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Rivers deep, Meachem high

In college, Robert Emery Meachem played for the Tennessee Volunteers. He was a pretty good wide receiver back then. Some questioned his ability to make catches then, not high-pointing enough and catching too many balls with his body.

His production was none too shabby.
He led the team with a career-high 71 catches for a school single-season record 1,298 yards (18.3 average) to lead the Southeastern Conference, including 11 touchdowns.

He also managed to become only the sixth player in the SEC to break the 2,000-yard receiving mark. None of which is too shabby when you consider that the guy throwing him the football was Erik Ainge.

Often the quarterback makes the wide receiver. In college sometimes the converse is true.

Unsurprisingly, he declared and was drafted 27th overall by the Saints. What is interesting, though, is that had he fallen another three places, it’s likely that he was atop the board of another team if rumor is to be believed – the San Diego Chargers. They ended up drafting another wide receiver, Craig “Buster” Davis, whose nickname of “Buster” was likely misspelt, being two letters too long as it stands.

It’s difficult to discuss his role in the Saints offense without first discussing the unit as a whole. Sean Peyton – like Norv Turner and other head coaches and offensive coordinators – has a very clear vision of his offense. He has (effectively) two tight ends who can run a seam route as easily as one across the middle (Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham/Jeremy Shockey), and a stable of running backs he can choose to either power down the middle or play screen passes to. He also has a deep threat that helps keep defenses stretched to open up the space underneath.

That’s Meachem’s job – to pull as many defenders as far away from the line of scrimmage, and for as long as possible.

New Orleans “leads” the league in teams that target their wide receivers the fewest. The league norm is around 60 percent of passing plays target a wide receiver. For the Saints, it’s 45 percent.

This is what leads to a lot of the mythos surrounding his production.

When teams try to take Colston, Graham or Darren Sproles away by putting an extra man in there, Payton and Brees can just as easily say, “thanks very much … see ya” and drop a long ball in there. No problem. We’ve all seen the Saints play. We’ve all seen them happily move the chains before sending a cannon downfield.

I’d suggest that Meachem’s NFL numbers are far from bad. Are they brilliant? Nope. They don’t shatter any records, nor would they leave even the most ardent fantasy football enthusiast drooling over him come draft day. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone exclaim, “Wow, I can’t believe Meachem is still available!” It’s worth remembering that he can only catch what’s thrown his way, and when you’re not the first or second read on a play (not to mention when you’re the pre-snap low percentage pass), you’re certainly in for a long season of trying to attain fantasy relevant numbers.

He’s caught 67 percent of passes thrown his way, and for a guy living off deep balls and gadget plays only, that’s a very good catch rate to be fair. For context and comparison, Mike Wallace, Dez Bryant and Victor Cruz are all very different receivers in some ways but they all have a lower percentage catch rate (64, 63 and 61 percent, respectively)

His route running, from what we can see of it, isn’t a cause for concern. He has good points and some not-so-good points. Short dig routes are a bit of an area for concern. He doesn’t run as many of them as I’d like to have seen, part and parcel of what he was asked to do in New Orleans sadly, but he didn’t look sharp out of them. Not overly concerned as he looked fine on his comebacks (Which are basically just deeper dig routes).

Off the line, he can use his hands well enough – he’s physical, but not what I’d call strong – and he plays “off coverage” pretty well. He should, he’s had enough experience.

All told, Meachem played more snaps than any other offensive player in New Orleans. So, when I hear that the Saints didn’t trust him enough to make him their WR1 it surprises me. They trust him plenty. They trust him to create the space for all the work underneath as they get him on the field at every opportunity. They also move him around a lot at the line to try and isolate and create matchups. That’s something they couldn’t do if other teams didn’t respect him and preferred to adopt a “bend-don’t-break” philosophy against New Orleans and Drew Brees.

The snap count is also not linked to his health as it was his first fully healthy year in a long, long time. Meachem has confessed that in 2010 he played through constant pain as well as admitting that it had troubled him off-and-on since childhood. Postseason surgery seems to have paid dividends as he didn’t appear on a single official injury report all season despite playing 833 snaps.

The two questions I’d ask you to consider before we discuss San Diego is:

  1. Do we think Colston would be as good a WR1 on most other teams?
  2. Do we think Lance Moore or Devery Henderson will put up better numbers than Meachem if they replace him, or about the same at best?

Exactly how you would answer those questions will play a large part in determining how you’d view Meachem’s potential and outlook as a Charger.

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