When the New Orleans Saints add a new weapon to their arsenal our first reaction is to categorize that weapon, folding him into the ongoing narrative of the Sean Payton era.
That’s what we do at the Black & Gold Review
, anyway — but it’s also what plenty of others do, too. For example, upon the arrival of Kenny Stills, no less an authority than Drew Brees immediately compared the new kid to Lance Moore
Of course, the Lance Moore comparisons went away about the time of Joe Morgan’s season-ending training camp injury. At that point the sudden focus was on Stills’ speed, and on his by-default new role as the latest Saints deep threat.
But now, half a season into 2013, we’ve decided to take a close look at Kenny Stills. If the Saints offense is a cast of actors filling roles, which script is Kenny Stills reading from?
The Devery Henderson Role
The first dive-bomber of the Sean Payton era was Devery Henderson, who caught long passes from Drew Brees and led the NFL in yards per catch. In this role, Devery was supplemented and then, as his famed speed began to diminish, replaced by Robert Meachem who, in turn, was replaced by Joe Morgan.
Whoever the actor playing the part, the job is pretty simple: Run past defenders and make big plays. You know what that looks like:
Obviously Kenny Stills is the Saints’ primary deep threat this year. But is he really just a pure speed receiver? Let’s look briefly at some numbers.
The comparison of Stills and Joe Morgan is self-explanatory. Clearly Stills, only seven games into his career, has a bigger role in the offense than Morgan did in 2012.
Many of these numbers are more similar, but check out Stills’ snap count. He’s been on the field substantially more than Meachem’s Saints career average.
Finally, Devery Henderson, the most apt comparison of all. But let’s note: Devery’s game evolved from pure deep threat into every-down receiver, and that evolution took years. If Stills is already compiling Devery-like snap counts and Devery-like numbers, we can pretty easily imagine Stills evolving into an even more complete weapon.
The Lance Moore Role
Let’s revisit the Lance Moore comparison. Here’s Stills making a very Lance-like play vs Miami:
And now let’s look at some numbers:
Obviously Lance has, over the course of his career, caught more passes per game than Stills. But the snap count should stand out once again: Stills is on the field a lot. Given such a high snap count, and given Stills’ increasing success the last few weeks—about half his catches have come in the last couple weeks—it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stills’ total season averages approach Moore-like levels.
So Who Is Kenny Stills?
The easy answer? He’s Devery Henderson plus Lance Moore. But that’s a reductive way to think about Stills.
The better answer is that there’s no real Payton-era prototype for Stills. He combines receiving abilities like no other true wide receiver since the arrival of Drew Brees.
If there is a recent comparable Saint, it’s probably Joe Horn, a player who was about the same size as Stills, with at least similar speed and hands.
And that means Kenny Stills has the potential to be the leader of a new generation of Saints wide receivers, the guys who will take the relay baton from the likes of Marques Colston and Lance Moore and help ease the eventual transition from the Brees era into whatever comes next.
— For more original takes on the Saints, New Orleans and everything in the margins, check out the Black & Gold Review.