Dennis Allen: Chris Olave pick, Michael Thomas return like ‘two first-round draft choices’ at WR

The New Orleans Saints spent a first-round pick in last week’s draft on a receiver from Ohio State in Chris Olave, instantly improving their pass-catching corps. They believe they’re in line to see double the return.

Michael Thomas — another Ohio State product from years past — is on track to return from injury, and if he’s able to participate for the majority of the 2022 season, the Saints will see it as if they’ve added two premier talents.

“That would be our hope. We feel good about what Mike’s done in the rehab process,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said when asked during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show if he expected Thomas to establish a quick rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston. “There are still a few hurdles that we’ve got to climb with any of our guys that had any injuries that they’re trying to get back from.

“I kind of look at it in terms of … We drafted Chris Olave in the first round, but I almost look at it is getting Mike back, it’s almost like we had got two first-round draft choices at wide receiver. So I feel really good about that.”

New Orleans lacked weapons for Winston and every quarterback whom followed him in the starting lineup following Winston’s season-ending knee injury in 2021. In some instances, the Saints’ best target was running back Alvin Kamara, as evidenced by New Orleans’ 13-10 win over Seattle in which Kamara led the Saints with 10 receptions for 128 yards and their lone touchdown.

That shouldn’t be the case in 2022, at least not if everything goes according to plan. New Orleans selected a home-run hitter in Olave, who lacks size but wins with his route running and excellent hands. He should be an ideal complement to Thomas, with whom Olave has maintained a relationship for some time.

“We felt like we needed to add some playmakers to our offense. We felt like that was an area where we could improve our football team,” Allen said, admitting the obvious. “We’re really all about just, ‘What do we gotta do to win games here?’

“I felt like he was the player that we kind of targeted, that we knew we were going to get a great person, a tireless worker, tough, smart, highly, highly competitive, one of the best route-runners, I felt like, in this year’s draft and comes from an established, wining program where we’ve had success getting guys out of Ohio State. I just felt like the way the draft kind of fell for us, I felt great about how it worked out.”

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New Orleans has undoubtedly benefitted from going to the Buckeye well in the past, finding a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball who came from Columbus. It wasn’t surprising to see the Saints draft Olave, and it shouldn’t be a shock when he and Thomas produce with Winston.

The main hurdles that remain are centered on Thomas’ health, and whether Winston can find a way to capitalize on their potential while minimizing the mistakes that have often plagued him in his career.

Unlike past years, New Orleans recognized its need for receiving talent and acted accordingly. Plenty of work remains to be accomplished, but with the selection of Olave and other related moves, the Saints have made a clear statement: They’re not about to commit to a rebuild.

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