METAIRIE, Louisiana — Drew Brees is confident that some young, relatively unknown, inexperienced receivers can help the New Orleans Saints' offense remain among the NFL's best.
The 36-year-old quarterback will enter his 15th pro season next fall without two of his most productive pass-catchers from 2014 — tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills — who've both been traded away.
While those moves appeared to raise the prospects of New Orleans drafting a receiver earlier this month, that didn't happen. The Saints used six of nine picks on defensive players, and the offensive rookies they drafted were a lineman, and backup quarterback and a 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back better known for his success as a return specialist.
"I think the message that was sent to our young skill position players is that we feel like we have the right tools in the building," Brees said Wednesday, referring to New Orleans' draft selections. "Our young receivers have some great opportunities."
While nine-year veteran Marques Colston remains on the roster, most of the receivers and tight ends on the club haven't been asked to play prominent roles yet. Many have fewer than three years in the NFL, and some, like second-year receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones, haven't seen much regular season playing time at all.
"We're going to have some young guys step up and contribute that haven't had many opportunities," said Brees, who met with reporters while promoting his new partnership with Walk-On's, a Louisiana-based sports-themed restaurant and bar. "Yet they're going to earn that right here throughout (offseason workouts), minicamp, training camp. I'm excited to watch those guys develop.
"It's been a fun offseason for me in that regard, starting to envision how it could all come together for some of those guys," Brees added. "Some of them are ready. It's just a matter of the opportunity that we're able to give them."
Last season, tight end Josh Hill showed promise in his second season out of Idaho State, catching 14 passes for 176 yards and five TDs. With the departure of Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 TDs in 2014, Hill is now New Orleans' top receiving tight end.
The Stills trade to Miami left the Saints without one of its top deep threats who had a team-high 931 yards receiving last season. But New Orleans looks forward to the return of 2014 first-round pick Brandin Cooks, who had 550 yards receiving in 10 games before missing the rest of the season with a broken hand.
Developing chemistry and timing with different receivers will mean more work for Brees, "but that's good," he said. "That creates a sense of urgency. And I like that. Because it kind of takes me back to basics."
Brees has been among the NFL's most prolific quarterbacks since joining the Saints in 2006, passing for 5,000-plus yards in a season four times and tying for the league lead with 4,952 yards last season.
While Brees expects to remain productive beyond the two seasons remaining on his contract, the Saints used their first of two third-round picks on Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson.
Brees said he understood the move and likes what he sees in Grayson, who was at club headquarters for rookie camp last weekend.
The Saints "wouldn't invest in a guy in the third round if they didn't feel like this guy could be a great player and somebody they could develop and would contribute at some point," Brees said. "That doesn't change my mindset as far as my preparation or my mentality as to how long I want to play or any of that stuff.
"I'm not thinking about anything else other than making myself the best player I can be and making those around me as good as they can be."