Wide receiver and fifth-round pick Kenny Stills has all but locked up a roster spot for the New Orleans Saints. Heck, he may even be the best No. 3 receiver in the NFC South. Not too shabby for a guy who many worried made a mistake by leaving Oklahoma for the NFL a year early.
Although he didn’t get off to a bright start in the Saints first preseason game—Stills dropped a pass in the first quarter and fumbled a handoff exchange and was called for offensive pass interference in the second quarter—Stills has been nothing short of brilliant since with seven receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns in three games.
Stills wowed onlookers with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine and has been impressive in his ability to get behind receivers in preseason action and win balls thrown his way.
Of Stills’ seven preseason receptions, three have been deep passes of 20 yards or more, one a 40-yard completion.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 9, the Saints split Stills wide right and he got one-on-one coverage from cornerback Jalil Brown on a sideline route.
Quarterback Drew Brees placed the ball behind Stills where only he can get it, but Stills had to contort his body to make the 22-yard reception before coming down in bounds.
Against the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 16, the Saints lined Stills up on the right side again, but not out wide. He got behind the linebackers and dragged across the field while Brees had plenty of time to look for the best option.
Stills was wide open and easily pulled down the 23-yard pass from Brees. With the corners busy in coverage, no linebacker picked up Stills—not that many linebackers in the league could stay with the speedy rookie.
Against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Stills was the recipient of single coverage with quarterback Luke McCown in for Brees. This time Stills was split out to the left side and ran a deep sideline route.
This 40-yard reception might have been Stills’ most impressive of the preseason. Not only did he go up and win a jump-ball situation in fantastic coverage by Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, but he controlled the ball after the catch and found a way to get his feet in bounds.
Head coach Sean Payton told the Times-Picayune after the Saints first preseason game that Stills had shown his intelligence in camp and ability to separate himself on the depth chart, even after a game where Stills didn’t perform as well as he would have liked.
He's been playing pretty well. He's smart, he's picked up things well. He runs well," Payton continued. There's gonna be a number of good things for us to see, and things we need to correct from his play tonight. But we wanted to give him a look with us resting Colston. And he's gonna have to contribute.
He's shown enough early in this camp where, you know, we think he can. He's learned quickly. Some of the other guys need to pick up and figure out what they're doing.
Brees told Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune Sunday that he liked what he saw from Stills. And everyone knows that when Brees feels comfortable with a receiver that receiver is targeted often. Duncan, who’s been watching Stills since he landed in New Orleans, said the rookie receiver had “innate star power.”
Yeah, I'm excited for Kenny Stills, Drew Brees said. He had a couple of big catches today. That was great to see.
When the regular season rolls around, Stills isn’t just going to be on this Saints roster, he’s going to be putting up numbers. Guys who can take the top off defenses and win physical battles for receptions tend to get a lot of work in the NFL. Brees and the Saints are particularly fond of guys who produce in these situations.
Expect Stills to flourish in the role of Saints No. 3 receiver as a rookie.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.