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New Orleans Saints need a revival to their receiving game, which starts with Michael Thomas

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Cam Jordan is openly scouting for the next Saints QB (0:59)

Saints DE Cam Jordan joins First Take and calls on multiple quarterbacks to join him in New Orleans. (0:59)

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints’ top priority over the next two weeks will be identifying their starting quarterback.

But whether they bring back a free agent like Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater or pursue a blockbuster trade, their next priority needs to be giving that quarterback a better collection of targets.

The Saints finished last in passing yards in 2021 (187.4 per game). Obviously that had a lot to do with major injuries to Winston (torn ACL in Week 8) and receiver Michael Thomas (missed entire season with ankle injury).

The good news is Thomas is expected back healthy in 2022. However, veteran receiver Tre’Quan Smith is an unrestricted free agent. And whether or not the Saints bring Smith back, they need to add at least one more reliable pass-catcher to a mix that currently includes receiver Marquez Callaway, restricted free-agent receiver Deonte Harris and tight ends Adam Trautman, Nick Vannett and Juwan Johnson.

So the wide receivers should be especially intriguing at this week’s NFL scouting combine. Drafting a receiver makes a lot of sense, considering the Saints’ salary-cap limitations and the amount of talent that should be available with the 18th pick in Round 1.

Plus, the Saints are way overdue to draft a high-end receiver. New Orleans has selected only one over the past three drafts -- seventh-rounder Kawaan Baker in 2021. That’s a shame considering how much talent has come into the league at that position over that span.

The Saints and Atlanta Falcons are the only two teams that did not draft any receivers in Rounds 1-4 from 2019 to '21, but the Falcons landed dynamic pass-catching tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick last year.

Here is a glance at New Orleans’ best options to revive the passing game:

Thomas’ return

This is by far the most important fix, considering Thomas was the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and set a league record with 149 catches the last time he was fully healthy in 2019.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder missed nine games in 2020 after initially suffering the injury in Week 1. Then he had offseason surgery in 2021 and suffered a setback in his recovery midway through the season.

All signs indicate Thomas and the Saints are on the same page, despite last year’s friction over the timing of his ankle surgery. There has been no indication either side is seeking a trade – especially after the Saints converted $14.6 million of Thomas’ scheduled salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus.

And Thomas’ motivation to be great is never a concern. Thomas, who turns 29 on Thursday, recently deleted his past Instagram posts, replacing them with a video of Kobe Bryant describing “demon mode.”

Draft options

It’s a bit difficult to peg a specific receiver type since we don’t know the quarterback yet. But ESPN analyst Matt Bowen said he thinks a good complement for Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara would “have some vertical stretch ability and can be deployed both inside and outside the numbers.”

Bowen, who has been studying this year’s receiver draft class, started by listing USC’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks and Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson as potential first-round fits in New Orleans for different reasons.

Among other detailed notes and videos Bowen has been sharing on Twitter, he compared the 6-foot-5, 210-pound London to former Saints great Marques Colston because of how he could fit as a boundary receiver and vertical stretch target down the middle of the field.

“Extremely long frame, linear straight-line player, but has developed in pretty good detail in terms of his route tree and how he can attack defenders and create separation for himself,” Bowen said of London.

As for Williams, Bowen said “I absolutely love” his tape “because I think he’s a game-changer.”

“He’s electric in terms of his ability to stretch the field and his ability to run after the catch,” Bowen said of the 6-2, 189-pounder. “He’s a fluid, easy mover, he’s got an extremely flexible lower body, loose hips, and he can flat-out go. He plays at a different speed than everyone else on the tape – and he’s playing against SEC players.”

Williams’ draft stock could be affected by the torn ACL he suffered during the national championship game. But Bowen said “you’re not drafting a player for the first four games of his rookie year in September.”

Other possible Saints fits Bowen mentioned were Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce, North Dakota State’s Christian Watson and Alabama’s John Metchie III.

ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid wrote that the receiver class is deep enough for teams to find a possible starter in Rounds 2 or 3 as well.

Free-agency options

The Saints plan to remain in win-now mode under new coach Dennis Allen, so they could make one or two aggressive moves in free agency despite beginning the offseason $75 million over the projected salary cap.

However, it would still be surprising to see them land a high-end free-agent receiver like Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson or Mike Williams.

They showed great interest in Louisiana native Odell Beckham Jr. before he signed with the Los Angeles Rams, but he tore his ACL in the Super Bowl. Other free agents like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Gallup, Will Fuller and DJ Chark also come with injury concerns – though Bowen thinks the upside is enticing with Smith-Schuster as someone who can line up in the slot and make big plays.

Bowen is especially intrigued by Christian Kirk, who also has inside/outside ability and was stuck in a crowded WR corps with the Arizona Cardinals.

Other free agents who have shown glimpses of untapped potential include Cedrick Wilson, Russell Gage and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Veteran options include former Saint Emmanuel Sanders, along with A.J. Green or Jamison Crowder.

The Saints could also consider a pass-catching tight end in a free-agent class loaded with intriguing options, including Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and David Njoku.