We all know that Sean Payton has fielded some lethal passing attacks, but let's take a closer look into the actual wide receiver production during his time in New Orleans. I'm doing this because I'm trying to figure out, roughly, what kind of production we can expect from the Denver Broncos' pass catchers this year and beyond.
What is an objective truth is that Denver does seem to have a deep core of pass catchers for Payton and Russell Wilson to use. All of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Marvin Mims, Marquez Callaway, Greg Dulcich, Adam Trautman, Samaje Perine, and Javonte Williams can do some damage in the passing game.
Denver truly does have weapons galore. But more importantly, how will Payton deploy these players? Will he simply advocate and scheme up plays that consistently feed the top pass catcher like was done in New Orleans with Michael Thomas?
Does Denver even have someone who can be as good as Michael Thomas?
Will it be a bit of a middle ground where there are clearly top targets who get most of the work, but other players get some attention?
Or, will it be more of a collective effort where no one really stands out in the passing game but the options are deep?
I think there are arguments for all three of those instances happening in 2023 and beyond. Sean Payton was the Saints' head coach for 16 seasons, form 2006-2021. Here's the breakdown of their pass catchers during that time:
The Saints had three seasons (2011, 2012, 2016) where they fielded two 1,000 yard pass catchers.
The Saints had four seasons (2008, 2014, 2020, 2021) where they had no receivers hit the 1,000 yard mark.
That adds up to seven seasons, so that means nine of his 16 seasons as the head coach in New Orleans, his offenses had one 1,000 yard receiver. Now, I'll say this; hitting 1,000 yards doesn't really get a player anything special unless it's a provision in their contract.
It's not like a player needs to consistently hit 1,000 yards to be considered "good." It's just been seen as a solid benchmark for WR production, much like 4,000 yards are for QBs and 10 sacks are for pass rushers.
It's just a mostly universally accepted benchmark that we've just kind of gone with for a while. I think the biggest thing that sticks out to me is that for 13 of his 16 seasons, his offenses either had no receiver hit 1,000 yards or one receiver hit the mark.
To me, that's the biggest tell from this information. I think that information coupled with the amount of viable pass catchers in Denver lends us to the idea that we may not see a 1,000 yard receiver in Denver for the fourth straight season.
Given how many mouths might need fed and Payton's history in the passing game, the offense might look like the 2008 Saints, where six players had at least 440 receiving yards. Furthermore, it's relatively obvious that Denver plans on running the ball quite a bit in 2023.
They signed a true blocking tight end, a full back, a hard-nosed running back, and signed two excellent run-blocking offensive linemen in Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey. I mean, come on, what else does that say about the offense.
My best guess here based on Payton's history with passing offenses and the identity that the Broncos are set to establish is that the team won't have a 1,000 yard wide receiver this season, but will instead have a handful of players in that 450-900 yard range while fielding an elite and bruising running game.