METAIRIE — To be sure, former Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson could have picked an NFL team that needed more help at his position when undrafted free agents were allowed to sign contracts last week.
Despite being passed over in the April draft, a month after posting a time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day workout, it didn’t take Fayson (pronounced Face-in) much longer than that to say yes to an offer from the New Orleans Saints.
But the Saints depth at wide receiver could have intimidated a lot of college players looking for an opportunity, especially when you consider coach Sean Payton has them stacked like cordwood for Drew Brees.
Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem — a group that’s been together since 2007 — all contributed in the team’s run to a Super Bowl XLIV win, and Adrian Arrington has been trying to crack the formidable rotation since 2008.
“This is the place I wanted to be,” Fayson said when asked about other offers. “They have some really, really good receivers here, and I wanted to come here to learn and try to earn a roster spot. Most importantly, I want to learn how to become a pro in this type of organization.”
That’s definitely easier said than done. But in the first week of camp, Fayson, a 6-foot, 215-pounder, and youngsters like Joseph Morgan and John Chiles had an opportunity to get extra reps.
Fayson turned some heads in the first few practices, catching two passes that he turned into long gains on the first day of camp and snatching another nice ball on the second day.
Payton said Fayson and Morgan caught his eye early in camp.
“They run well, first off … they have very good timed speed,” Payton said. “(Fayson) is a guy that can run. I like his stature. I will be anxious to track him during the course of this camp. He was a guy that was one of our targeted free agents, and I’m glad he’s with us.”
Fayson, a high school quarterback, was heralded as one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of Tampa, Fla., in 2006. But after seeing limited playing time at wide receiver and running back in two seasons at the University of Florida, he transferred to Illinois.
He chose the Illini because coach Ron Zook, a former Saints defensive coordinator, recruited him when Zook was the head coach at Florida.
At Illinois, Fayson didn’t exactly light up defenses, however, catching 54 passes for 573 yards with two touchdowns — including 38 receptions for 355 yards and one score as a senior.
It wasn’t enough to warrant an invitation to the NFL combine workouts.
When you consider he didn’t have that, or the opportunity to sign with a team after the draft, keeping him from rookie minicamp, classroom study and organized team activities, Fayson is playing catch-up.
As such, he doesn’t want to venture a guess to how he’s doing so far.
“It’s kind of hard to judge because I’m still in the learning process and the process of becoming a pro,” he said. “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and learn the playbook so I can play faster.
“(Coaches) don’t tell you anything, but it’s not really expected. You’re expected to come out and make plays and catch the ball consistently, because that’s what wide receivers do.”
Brees didn’t mind talking about one of his new receivers — especially one from the Big Ten — identifying him as a guy that’s stood out.
“I’ve been really impressed with Fayson,” said Brees, a Purdue grad. “I will note that he’s from the Big Ten, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s come out here and looked as good as he has.
“It doesn’t surprise me to see some young guys, especially young, undrafted guys, come in and relish the opportunity to get better and find a spot. Fayson is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets with every snap.”
Even though it’s still early in camp, that’s quite a ringing endorsement from a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Fayson said Brees, as well as Colston, Henderon and Meachem, are constantly giving him pointers on the field and in meetings — telling him what he needs to do to get open.
He’s especially been impressed with Brees’ leadership and tutelage.
“If you want to know how to become a perfect pro, just keep your eyes on that guy,” Fayson said. “How he carries himself, how he operates the team. He’s just a great pro to be around and to learn from.”
That’s good, because learning is what he came here to do.