By far the biggest question surrounding Bryant’s signing has been, “How does he fit in?” There’s been suggestions that he’ll threaten leading receiver Michael Thomas (70 receptions, 880 yards, 5 touchdowns) but that’s not realistic. They’re two different players at very different stages in their careers.
Based off his 2017 game tape, Bryant isn’t the blazing-fast runner he was when he first entered the league in 2010. He’s best suited to running most of his routes from the slot, which Thomas does on about 30-percent of his routes. That leaves plenty of room for Bryant to step into, probably to the detriment of Cameron Meredith; whose reps in the slot make up about 80-percent of his overall usage.
Meredith hasn’t recorded so much as a target since Week 5, and the Saints have been working converted tight end Dan Arnold in during critical moments to try and get something going there. These are the two guys whose stats will suffer most from Bryant’s addition.
Remember Marques Colston? The Saints have a whole philosophy geared around a physically-imposing receiver who wins more with ball skills and an insane catch radius than slick foot skills, and Bryant fits that mold perfectly. Look for Bryant’s catch rate to increase, too: he averaged about 60-percent with Tony Romo throwing to him, but that dropped to around 52-percent once Dak Prescott took the reins. Just like Colston benefited from Drew Brees, Bryant should see many more catchable targets.
This also isn’t the first time the Saints have helped an older receiver live his best life. Ted Ginn Jr. joined the team last year with a career catch rate sitting flat at 52-percent, but it skyrocketed to over 70-percent once Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton got him in the building. Imagine the numbers Bryant can reach if he sees similar improvement.
But, again, this offense is built around funneling the ball towards Thomas and Alvin Kamara, and rightfully so. Bryant won’t hugely relevant in fantasy football because he’ll be, at best, the third option on the team.
That will hold especially true this Sunday when the Saints hit the road to face the Cincinnati Bengals: Bryant isn’t expected to join the team until Thursday, spending Wednesday in Dallas celebrating his son’s birthday. That gives Bryant two practices and a walkthrough before kickoff against the Bengals, severely limiting his time to absorb the playbook. If he gets on the field in Cincinnati, it will very likely be in red-zone or short-yardage packages requiring him to memorize just a few plays.
And that’s where Bryant will produce best. He’s a dominant receiver on quick, short passes where he can overwhelm smaller defenders, grading as one of Pro Football Focus’ best in the red zone since 2006. The Saints already rank as one of the league’s best teams inside opponents’ 20-yard lines, but Bryant can help ensure they’ll never have to settle for a field goal again.