Is Marquez Callaway the Saints Next Great UDFA?
In a season when undrafted free agents faced the most difficult odds to make an NFL team, wide receiver Marquez Callaway out of Tennessee was a long shot to make the New Orleans Saints active roster.
Without preseason games and a condensed training camp due to COVID-19, undrafted rookie free agents had to make a strong impression with limited reps, especially for a deep team like the Saints.
Callaway did enough, as he made the Saints final roster cuts over the likes of 2019 training camp standouts Emmanuel Butler and Lil' Jordan Humphrey, as well as veterans Austin Carr and Bennie Fowler.
While some of the above names have been called back to the roster, all were cut back on September 5th, and none have made the impact Callaway did in last night's win over the Chargers.
With last year's UDFA star wide receiver/returnman Deonte Harris (a 2019 1st-Team AP All-Pro as a kick/punt returner) out with an injury, Callaway was given plenty of opportunities.
He appeared in 52 of the 76 offensive snaps, and another 17 snaps on special teams.
Callaway ended the night with 4 receptions on 6 targets for 34 yards, as quarterback Drew Brees trusted the rookie to make a big catch in the red zone on the final touchdown tying drive of regulation.
With the game on the line, Brees trusted Marquez Callaway to get the job done. That, in and of itself, is telling.
Callaway was also solid in the return game.
Filling in for Harris, he returned 6 punts tonight for an 11.5 yards per return average, and 2 kickoff returns for 57 yards and a 28.5-yard average.
Those numbers could have been better, had the Saints not committed a number of penalties which negated some of Callaway's better returns.
Saints coach Sean Payton has shown many times during his tenure he will put a player on the field who is ready to contribute, regardless of their experience and draft position.
At 6'2, 204 lbs, many football scouts pointed to Callaway's ability in college to come down with 1 on 1 balls in coverage, but listed route-running as a weakness.
It wasn't a weakness last night, as he ran a number of short route trees, and contributed as a blocker in the run game.
Under Payton, New Orleans has signed a number of UDFAs who proved to be well worth the small investment.
From Pierre Thomas, to Chris Ivory, to Tyrunn Walker, to Josh Hill and most recently Deonte Harris, the Saints have found impact players after "Mr. Irrelevant's" name is called at the podium.
Can Callaway be the next Saints UDFA who makes a long-term impact?
He's off to a great start.