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Joel Wilson signs with the New Orleans Saints as undrafted free agent

A pro prospect from the relative football desert of northern Michigan, Wilson hopes to make the 231 area proud as a Saint.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Washington State at Central Michigan Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Wilson was a dependable receiving option for the Chippewas over the course of his career in the Maroon and Gold, and looks to make the Mitten State proud at the professional level after signing with the New Orleans Saints as a priority free agent.

The news was first reported by Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network. Wilson is set to earn $90,000 guaranteed for signing.

Wilson joined CMU as a position convert, moving from quarterback to tight end at the next level, and sat behind a litany of fellow athletes who all transitioned from other positions. He ended up redshirting in 2018 behind Keegan Cosseau (a former defensive end), Tony Poljan (CMU’s starting QB that year who made a mid-season transition) and Bernhard Raimann (who converted from high school receiver to tight end) in his first season before climbing up to third on the depth chart in 2019.

He suffered a season-ending injury that year, but the coaching staff remained very high on him, and in 2020, Wilson claimed the top spot in the rotation after Poljan’s transfer to Virginia and Raimann’s conversion to left tackle. It was a spot he never relinquished, becoming Central’s top receiving option at tight end over the next three seasons.

Wilson finished his CMU career with 82 receptions for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 27 starts in 34 appearances. In two of those seasons, Wilson was a top-five receiver, finishing fourth in yards and receptions (31 catches for 367 yards) in 2021, and finishing second in 2022 in yards (445 yards) while leading the team in scores (six.)

This past season saw Wilson earn third-team all-MAC honors as CMU’s most consistent passcatcher in a season filled with trials and tribulations on the offensive side of the ball.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson’s game is centered on running routes, creating separation and making the hustle plays when necessary. Wilson does not possess game-breaking speed or explosion, but he is an agile receiver with sure hands who can catch the ball in stride.

Wilson is able to use his arm length to create catch windows for quarterbacks who are in trouble, and is a handsy receiver who can catch with his eyes when need be. It was perhaps his best attribute as a tight end at Central; he is otherwise undersized and an average athlete, but excels in situational awareness and can find himself open with a combination of crisp cuts on routes and throw anticipation from being a former quarterback.

He’s also a willing blocker who can identify problem players and can at the least attempt to disrupt them, even if his pass blocking form isn’t perfect. Wilson doesn’t have a lot of strength in that department, however, which limits his upside. His lack of special teams experience could also be prohibitive.

The Saints traded Adam Trautman to the Denver Broncos earlier Saturday during a draft-day transaction to select Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry, so the backup positions behind Juwan Johnson could be open for battle. Do-it-all wildcatter Taysom Hill is still rostered as well, complicating matters. Others at the position include Miller Fortisall and Lucas Krull.

The large signing bonus Wilson got indicates the Saints believe he’s got the goods to land on a 53-man roster, so the preseason will be an extremely important period to establish his credibility as he tries to earn a spot ahead of Krull and Fortisall. But even if he doesn’t make the initial roster, he could be a draft-and-stash practice squad option until he builds his all-around game or a player gets injured. If he loses some weight, he could even be a big slot receiver, as he has the frame and smarts to play the position.

Kent Lee Platte