Willie Snead's Week 1 Performance Was No Fluke
That production wasn't empty, either, as he yielded 19.00 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), which leads the league through Sunday's games.
Sure, Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders was an absolute shootout, as quarterback Drew Brees attempted 42 passes, and Snead caught all 9 of his targets, not exactly something you can rely on him to repeat.
But while 9-reception, 170-yard games may not be on the menu every week for Snead, there are a lot of signs pointing to this being a huge year for the 2014 undrafted free agent.
While Brees may not attempt 42 passes every week, we can expect the Saints to be one of the most pass-happy teams in the league this season. They have finished top-six in pass-to-run ratio in each of the past five seasons, and Brees has averaged 41.3 pass attempts per game in that span.
Their defense was historically bad in 2015, posting a schedule-adjusted 0.36 Defensive Passing NEP per play, the worst in our database (which dates back to the 2000 season). In fact, there is a bigger gap between the 2015 Saints and the second-worst team in our database than there is between the second- and ninth-worst season.
Things aren't looking much better on that side of the ball this year, as they allowed 35 points to a Raiders offense that finished 18th in schedule-adjusted NEP last season, while New Orleans also lost cornerback Delvin Breaux to what is believed to be a fractured fibula in the game.
This will be a huge blow to their already weak secondary, as Breaux is one of the best players in that unit and was a runner-up for Pro Football Focus' Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2015.
If the defense plays anything like the unit that allowed a league-worst 29.75 points per game in 2015, which looks to be the case so far, the Saints will spend plenty of time playing from behind, and there will be a ton of targets to go around for the offense.
Efficiency and Workload
Snead saw only 15% of the Saints' passing targets last season (101 in total), a number that seems like a virtual lock to increase in a big way this year.
Benjamin Watson and Marques Colston are both gone this year, taking with them 27% of the Saints' targets from 2015. While New Orleans has added Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener to replace them, Snead looks to be firmly ahead of Thomas in the wide receiver pecking order, and Fleener's usage was virtually non-existent in Week 1, as he was targeted only four times on Brees' 42 attempts, despite playing 81% of possible snaps in the game.
Snead's nine targets in Week 1 were tied for a team-high and accounted for 23% of the Saints' total.
Snead's efficiency was fairly average in 2015, ranking 49th among the 95 receivers to see 50-plus targets in Reception NEP per target, though his 0.71 wasn't far behind Brandin Cooks' 0.75 for the best mark among Saints receivers.
NFL.com's Matt Harmon took a look at Snead's 2015 season and found that he has been very impressive at the NFL level, and that -- combined with leading the league in Reception NEP in Week 1 -- is a great sign that his efficiency will be trending upwards in his sophomore season.
Snead isn't going to maintain a 100% catch rate this season. He's not going to keep tallying 19 yards per target or even per reception for that matter. Week 1 was an outlier, and there's no denying that.
But the Saints are going to be forced to air the ball out this year, and having shown some really impressive ability already in his young career, Snead will play a big role in that aerial attack, giving him the opportunity to put together a great season for New Orleans and emerge as one of the league's better receivers.