primed to be a star basketball guard out of high school, but wanted to take a chance on football. He had several basketball scholarship offers, but didn’t want to graduate high school without having tried his hand at football. Keith’s parents were less than thrilled and argued with him about his future. It was Kirkwood’s aunt who forged his mother’s signature on a permission slip so he could start playing. That move changed his path forever. Kirkwood was an instant star his senior year in high school, and went on to be a standout at Temple. He went undrafted in 2018, got picked up by the Saints, cut, cleared waivers, added to the practice squad, promoted to the active roster, and here we are. I added all this to emphasize two things: one is that the guy is a late surge talent like a Jimmy Graham, and two, this is a guy you want to root for. It doesn’t matter to me that his name sounds like someone that approved my car loan. Touchdowns and ball skills speak volumes. This kid has got the goods. But he’s gotta work his ass off to stay here.

THE MAYBES

Cameron Meredith (6′ 3″, 207 lbs) Fun Stat: was the leading receiver in 2016 for the Chicago Bears with 888 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns.

I’m extremely hesitant to put Meredith here, because he sat through OTAs after recovering from a second surgery on his left knee. But! If Cam Meredith can show up healthy to training camp (big if) then he’ll have a good shot at making the roster at the fifth spot. If he can’t participate at the start of training camp, then he’s done. He’ll be Brandon Coleman 2.0. No other receiver is teetering on the fence as much as Cam Meredith. His upside is exactly what Payton or any coach wants: young, talented, and playing experience because you don’t have to wait and develop that player. And a Meredith that could get back into form could be just that.

Rishard Matthews (6′, 217 lbs) Fun fact: asked to be released from his contract with the Titans after a notable drop in his play time in 2018.

Man did Saints Twitterverse go nuts when this guy joined. I chose that factoid above because I think the biggest question about Matthews is going to be attitude and chemistry. As a former UDFA and like Meredith, he had an early breakout in his career when he was still with the Titans. In 2016, Matthews had his best season to date, putting in just shy of a 1,000 yard season (945). And now he’s become a bit of a journeyman receiver, entering training camp on his 4th team at age 29. Rishard has never sustained any major injuries, but he’s had several smaller, nagging issues dating back to college. “Well what athletes haven’t had injuries by 30, Jed?”, you ask. More than you’d imagine, but solid point, faithful reader! But for a guy trying to make a team all over again, he’s coming in with a history of getting banged up, questionable attitude issues, and declining football youth. He’s sort of a Donté Stallworth type. He can play slot and wide out. He can be an occasional deep threat. One interesting note: Rishard has college and pro return experience. That could be a little caveat to help him make the squad. But Matthews will have to prove himself all over again. That’s no small task. And to be a Saint, he’ll have to prove he can be a veteran leader and turn that baditude into positive swagger, in addition to being a valuable contributor.

Emmanuel Butler (6′ 4″, 220 lbs) Fun stats: holds 2 single season records for most yards (1,208) and touchdowns (15) at Northern Arizona University

There’s a lot of upside to like here. His high school went undefeated to win its first state championship. He broke and holds several records at his college. His only injury was a shoulder injury in 2017. He has good character. He’s a great teammate by all accounts. So why is he an undrafted pickup for the Saints? Emmanuel Butler was a tight end in high school. He ended up a receiver at a smaller school because he was too small to be a tight end. He has been seen as “slow” making separation an issue too on a pro level. He did not participate in the combine either. But you know who else sounds a lot like this? Marques Colston. Also, Emmanuel Butler? Great football name.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6′ 4″, 225 lbs, disputed) Fun fact: had his biggest season as a junior at UT which was also his last before declaring for the draft.

Humphrey put up his best season in 2018 before declaring for the draft, dropping 1,176 yards and 9 touchdownse. He has some similarities to Butler, i.e. large and not the quickest, but Lil’s 40 numbers are pretty bad….unless he’s a tight end. Unlike Butler, his measurables add up more to tight end than receiver as he currently stands. And there’s a few theories out there that Payton may keep him around to bulk up and convert into another Dan Arnold type. Regardless, this training camp will be interesting to see (Dates just announced. YAY!). What has been impressive so far though is what he can do after the catch. And that is both exciting in potential and curious in exactly what Sean Payton is dreaming up for him.

Austin Carr (6′ 1″, 194 lbs) Fun Fact: donated stem cells while in college to help a stranger with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Oh Austin. I wanted to put you in the last group, because in my heart I know you shouldn’t make it, but you probably will. He’s our current Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis et al that does just enough to hang around. Austin Carr desperately needs to step it up this offseason, because more talent has shown up, and “good enough” and “strong character” won’t cut it anymore. That’s why I chose that college fact. He’s a great guy, very likable, ok-to-date-your-daughter-type, but his skill set in the NFL is mediocre. His senior year at Northwestern was where Carr peaked, racking up 90 receptions for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the Big 10 in all three categories. He has yet to produce anything that even remotely resembles those numbers, and he’s had both Tom Brady AND Drew Brees throwing at him. Oh Austin.

THE NOT SO LIKELIES

Simmie Cobbs, Jr. (6′ 3″, 220 lbs) Fun fact: quietly joined the roster last December after the Saints waived Brandon Marshall.

The Saints “stole” Cobbs off of the Redskins practice squad, and Cobbs was happy to sign. He feels like one of these “Payton’s longshots”. Sean Payton is always looking for another Pierre Thomas or Marquis Colsten…Who isn’t?? Cobbs was placed on IR with an unspecified knee injury in January, but it felt like more of a security move than a serious injury. The former Hoosier had one 1,000 yard season in 2015, and has been said to have attitude problems plus his combine performance was so so. Hence why he was undrafted, and why I have him listed here. But training camp and preseason could always prove me wrong. He already turned heads during the Redskins’ 2018 preseason, which is why the Saints’ scouts’ collective eyebrows raised in the first place.

Chad Hansen (6′ 2″, 202 lbs) Fun fact: was drafted in the 4th round by the NY Jets in 2017.

This man has gotten around for such a young guy, and he seems to be a magnet for crowded receiver teams, the Saints being no different. After recording a 1,000 yard season at UC Berkeley his junior year, Hansen decided to declare for the draft. The Jets cut him after one year. The Pats tried him for a spell in 2018 before he ended up on the Titans’ practice squad and the Broncos’ practice squad. And now the Saints are giving him a look. Ultimately, I think Chad is a day late and a dollar short for this squad. He would’ve fared better here when we were trying to put Brandon Marshall’s corpse out on the field.

Cyril Grayson, Jr (5′ 9″, 183 lbs) Fun facts: was born in Metry, grew up in “Kennabrah”, a Rummel grad, AND a former LSU trackstar?? All true!

We’ve got ourselves a homer, folks!! If moxie and gumption were all you needed to star in the NFL, Cyril Grayson, Jr would be a household name. He’s doing everything possible to make the cut: puts head down, works hard, trains constantly, listens to coaches, etc. He runs a 4.3 40. That’s fun. Two major problems: he’s small and has virtually no football experience. He’s like a Trindon Holliday with less experience. He finagled his way onto LSU’s pro day. That’s how he was able to get in front of enough scouts to ultimately get picked up by Seattle as an UFDA. He got cut, but undeterred, Cyril walked on and he’s here trying to make the cut.

Deonte Harris (5′ 6″, 170 lbs) Fun stat: had 14 special teams touchdowns in college, the most in NCAA history.

Boy, you wanna talk about a long shot. But maaaaaaaan, this kid has some fun college videos. Deonte went to a small Division II school in Worcester, Massachusetts called Assumption. You might say that his success was because he was at a smaller school. And you’re not wrong to think that. He’s small. Also true. He could also be a Tommylee upgrade. In the least, Harris could have a fun preseason reel. Don’t believe me? Look him up.

RECLINE’S PROJECTED LINEUP

13 men listed at wide receiver. I’ll project 6 on the roster, and not speculate the practice squad. When you get to delve into these players’ backgrounds, it makes you want to root for them. But as we all know, the NFL rosters are tough nuts to crack, and the end of preseason waivers see a huge shuffle in personnel and practice squad pickups. That said, let’s take a look (this is barring injuries of course, eesh I hate even typing the “I” word):

1. Michael Thomas (obvious)

2. Tre’quan Smith (makes the year 2 leap)

3. Keith Kirkwood (continues to impress)

4. Ted Ginn, Jr (age and decline won’t be enough to boot him yet, but this is likely his last season as a Saint, possibly a player)

5. Emmanuel Butler (very smart, fast learner, and too valuable to leave to the waivers)

6. Austin Carr (god damn it)

Lil’Jordan could take that 6th spot, but I agree with some other writers that they’re looking to beefcake him into a tight end. If they’re successful, he would be better than Dan Arnold, while Dan Arnold becomes the next Josh Hill. But where does Alizé Mack and Garrett Griffin fit into that mix?? Tune in for the next installment: Tight ends!!

WHEW!!! That was a long ass blog. The receiver corp will be the most exciting competition of training camp by far. Good luck to all these guys, and thank you reader for toughing it out to the end!

**Like my blog? Hate my blog? Got questions? Hit me up with your questions and comments on Twitter @saintsrecline or email me at saintsrecline@gmail.com**

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