New Orleans Saints

Saints’ Tre’Quan Smith in spotlight with Keith Kirkwood out vs. Rams

Tre’Quan Smith is in the spotlight ahead of the NFC Championship Game as the Saints will have to rely on him with Keith Kirkwood out vs. the Rams.

As the Los Angeles Rams look at a crystal clear injury report heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship in New Orleans, the same can’t be said for the Saints. New Orleans is already incredibly thin at receiver, and matters were made worse when Keith Kirkwood was ruled out Thursday afternoon after practicing on a limited basis all week with a calf injury.

Kirkwood, an undrafted rookie out of Temple, wasn’t called up from the practice squad until early November. But after the Saints placed five receivers on injured reserve by mid-season, Kirkwood was thrust into action and quickly carved out a role in Sean Payton’s offense.

Though his name may be unfamiliar to most due to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram’s presence in the Saints offense, Kirkwood had quietly become the No. 2 receiver in New Orleans. He played 53 of 77 offensive snaps against the Eagles, the second most among the team’s receivers. Kirkwood only reeled in two grabs on the run-heavy day, but one was a huge fourth-down touchdown to keep New Orleans within striking distance.

All eyes will now turn to the rest of the receiving corps to find someone to eat up the two-thirds of snaps that are now vacated across from Thomas. Veteran Tedd Ginn Jr. is an option, but with a shaky set of hands and questionable route-running, he’s more of a deep threat at this point.

The most likely candidate to pick up the snaps is rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith. The UCF product has had a roller coaster season, picking up steam progressively before absolutely cratering in December. His best game came in Week 11 in the Saints 48-7 dismantling of the Eagles in Week 11 when he reeled in 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He proceeded to catch seven total passes in the final six games.

All year, wide receiver depth has been a weakness for the Saints. It’s why they took fliers on both Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall, though neither panned out. Taken in the third round by a team with a dominant offense, Smith probably never expected to be this important this soon. But with a Super Bowl berth hanging in the balance, he may be the difference for the Saints on Sunday.

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