Saints may have hit another undrafted home run with Marquez Callaway

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Deonte Harris won every award imaginable for the New Orleans Saints last year. The rookie out of Assumption College earned the NFL punt return yards crown, a Pro Bowl trip, and recognition on the AP All-Pro first team. But when he missed Week 5’s game with the Los Angeles Chargers to a hamstring injury, the Saints were able to put another talented return man in his place.” data-reactid=”6″>Deonte Harris won every award imaginable for the New Orleans Saints last year. The rookie out of Assumption College earned the NFL punt return yards crown, a Pro Bowl trip, and recognition on the AP All-Pro first team. But when he missed Week 5’s game with the Los Angeles Chargers to a hamstring injury, the Saints were able to put another talented return man in his place.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="And Marquez Callaway delivered. The Tennessee Volunteers product (Alvin Kamara affectionately called him, “my Vol brother,” after the game) made the most of his opportunity by returning 6 punts for 69 yards; he lost another 33 punt return yards to penalties. Callaway also brought out a pair of kickoffs for 57 yards of valuable field position.” data-reactid=”7″>And Marquez Callaway delivered. The Tennessee Volunteers product (Alvin Kamara affectionately called him, “my Vol brother,” after the game) made the most of his opportunity by returning 6 punts for 69 yards; he lost another 33 punt return yards to penalties. Callaway also brought out a pair of kickoffs for 57 yards of valuable field position.

That means the Saints currently have two of the top eight punt returners in the NFL, by total yardage. Harris ranks second-best with 106 return yards, and Callaway is eighth at 69 (if his other returns hadn’t been wiped out, he’d rank third with 102). That’s 175 punt return yards between the two of them.

For context, the Saints as a team gained just 157 yards on punts in 2018. They’ve been held beneath 200 punt return yards in four of the last eleven years (2018, 2014, 2013, 2012), averaging 210.3 yards per year from 2011 to 2018.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="It’s proof of the investments the Saints made to their special teams staff after the 2018 season. They brought in longtime Miami Dolphins coordinator Darren Rizzi and allowed him to build his own staff; his eye for returns specialists in college brought Harris to New Orleans for his award-winning rookie year, and Rizzi’s continued scouting helped them find Callaway. He discussed the importance of never settling on that role with Nick Underhill for NewOrleans.Football earlier this year.” data-reactid=”14″>It’s proof of the investments the Saints made to their special teams staff after the 2018 season. They brought in longtime Miami Dolphins coordinator Darren Rizzi and allowed him to build his own staff; his eye for returns specialists in college brought Harris to New Orleans for his award-winning rookie year, and Rizzi’s continued scouting helped them find Callaway. He discussed the importance of never settling on that role with Nick Underhill for NewOrleans.Football earlier this year.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But Callaway could be more than a weapon on special teams (as could Harris, who surpassed his 2019 scrimmage yards total [55] in just four games pre-injury [85]). Drew Brees has looked his way often in critical situations, and Callaway has converted a first down on 3 of his 5 catches (7 targets). He’s only played a bit part on offense so far, but the rookie is one of several receivers building chemistry with the veteran quarterback early this year.” data-reactid=”15″>But Callaway could be more than a weapon on special teams (as could Harris, who surpassed his 2019 scrimmage yards total [55] in just four games pre-injury [85]). Drew Brees has looked his way often in critical situations, and Callaway has converted a first down on 3 of his 5 catches (7 targets). He’s only played a bit part on offense so far, but the rookie is one of several receivers building chemistry with the veteran quarterback early this year.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the Saints approach the return game after the bye week. Harris should be close to returning from his hamstring issue, and his larger body of work gives him an edge over Callaway in that role. But both players have been so successful that it might make sense to treat it like a weekly competition. Whoever ends up fielding kicks for the Saints, it’s clear that responsibility is in good hands.

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