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Second-Year Leap: Marquez Callaway, WR NO

We examine a rising star in New Orleans. Is Marquez Callaway primed for a breakout?

Marquez Callaway

In this series, I want to highlight some rookies I expect to take a massive step forward in year two. I’ll look at various rookies, from those who had solid rookie years to those who did almost nothing in year one. To completely break down each player, I’ll split these pieces into five sections: college career and NFL Draft profile, rookie statistics, dynasty ADP analysis, future situation, and final recommendation. If you want to read my previous entries, I’ve included the full list at the bottom of this article.

This time, I want to explore a different kind of second-year breakout in Marquez Callaway. I recently touched on him in a training camp updates article, but that was more of a cursory look at him in the context of the entire Saints’ roster. I didn’t get a chance to look at his college career nor dive into his 2020 season with the Saints. Let’s do that now.

College Career and NFL Draft Profile

Callaway enjoyed a somewhat successful college career at Tennessee.

Chart courtesy of Sports Reference CFB.

As you can see, he did little as a true freshman in 2016, as Josh Malone, Alvin Kamara, and Jauan Jennings served as the offense’s top receiving weapons. However, in 2017, Callaway emerged as a relevant option, leading the team in receiving touchdowns while finishing second in receiving yards. He then became the team’s top receiving option in 2018, ahead of Jennings and 2021 third-rounder Josh Palmer, and he had the most receiving yards and receptions on the team.

Jennings re-emerged as the Volunteers’ top option in 2019, dominating all receiving categories. Callaway had another fine season, but he failed to improve materially on his 2018 output. For those reasons, he didn’t seriously impact the 2020 NFL Draft process, and he became an undrafted free agent. The Saints quickly signed him, though. Callaway would compete for the WR4 spot behind veterans Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Tre’Quan Smith.

Rookie Statistics

Callaway had a strong 2020 camp, making the team as a depth receiver alongside 2019 UDFA Deonte Harris. He saw little playing time, though, as the Saints leaned on Sanders and Smith as their starting receivers after Thomas suffered various injuries. Nevertheless, he had a few strong games, finishing with 21 receptions on 27 targets for 213 yards.

Most notably, he saw a 73% snap share in week seven, a game that both Thomas and Sanders missed. In that contest, he caught eight of ten targets for 75 yards. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury later that week, and he never returned to a regular role. He saw some spotty playing time after returning, although he missed three additional weeks with a knee injury. Overall, he performed well in 2020 for a UDFA, but he didn’t show anything special.

Future Situation

Luckily for Callaway, his future situation looks more like that week seven game than his original status at the start of the 2020 season. The Saints allowed Sanders and tight end Jared Cook to walk in free agency this off-season. Those two finished second and third on the Saints in targets behind Kamara, who oddly was Callaway’s college teammate at Tennessee.

The Saints also failed to replace either player in free agency or the NFL Draft. They only added rookie Kawaan Baker in the seventh round, but they made no other moves. Therefore, they expect players like Callaway to step into more significant roles, as they have few alternatives.

The Saints suffered another blow when Thomas had a setback in his ankle rehab, requiring another surgery in June. It’s unclear how much time Thomas will miss, but I expect him to open the season on the PUP list, which means he will miss the first six games. Without Thomas, the Saints have the worst collection of skill players in the league, outside of possibly the Houston Texans. Kamara is their only proven offensive weapon, period. Nobody else has any consistent track record of success.

Of course, the Saints also recently had a quarterback battle, where Jameis Winston eventually prevailed over Taysom Hill. Winston will be a better quarterback than Hill for his receiving weapons, as Hill would be a dual-threat option, hogging fantasy points for himself. Adam Trautman hasn’t had a strong preseason, and both he and Smith have struggled with injuries recently. Therefore, it’s clear that Callaway will open the season as the top non-Kamara receiving weapon on this team.

Winston will provide a high-powered passing offense, even if it comes with some interceptions.

Chart courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

Winston threw for 4,000 or more yards in his three full seasons as the starter, and he averaged 250 or more yards per game every year. Of course, Callaway isn’t Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, but he will have every opportunity to take a massive leap forward. At this point, I rank Callaway at WR50 for the 2021 season. That’s not an exceptional year, but it would place him on the dynasty radar for his future.

Dynasty ADP Analysis

Callaway now finds himself as the WR73 with an ADP of 176 in August’s DLF’s 1QB ADP. It’s the first time Callaway even cracked the top 225 in ADP, as he entered the ADP data in July at 225.5 before skyrocketing this month. But let’s remember that even this data is somewhat out of date. Those mock drafters did not see Callaway play in any preseason games yet, nor did they know about Trautman or Smith’s injury woes. They also didn’t know that Winston would win the Saints’ starting job. I therefore expect Callaway’s ADP to rise significantly in September’s data.

Final Recommendation

Like I mentioned previously, I expect a second-year leap from Callaway. Ranking him at WR50 for redraft seems reasonable, given Thomas’ injury and his position on the depth chart. But Callaway’s college profile, UDFA draft capital, and lack of proven NFL production are major red flags. I agree that his August ADP seems low, as I rank him at 143 overall and WR66 in my 1QB dynasty rankings.

But I struggle to move him much higher than that or trade away high-value assets to acquire him. Let’s use the DLF Trade Finder to see some example trades.

There were a few examples of Callaway going for a future second-round rookie pick. I think that price seems like a good selling value to me, as receivers with Callaway’s profile tend never to be worth a first-rounder in dynasty. So I’m fine taking the guaranteed second-rounder before seeing Callaway take the field for week one.

I might understand this trade if the third-rounder were on the other side, but I can’t possibly endorse adding to Will Fuller to get Callaway. Fuller was a fantasy WR1 until the NFL suspended him for PEDs last year, and he’s had a successful NFL career. This trade seems like a massive stretch, especially considering Fuller’s current ADP of WR49 and 105 overall.

Overall, I think Callaway represents a strong sell candidate in dynasty leagues, even though I think he will take a second-year leap. I believe dynasty managers are just too optimistic here, and they overestimate Callaway’s ceiling and floor. If you picked him off the waiver wire and can acquire a second-round rookie pick, that’s a winning dynasty move.

Previous Entries: D’Andre Swift, Cole Kmet, Chase Claypool, Harrison Bryant, Gabriel Davis, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Lynn Bowden, Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darnell Mooney, Bryan Edwards, Jerry Jeudy

Second-Year Leap: Marquez Callaway, WR NO
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yellowdart24
1 year ago

To me, Callaway profiles as a true alpha WR. With Winston, he should get plenty of high value targets to be really good. Even when MT comes back, this could be his offense. Very high ceiling… but he was undrafted so with no draft capital, he could become nothing. But he has a great opportunity to be a strong WR play starting this year.

TDFantasy79
Reply to  yellowdart24
1 year ago

I think he has a lot of upside also and the QB play at University of Tennessee is not exactly stellar. That is why I also like Josh Palmer with the Chargers.

yellowdart24
Reply to  TDFantasy79
1 year ago

Yup

mikede88
Reply to  yellowdart24
1 year ago

I think the amount of hype he’s receiving off of his preseason games is becoming ridiculous. Seems like everyone is trying to wish him into becoming an “alpha” when it’s more likely he’s a WR4

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