If you weren’t paying attention, and judging by recent ADP you weren’t, Brandon Coleman started in the slot for the Saints during their second preseason game. He proceeded to see two targets from Drew Brees, while seeing six targets in the first half of the game. For the record, I know it’s easy to wildly overreact to what goes on in the preseason, so I’m not saying that Coleman starting in that game means he’ll start 16 games for the Saints. However, in some situations the information we get from the preseason isn’t any lower in quality than the information we already have. I would argue that the Saints receiving situations is one of those cases. Let’s consider what we know.
- Brandin Cooks probably has the only really cemented role among pass catchers. Everything else is up for grabs.
- The team signed Coby Fleener, and while I think just due to his athleticism and the amount of targets available, his upside could be really high, you also can’t ignore his past prior lack of production. The news out of camp has also been poor as he’s even called himself the 1C tight end. I don’t know what the hell to think of that. Then he played through the second quarter with the second string offense during Preseason Week 2.
- Willie Snead was a pleasant surprise last year, operating as a WR1B to Cooks’ WR1A, but his role might actually be in jeopardy. While the buzz has been that rookie Michael Thomas was drafted to play the slot, there has been some conflicting information on that front. Some comments from the team have mentioned Thomas playing outside and he’s actually played mostly outside in the two preseason games.
The interesting thing to think about is: What happens if our assumptions for the most likely scenario don’t end up materializing? What if Fleener busts and sees closer to 60 targets? What if Thomas ends up playing outside, but plays behind Willie Snead? What if Brandon Coleman actually is a starter?
In case that idea seems attractive to you, here’s what Sean Payton said about Coleman following Preseason Week 2:
“I thought he was just OK,” Payton said. “And honestly, it’s been kind of pedestrian throughout the camp. But there’s certain things you see and you see and you see and then all of a sudden they reveal themselves in a game and you’re not surprised.
Sean Payton says Saints offense was as bad as its been in a while
“I think he can be better, and I know I’ve seen better so he’s going to have to pick it up. I think he will. I think he’ll compete.”
Yikes. So much for the Brandon Coleman hype train I’ve been building throughout this article. But it may still make sense to pay attention to Preseason Week 3 to see how the Saints approach playing time for their pass catchers. If Coleman starts and plays with Brees again, it would be very difficult to reconcile that with all of the assumptions we’ve made about the Saints thus far. Given Coleman’s free cost it may even make sense to start to hedge those assumptions by using an end-of-draft pick on him.
This is perhaps a good time to discuss the idea that while all of our preseason assumptions are made with what we consider to be the best evidence, often reality ends up not cooperating with our best assumptions. This is especially true on our site, where we can make arguments with numbers that have decimal points on the end of them such that you might think that precision in numbers translates to a great amount of confidence of being right. But to make that assumption would only be exactly wrong. In fact purveyors of numbers based analysis should be the very first people to admit the amount of uncertainty that’s at stake, because we’re the ones looking at error rates and confidence intervals. If you’ve spent any amount of time with football numbers then you know that error rates are larges and confidence intervals are wide.
None of that is to say that we shouldn’t still think hard about making predictions for the future. But we should also be looking for evidence that contradicts the opinions we’ve already formed. I think the most likely players to lead the Saints in targets are (in order) Brandin Cooks, Coby Fleener, Willie Snead, and Michael Thomas. But because of Brandon Coleman’s dirt cheap cost, I could probably profit as much, or more, by identifying him as a target if he ultimately is relevant in 2016.