3 Unheralded Saints WRs Look to Crack Loaded Depth Chart – Sports Illustrated

The New Orleans Saints have a rich history of finding unheralded players from little-known colleges. This is especially true at wide receiver. Arguably the greatest wideout in franchise history, Marques Colston, was a seventh-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Hofstra. Another franchise Hall of Famer, WR Lance Moore, was an undrafted player from Toledo in 2005. Willie Snead, out of Ball State, was a key contributor for the team from 2015 to 2017.
On the current roster, Deonte Harty was an undrafted rookie from tiny Assumption University in 2019. Harty earned All-Pro honors as a rookie kick returner and is one of the league's most feared in that capacity. He was also one of the team’s leading receivers in 2021.
The Saints have a much improved receiving corps coming into 2022. All-Pro WR Michael Thomas is back after missing all of last year with an ankle injury. Chris Olave was selected with the 11th overall pick of the first round, and five-time Pro Bowl veteran Jarvis Landry was signed in free agency.
Roster spots at the back half of the depth chart will be a fierce battle at this position. Harty is among Marquez Callaway and Tre'Quan Smith as the veteran favorites. Second-year receivers Easop Winston and Kawaan Baker are considered long shots, but could make some noise in camp after spending last year on the practice squad.
Three newcomers to the team this offseason could also have a say-so in how this position plays out. All three are undrafted players out of little-known colleges. As we've seen before with the Saints, that lack of pedigree won't prevent them from taking the job of an established veteran. 
6-feet 210-Lbs.
Saints WR Kirk Merritt (85) during practice at the team’s training facility. Credit: NOLA.com
A local product from Destrehan High School in Louisiana, Merritt committed to Oregon but would enter the transfer portal after just one year. He’d wind up at Texas A&M, but would be dismissed from the team while sitting out a year. Merritt would eventually end up at Arkansas State after a year of Junior College.
In two years with the Red Wolves, Merritt was named 1st Team All-Sun Belt Conference twice. He had a total of 153 receptions for 1,811 yards and 19 touchdowns over those two seasons. That included a conference leading 83 catches for 1,005 yards in 2018.
Merritt signed with the Miami Dolphins after not being selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’d spend two years in Miami, but mostly on the practice squad. In three games of action over those two years, Merritt had one catch for 13 yards in 30 snaps combined on offense and special teams.
A 100 and 200m sprint champion in high school, Merritt has electric speed along with explosive leaping ability on a muscular 6-foot and 210-Lb. frame. He has an upright running style, which slow him on his route breaks, and must expand his route tree. He also shows a competitive edge on contested throws, giving him an added advantage with his athleticism.
The 25-year-old Merritt had an impressive showing during the Saints OTA and mini-camp practices. He’s an obvious candidate for the practice squad, but has the raw abilities to steal one of the final receiver spots with a strong performance on offense and special teams in preseason. 
6-feet 180-Lbs.
Saints rookie WR/KR Rashid Shaheed (22) breaks a long kick return at Weber State. Credit: Weber State University Athletics
A native of San Diego, CA, Shaheed was lightly recruited before chosing Weber State. He’d go on to earn four FCS All-American honors, the first in school history to accomplish the feat. In five years and 52 games at Weber State, Shaheed amassed 146 receptions for 2,164 yards and 20 offensive touchdowns.
Shaheed was an even bigger factor on special teams in college. He averaged nearly 11 yards per punt return and over 29 yards per kickoff return while returning seven for touchdowns. Shaheed was also a two-time section sprint champion in high school.
Undrafted this spring, Shaheed signed with New Orleans. He has adequate height for a receiver at 6-feet, but is on the smaller side at 180-Lbs. He’ll also prove that he has the route precision to get separation at the NFL level.
Shaheed has the speed to take the top off a defense, but also has dynamic open field skills that make him a threat after short receptions. Like any undrafted player, the odds are against him to make the roster. However, he adds an explosive special teams element that could give him an edge.
Remember that little was expected of undrafted rookie Deonte Harty in 2019 before he took the league by storm. Shaheed doesn't necessarily have to outperform Harty as a returner, but proving he can be a return threat could earn him a sixth wideout spot and allow the team to use Harty more on offense. 
6’4” 200-Lbs.
May 14, 2022; New Orleans Saints receiver Dai'Jean Dixon (84) during rookie camp at the Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
A New Orleans native and graduate of Edna Karr High School, Dixon played at Nicholls State in Thidobaux, LA. In five years there, he earned three 1st Team and one 2nd Team All-Southland Conference honors. He’d finish his Nicholls State career with 236 catches for 3,802 yards and 35 touchdowns, first in school history and second all-time in the Southland conference.
A physical wideout with great size, Dixon fits the typical prototype of Saints receivers. He won’t beat defenders with speed or athleticism. Lacking the speed to threaten defenses down the field, Dixon must improve his routes to get separation. He tends to round off his breaks and can get hung up on the line against press coverage.
Dixon works between the numbers like a seasoned veteran. He has reliable hands and excellent concentration in traffic. His height, reach, and leaping ability give him the edge on contested throws. Dixon has outstanding catch radius and extends his body to make the reception while absorbing contact.
Once making the catch, Dixon is a physical runner who breaks tackles consistently. He has a long stride that’s difficult to track down in open space. He’s proven himself to be a reliable target on third downs and operates through congested areas well to be a red-zone threat.
The Saints have always preferred bigger receivers. Dai’Jean Dixon fits that profile and plays even bigger than his listed size. He isn’t a deep threat, but has value as an outside receiver or big slot in spread formations. Dixon’s size and playing style could make him a valuable intermediate target and perhaps make him the team’s most recent undrafted success at wideout.
Dixon, Merritt, and Shaheed have their work cut out for them at a crowded New Orleans wideout spot. They'll have to be consistently productive in training camp and preseason games, but also show that they will make an impact on special teams.
New Orleans rarely keeps six wideouts on their active roster, with the last spots at the position usually for special teams contributors. Thomas, Olave, and Landry have the top jobs locked up, with Harty and Callaway being favorites to round out the depth chart. However, don't rule out any of these unheralded receivers grabbing a job with a standout camp. 
Covers the New Orleans Saints as contributing writer for Saints News Network. Co-Host of the Bayou Blitz Podcast.

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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