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New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) on the bench against Tampa Bay, Sunday, December 31, 2017, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

It’s stunning how quickly a narrative can change.

At this point last year, you could have argued New Orleans had one of the best groups of wide receivers in the NFL. Brandin Cooks provided the vertical threat, Willie Snead handled everything underneath and Michael Thomas had the rest.

With Cooks now in New England and the still unexplained disappearance of Snead, all that’s left from that group is Thomas, who has become one of the best receivers in the league. New Orleans was prepared to replace Cooks and had already signed Ted Ginn Jr. before executing the trade. Losing Snead wasn’t part of the plan, and it’s possible the team never recovered from the unexpected turn of events.

There is no conspiracy here. Snead had an offseason arrest, was suspended, dealt with an injury when he returned, and just never earned his place back in the offense. For a while, it was hard for him to find snaps. But then they came, and he still couldn’t fully integrate himself back into the offense.

The perception was that Brandon Coleman was a bigger piece of the offense throughout the season, which is true. Coleman caught 23 passes for 364 yards, while Snead pulled in eight passes for 92 yards.

But if we’re just looking at total opportunities without considering context, Snead had more chances to make something happen during the final five games New Orleans played. Coleman only ran 75 routes during those games, while Snead ran 93. Coleman was targeted two more times than Snead during those games.

Even after watching it happen, it is still difficult to fathom how the season played out for Snead. He was a target monster his first two years, having a total of 205 passes thrown his direction. Because of this, and the level of chemistry it appeared he had with quarterback Drew Brees, it seemed legitimate to argue that he would be harder to replace within the offense than Cooks.

Now, there might be different reasons passes didn’t go Snead’s direction even when he was on the field. He might not have been an early read. Maybe he wasn’t getting open. Maybe his chemistry with Brees was off. Something happened. But it is still shocking he only had 16 passes thrown his way throughout the year.

It probably also didn’t help that New Orleans used Thomas more out of the slot this season, as well as Ginn and Coleman, who was the primary player there. But Snead’s drop in production has created an interesting conversation heading into the offseason.

Burning issue

Do the Saints trust Snead to rebound or not? The answer to that question will shape how things go at this position this offseason.

New Orleans needs to figure out of it will tender Snead, and at what level. If the Saints plan on protecting the restricted free agent, they need to figure out if he can be relied upon to fulfill a bigger role next season.

Coleman is also a restricted free agent. It would be a surprise if New Orleans doesn’t try to keep him.

Either way, the Saints could enter the offseason in need of a wide receiver. It’s not a must, and there are some other intriguing options on the roster, such as Austin Carr, but some upgrades and competition would be welcome.

Can't guard Mike

There weren’t many players in the NFL who ran a route better than Thomas ran the slant last season.

The Saints receiver led all receivers with 15 or more targets on slants with an 84 percent completion rate (21 catches on 25 targets for 213 yards). Sterling Shepard of the Giants ranked second at 81.8 percent, according to Sports Info Solutions.

But Thomas has always been excellent on that route. More interesting was that he became equally proficient on out routes. He caught 82.4 percent of his targets on the route (14-of-17, 106 yards), which ranked second in the league behind New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (14-of-16, 145 yards).

Thomas was only targeted on four out routes as a rookie.

Draft priority

It all depends. The offense will be fine as currently constructed, but New Orleans could look to improve this area or at tight end. Adding to either spot would likely help with some of the consistency issues the offense faced on third downs.


Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​