Fantasy Football: Willie Snead expecting third-year breakout for Saints

PAHOKEE, Fla. -- Willie Snead knows what’s coming this season. And he’s excited for the opportunity.

He expects 2017 to be the best season of his career.

The Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, which should allow Snead to have a bigger role this year, and this is his third season playing in the NFL. Even though Ted Ginn was added as a free agent to join standout sophomore Michael Thomas, Snead expects to dominate as a featured option for quarterback Drew Brees.

Snead said he believes in the third-year receiver theory, which is that this is the season when things click for receivers. Some of the best receivers in the NFL, past and present, have had a breakout year in their third season, including Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Cris Carter, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson.

Snead, who was on the Saints practice squad in 2014 but didn’t play until 2015, hopes to join that list. He also had a tremendous third year in college at Ball State with 106 catches for 1,516 yards and 15 touchdowns, so he’s hoping the same thing happens in the NFL.

“Every time I’ve had a third year, I balled out,” Snead said in an interview with CBS Sports at Anquan Boldin’s charity event. “It’s all about timing. The first year you have to get acclimated, the second year Mike T came in, and I was fine with that. This year, now that Cooks is gone, I feel like it’s my time. I just have to make the most of it, stay humble and stay healthy.”

Willie Snead WR / New Orleans (2016 stats)
TAR: 104 REC: 72 YDS: 895 TD: 4

Health and opportunity are big things for Snead this season. As a rookie in 2015, Snead had 69 catches for 984 yards and three touchdowns on 102 targets, and he followed that up with 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns on 104 targets last year.

But he played most of 2016 with a toe injury that he suffered in Week 2, and this was after getting off to a tremendous start with 14 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets in the first two games of the year. He missed Week 3 with the injury, which is when Thomas took off.

Snead said he’s still rehabbing his toe, but he expects to be 100 percent for the start of training camp. He also said it was frustrating being stuck in the No. 3 role behind Thomas and Cooks.

“The whole year I was hurt,” Snead said. “I felt like I was taking a step back, but I was just trying to be a professional and come in every week with a different mindset and attack the week every time. This year is going to be totally different. I just know it’s not going to be the same as last year.”

Snead is hopeful that this season he can showcase his game with Cooks gone. While Ginn will see a lot of time on the outside in Cooks’ old spot, Snead also wants to expand his route tree.

“I just want to be more than a slot receiver,” Snead said. “I want to be a threat on the outside because that’s what I was in college. I want to take my game to that level. I feel like I can. I feel like I’m at the level where I’m comfortable now, I understand the scheme, I understand the speed of the game. I feel like I want to take my game to another level so guys can’t lock in on me and just say he’s a slot guy. I just want to be an all-around receiver.”

Snead has plenty of motivation to make that happen since he’s entering a contract year. And it appears like Saints coach Sean Payton and Brees have faith in Snead.

At the NFL’s annual league meeting, I asked Payton about Snead, and he talked about the good rapport he has with Brees.

“He’s smart, we play him in a lot of different spots and I know Drew relies on him,” Payton said. “He has good football awareness and instincts.”

Added Snead: “I’m so grateful that I have a relationship like that with Drew. Just to know that going into the season that they have the utmost confidence in me, it’s going to take my game to another level. I’m going to maximize all those reps and make sure I take advantage of every opportunity.”

Snead is not going to be the direct replacement for Cooks, who had 78 catches for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 targets last year and was the No. 9 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, but he does benefit with Cooks gone. Thomas was the No. 8 Fantasy receiver with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, and Snead is excited to watch his development.

The Saints, despite losing Cooks, still have a quality receiving corps with Thomas, Snead and Ginn, but Thomas is the clear star.

“The way he came in and attacked it and attacked every game as a professional and just balled out with every rep that he got -- I can’t give nothing but credit to that kid,” Snead said. “I’m excited to team up with him and see what we do this year. I know he’s going to have a great year again. I don’t expect anything less.”

Snead is hoping to be the No. 2 option in the passing game, and that’s a great role for his Fantasy value. He’s going to be drafted as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick, but he could easily be a weekly starting option with an uptick in targets and, hopefully, production with Cooks gone.

He also could have a breakout season in his third year, and he’s motivated for a new contract. This could be the best year of Snead’s career. And he’s excited about the opportunity.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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