Stills building off breakout rookie year

METAIRIE, La. -- On Thursday I wrote about both New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston's improved health and the opportunity that receiver Nick Toon has to compete for a greater role in the offense this year. And all offseason I've been raving about the potential of dynamic rookie receiver Brandin Cooks in this Saints offense.

But don't think for a second that any of that means second-year receiver Kenny Stills is a forgotten man in the Saints' receiving corps. Not by a long shot.

Saints coach Sean Payton said one of his takeaways after reviewing the tape from last season was that he'd like to find more ways to get Stills the ball more.

And Stills has certainly been seeing a ton of targets during these offseason practices. In fact, he's probably been the Saints' leader in receptions with the first-string offense -- highlighted by his touchdown catch in the Saints' two-minute drill simulation at the end of Thursday's practice.

With tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Brandin Cooks absent over the past three weeks and former players like Lance Moore and Darren Sproles now gone from the lineup, Stills has been a go-to guy for quarterback Drew Brees.

Stills (6-foot, 194 pounds) had an unexpected breakout performance last year as a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma. He started 10 games and finished with 32 catches for 641 yards, five touchdowns and a NFL-best 20.0 yards per catch.

Along the way, Stills clearly developed the trust of both Brees and Payton. And this year, his role should probably expand after he was used primarily as a deep threat.

"Kenny can play inside. It would depend on the route, but he's someone that is pretty versatile. He can play more than one position," Payton said. "He is someone that can handle that, so we have to continue to get him different looks and touches.

"He's someone that after looking at him last year, we have to find a way to get him the ball more. His transition, ability to stretch the field and use his hips to get in and out of cuts is something that has helped him."

It would stand to reason that Stills will play a role more similar to what we've seen from Moore in the past, while the rookie Cooks uses his blazing speed to be used as more of a deep threat.

But the Saints' offense is never that black and white. And Payton stressed that Stills' speed is nothing to scoff at.

"He can run," Payton said. "I would not begin to say that he is a possession inside receiver. He has really, really good outside speed. It is just mixing up the route compliments and expanding his role."

Later this offseason, I'll do a more complete projection for all of the Saints' skill position players. But I could see something close to 800 yards and five touchdowns apiece for both Stills and Cooks this year.