The New Orleans Saints have been a constant mediocre overall team throughout the last 3 years which also includes 3 straight missed postseason attempts as well. So why get excited about this upcoming season? What makes this year different? Is this team any different? I’d argue this team is actually MUCH different from any of the previous 3 teams we’ve been accustomed to watching. While each year we might’ve seen a leap here and there on both sides of the ball, this year seems to be setting itself up for success.
If you know anything about the Saints in the Sean Payton era you know that offense is no issue for his teams. His offenses have been potent in a variety of different ways while using interchangeable pieces each and every game, let alone season. There is one constant about this offense that keeps the defense on its heels and the offense just a play away from scoring, and that is no other than the starting quarterback Drew Brees.
With Brees under center, it doesn’t matter who you surround him with, the offense will be productive. During the last 3 seasons, the offense has ranked in the top 10 (8th, 8th, 3rd) averaging over 25 points per game (25.1, 25.5, 29.3) each year. They’ve ranked in the top 2 (1st, 2nd, 1st) total yards per game while ranking in the top 3 (3rd, 1st 1st) in passing yards each of the past 3 seasons. Even with the departure of Brandin Cooks. I expect for this offense to be even more explosive than before. One main reason is the emergence of second-year stud wideout Michael Thomas. Thomas had a stellar rookie season last year hauling in 92 receptions, 1,137 yards, and 9 touchdowns in 15 games. During the offseason, Thomas added 10 pounds of muscle which can only help his growth to become who I see as a top 5 receiver for the upcoming season.
The Saints have also added 2 starkly different running backs to their group in prized free agent and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, and a 3rd round selection in Alvin Kamara. Over the years the running game has been as successful as it’s going to get for this team with such a heavy load on Drew and the passing game, but just imagine the possibilities of adding a Hall of Fame back in Peterson, and a shifty, versatile back in Kamara to an already Pro Bowl capable back in Mark Ingram all running behind one of the best offensive lines. This running back room is LOADED with talent now. Opposing defenses have to essentially pick their poison now. Do you want to load the box in an attempt to stop Ingram and company and let Drew pick you to pieces, or play the pass and let the running attack abuse you? The Saints now have a 3-headed monster running back room that potentially can be the best in the game. I wouldn’t want to be in charge of trying to stop this offense with as many weapons as they have.
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Now, why should you be excited about this abysmal defense? Haven’t they ranked at the bottom in every category this last 3 years? To answer your question simply you are absolutely right. Giving up 28 points per game last year was nothing to hang your head about, but are they actually that bad? I would argue not at all. First and foremost, you have and absolutely dominant defensive end in Cameron Jordan. Jordan has turned himself into a headache for opposing lineman trying to block him. You also have one of the more underrated safeties in the game in Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro is a relentless force that is versatile enough to line up in the slot against a receiver or tight end, play your deep traditional safety spot, and blitz from a variety of different areas on the field. Last year’s draft class produced 2 starters on the defensive side in Sheldon Rankins and Vonn Bell. Sheldon started the season on injured reserve, but once he returned he made his presence felt. With Sheldon lining up inside at defensive tackle and Jordan on the end you have 2 forces that will generate pressure each and every down. Vonn had himself an up and down which is to be expected from a rookie defensive back in this league. The learning curve is steep from college to the pros and by the end of the season, Vonn established himself as a bright spot to look forward to in the upcoming seasons.
Number 1 corner Delvin Breaux is a Pro Bowl caliber player, but due to injury, he landed himself on the injured reserve list for the bulk of the season leaving the Saints without a true stud at corner. Actually, the Saints lost multiple Corners to injury which was a real big hit to the defense which would’ve been vastly different if healthy the whole season. Number 2 corner P.J. Williams landed on injured reserve for the season in week 2 with a severe concussion leaving the Saints without their top 2 corners by week 2. They tried to patch things up as best as they could, but it’s only so much they could’ve done with the lack of depth and talent at the position last year. To fix that problem the Saints got a steal in the 1st round this year in Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick. He was widely considered by most as the #1 corner in this year’s draft. They’ve also added a ball hawk at the back end in 2nd round pick Marcus Williams which helps tremendously depth wise and on the field creating turnovers. During the free agency period, the plan was to add depth and find quality players for the defense and I believe they did just that.
First, they added a veteran linebacker in A.J. Klein, which I believe was a great pickup. During his years at Carolina, he had to play behind potentially the best linebacker tandem in Kuechly and Davis which limited his playing time, but while being in the game he made an impact. He’s equipped to play all 3 linebacker spots which are nothing but a bonus for him.
They also were able to sign defensive end Alex Okafor and linebacker Manti Te’o. Okafor had a tremendous start to his career in Arizona but was stalled by injuries. If he’s able to return to form of the beginning of his career he could be the answer opposite of Jordan in providing the much-needed pressure to affect the quarterback on a consistent basis. T’eo is a former college standout and has had some success on the pro level as well.
For depth purposes, Te’o can be very valuable in his ability to be able to play either the Sam or Mike linebacker position. The Saints also invested heavily in this year’s draft with 5 out of the 7 picks going towards the defense.
So you tell me: why wouldn’t you be excited?
Christopher White is an author and contributor to Cover 32 NFL, and Cover 32 New Orleans, You can follow him on twitter @_EddiexxD , and see more of his work on the Cover 32 website soon.