Update, March 13 at 12:25 p.m.: Report says the Saints are in the process of trading Stills to Miami.
It’s often said that NFL players make the most growth between their first and second years in the league.
So much of that first year is spent figuring things out. Figuring out where the meeting rooms are located. Figuring out how to speak the language in the playbook. Figuring out how to manage money and live on your own and be an adult.
So much time is spent figuring things out instead of absorbing them and thriving — at least not to maximum capacity.
It shouldn’t be a surprise when players make significant leaps in their development between their first and second years. All the basics are installed by that point. Familiarity has been gained. It isn’t until this point that things slow down and players can thrive.
This is what we saw happen with New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills during his second season. Perhaps some of the growth toward becoming a complete receiver last season was the result of being asked to do more as a sophomore, but the numbers and film show he was also in a better position to accomplish those tasks.
This case can be made by simply staying to watch his film and see the different things he was doing as a sophomore as opposed to being a rookie. But perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is to look at the additional routes he ran during his sophomore season.
As a rookie, Stills made his living running go-routes. Of the 46 times he was targeted, 10 of those came when he ran straight down the field, according to numbers provided to The Advocate by Pro Football Focus. His next three most popular routes were crossing (eight targets), hitches (seven) and in-routes (six). He was targeted five or less times on all other routes.
In 2014, Stills made his living in a completely different fashion. He no longer ran straight down the field, and he used his athleticism as his primary weapon. He was asked to be more of a tactician and use his route-running ability to get open.
A perfect example of Stills’ maturation came during a Dec. 21 game against the Atlanta Falcons when Drew Brees went to him twice on third down and again on a fourth down. All three plays resulted in first downs. The routes: out, in, hitch.
This variety shows up the numbers. Stills’ preferred routes as a rookie were used far less during his second season. He was targeted on eight go-routes (10 percent of his total targets) and four crossing routes (five percent).
Instead, his most popular and effective routes were hitches. He was targeted on 23 of these (29 percent) and caught 21 of the passes for 222 yards. These were followed by out-routes (10 catches on 15 targets), go-routes, and quick outs (five catches on seven targets). Stills was also targeted five times each on in-routes (five catches), comebacks (four catches), and post routes (two catches).
But even with the increased variety, Stills remained deadly on go-routes last season. He made eight catches on 10 targets for 254 yards and scored three touchdowns on these plays. Brees’ 156.3 quarterback rating when throwing to Stills on go-routes was his highest rating on any route by any receiver or tight end on the roster.
Brees’ 112 rating when throwing to Stills was his highest rating with any wide receiver. Brees posted a 136.7 rating when throwing to tight end Josh Hill.
Some of the need to have Stills run a greater variety of routes can be attributed to the departure of Lance Moore. In 2013, Moore was targeted on 16 hitches, 11 out-routes, and six quick outs. But the greater factor appears to be the result of Stills maturing as a receiver.
That’s what happens when you stop figuring and start doing.
Saints to bring in DT Langford
The Saints have scheduled a visit with former Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who is getting a fair amount of attention since being released last week.
Langford met with Detroit on Tuesday and has an upcoming visit scheduled with the New York Jets. He will then meet with New Orleans, according to ESPN.
Langford has recorded 15½ career sacks and 242 tackles over seven seasons split between the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis. His best season came in 2013 when he recorded five sacks and 49 tackles.
Known more for his run defense, Langford recorded 13 run stuffs last season playing 494 of 1,078 snaps for St. Louis.
Langford is free to sign with any team, so if his visit in New York goes well, he might not make it to New Orleans.
The Saints currently have Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins under contract at defensive tackle.