Sean Payton preaches faith in Saints WR’s: ‘I’m not interested in your PFF grades’

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Let’s start with the facts. The New Orleans Saints won’t have Michael Thomas leading their receiving corps this season.

Sean Payton acknowledged the Saints could need another receiver, admitting that the team looked into a couple different players before the NFL trade deadline. But ultimately they weren’t able to agree on trade compensation, so now they’re stuck with who they have.

And Payton offered maybe the tersest vote of confidence you’ll get out of a coach who knows he’s backed himself into a corner, saying: “I’m not interested in your PFF grades or any of that other stuff.” For anyone curious, the Saints have three receivers ranked inside the top-100 from Pro Football Focus: Deonte Harris (4th), Marquez Callaway (53rd), and the retired Chris Hogan (66th).

That’s a familiar refrain from Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who have repeatedly said that they like their receiving corps better than the media or the team’s own fans do. Maybe they like the pastries Tre’Quan Smith and Kevin White bring to Monday meetings. Maybe Lil’Jordan Humphrey or Easop Winston Jr. make great small talk in the elevator. Whatever Payton and the team’s shot-callers like about the receivers, it can’t be what they’ve done on the field.

The Saints don’t have a single receiver who has averaged better than 50 yards per game. Harris comes closest, leading the team with 45.2 receiving yards per game, and he’s already missed one game this season with an injury. Harris has yet to play a full season (14 games in 2019, just 9 in 2020). He can’t be counted on to lead the passing game, and he shouldn’t be. That’s just not what he’s built for.

“I thought they had a good game last week,” Payton added, referring to the Saints’ win over the Buccaneers in which White led the team with 38 receiving yards. Harris, Smith, and Callaway tied for the team lead with 3 receptions each. Instead of anything meaningful or visible, he turned to coaching tropes: “Those guys are tough, they’re competitive, and I like them.”

Maybe Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill can get more out of the receiving corps than Jameis Winston was able to. But we shouldn’t expect the Saints to change their run-heavy approach any time soon.