Saints retooling offense with new-look receiving corps
"He's smooth as the other side of the pillow!" Winston said this week of rookie wideout Chris Olave.
Winston — who is making his way back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 8 last season — has not yet had a chance to fully acclimate himself with All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas, and as voluntary camps begin to ramp up, the QB will continue to find his rhythm with the Saints' slew of new pass-catchers, including Olave and free agent acquisition Jarvis Landry.
And despite not being wholly equipped to run full-speed drills, Winston has long begun tightening his timing with the receiving group in a number of route trees. And he's been pleasantly impressed with their fluidity, especially when it comes to Olave.
"He can get in and out of breaks very well," Winston said, per The Athletic's Katherine Terrell.
"Electric, and smart. [Olave is] a guy that’s always asking questions. He’s a guy that wants to know how you want it, and I really respect that."
A 6-foot-1, 189-pound skill receiver, Olave hauled in 65 passes for 936 yards, and 13 total TDs during his senior season at Ohio State.
The Saints' 11th overall pick in the 2022 draft ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, and recorded a 32-inch vertical jump.
And he's not the only weapon Winston will have at his disposal.
Landry brings a reliable veteran presence, plus steady skills in the slot for New Orleans' retooled receiving group. A five-time Pro Bowler and NFL receptions leader in 2017, the hard-nosed playmaker had 52 catches for 570 yards and two TDs with Cleveland in 2021.
Then there's Thomas.
The all-world, record-smashing WR1 — he holds the record for most receptions in a single season (149) — is expected to return to form this season after missing the entire 2021 campaign following a setback during his ankle surgery rehab.
"He's not ready yet," Saints coach Dennis Allen said of Thomas. "But he's here, he's rehabbing, he's getting himself better. And we're certainly anxious to get him out here. I know that he's working his tail off to get himself back. And we feel good about where he's at right now. It's our plan [to have him ready for training camp]."
Olave, Landry and Thomas comprise a supremely talented trio that New Orleans is hoping can revive their bottom-five passing attack from a season ago. Not to mention, speed merchant Marquez Callaway, and swiss army knife Taysom Hill, are returning to the roster.
And having Alvin Kamara lurking in the backfield doesn't hurt either.
The versatile RB leads his position in receptions, receiving yards, and is second in TDs since 2017. Since the 2017 season, he's one of just two running backs to have over 3,000 receiving yards (3,263), 20 or more receiving TDs (20) and over 300 receptions (373).
But Winston will inevitably serve as the fuel that makes the car go, and he's expressed buoyance with his individual advancement through rehabbing a torn ACL, suffered in Week 8 last season.
"I feel like I've been way, way, way ahead of schedule," Winston said this week.
"There's no reason to rush. Let's do this the right way ... because we have time on this. I'm healed up, feeling great, embracing this process and staying faithful to the protocol. I'm excited and grateful. Every time I get an opportunity to step on the field and work with my teammates, I'm gonna take advantage of that opportunity."
If Winston can return in 2022 with shades of his 2021 start — 1,170 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and three picks in seven starts — his vast new pool of receiving targets could vault New Orleans' passing attack from the bottom of the league to its upper crusts.