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John DeShazier: 'Humbled and blessed' Willie Snead making his mark with Saints

Former undrafted free agent leads the team in receiving yards

Willie Snead quickly is losing his anonymity around New Orleans, a process that only may be rivaled by the speed with which he's losing his status as an unknown commodity for the Saints.

The first-year receiver leads the team in receiving yards (240), is second in yards per catch (15), is third in receptions (16), has the Saints' second-longest reception this season (63 yards) and is one of four Saints with a touchdown reception in the first four games.

It's a gargantuan leap for a player who might've needed binoculars to see a roster spot when the Saints began organized team activities in the offseason, but who arguably has been the team's most productive receiver as New Orleans (1-3) enters Sunday's game against the Eagles (1-3) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

"I'm just really humbled and blessed to be where I am right now," Snead said. "Coach (Sean) Payton has definitely given me an opportunity, ever since I stepped in the door, to prove myself. That's basically what I'm doing, I'm just taking advantage of every opportunity that's given to me and trying to help this team win games and better myself.

"I really had faith that I could be here at this moment in time and be doing what I'm doing, performing at a high level, executing the offense and just making plays for my team. I never doubted what I could do, I just needed the opportunity and a chance to prove myself."

If nowhere else, New Orleans has proven to be a land of opportunity for undrafted players.

From Pierre Thomas in 2007 to Bobby Richardson this year, the Saints under Payton have given undrafted players a chance to impress equal to that of drafted players.

Snead was undrafted out of Ball State and signed with Cleveland as a rookie free agent in 2014. He was waived by Cleveland, signed to Carolina's practice squad in September 2014, released by Carolina in November and signed to the Saints' practice squad in December.

What he showed in the month, and the months after, left Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis saying in training camp that Snead was a player the Saints needed on the 53-man roster.

"Just coming to work every day, coming in with a new mind-set and just trying to help better this team," Snead said, when asked how he managed to impress his teammates and coaches. "Busting my tail every day, basically. Just proving to these coaches that I can be a guy, and that I'm going to work hard and I'm going to come to work every day and give it my all.

"I feel like I sold them on that and when the OTAs came around and I had my opportunities to go out there and execute the offense at a high level, I was able to do that and it worked out for me in the end."

Now, Snead is working to enhance his chemistry with quarterback Drew Brees, a connection that already appears to be effective.

"That's practice, after-practice work," he said. "We just make sure that we run through all the route trees and stuff that we're going to be running on game day, making sure the timing is right, just making sure we're on the same page. Because at the end of the day, if I'm at the spot where he needs me to be, then it's going to be a good day for us. I just want to make sure that I'm doing all the little things right."

All the little things have added up to a big role for Snead, who leapt ahead of players with more impressive resumes – some who'd started in the NFL – to become an important part of the Saints' offense.

And he's looking forward to the next challenge, playing against an Eagles secondary that figures to be aggressive.

"We're going to definitely get a lot of aggressive corners, aggressive play," Snead said. "They're going to press us, they're going to man up like the Cowboys did. Might see a little zone here and there, but it's going to be a physical game for the most part and we're going to be ready to go come Sunday.

"I love that. I love that stuff. I love when guys get physical, I love to compete at a high level. (Eagles cornerback Byron) Maxwell is the kind of corner who is very competitive and very physical. I've just got to take it to him, I've got to match his intensity and make sure that I do as much as I can to help this offense out."

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