The New Orleans Saints couldn’t seem to do anything right last year. Drew Brees looked out of sync, the defense (which was supposed to have been a strong one) was flat-out-bad and the overall mojo of Sean Payton was gone. Credit the Saints though, because instead of trying to reinvent the wheel this off-season, they appear to be going in a different direction.
Eyebrows raised when they Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger, but one has to think they are trading there flair for some grit. Graham is a great receiving tight end, who flourished in the pass-happy Saints offense, but he isn’t much of a run blocker and he isn’t the type of tight end who likes to go over the middle. Unger is an old school center who will lead a formidable offensive line. The Saints must believe in guard Tim Lelito or else they wouldn’t have traded away Ben Grubbs and their other guard spot is in good hands with Jahri Evans. They spent their first-round pick on Andrus Peat, a tackle out of Stanford University. Peat is a former five-star recruit, who became one of the hardest men to move in college. It takes the force of a truck to knock him back once he’s engage and is an intelligent football player. This was a perfect fit for Peat and the Saints.
With the loss of Jimmy Graham, it’s evident that Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill will be splitting time at the tight end spot, unless one of them flourishes during pre-season. They are more old school tight ends who can block and be big red zone targets. Last year as a rookie, Brandin Cooks looked as explosive as advertised but his season was cut short due to injury. Now at full health, Cooks along with the often-underrated and usually forgotten, Marques Colston – supply quarterback Drew Brees with a nice one-two punch. Although Cooks, would probably do more damage as a slot receiver, the depth behind the one and two wide outs will force Cooks to do his work as the number two guy. Nick Toon, proves that in some cases the apple falls very far from the tree. . .
With so much focus on becoming “tougher” the running game is expected to do a lot more than in previous seasons. Surprisingly, the Saints retained the services of running back Mark Ingram, who hasn’t put up the numbers most expected of the former Heisman trophy winner but at the same time, the back field in New Orleans is usually handled by a committee of three. That trend will likely continue with the signing of CJ Spiller, another running back who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but is still a wild card when on the field. Spiller can do anything as a running back, but consistency has been his issue.
Drew Brees is the captain of the offense and in some cases is the assistant coach. He’s one of the brighter quarterbacks in the league and manages a complex offense, with ease. Last year though, Brees for the first time looked “small.” Even then, in a season where he didn’t look sharp he finished just short of five-thousand yards passing and still had 33 touchdown passes. Even with all the shuffling around with personnel, you’d be hard pressed in finding someone who believes Brees will fall off this season.
Defensive coach Rob Ryan, always has the camera on his for two reasons during games: 1. He looks like a mad man with that long gray hair going all over the place and 2. At times the defense looked so bad last year, it was all the commentators wanted to discuss. Last year was supposed to be a strong year for the defensive unit, but they were awful. They are hoping they got a steal in the fifth round with Tyeler Davison, a defensive tackle out of Fresno State. Davison is great with his hands and is able to shed blockers quickly – BUT – this is against competition he faced while playing at Fresno. If Davison can at least help in taking away double teams against end Cameron Jordan, the fifth round pick will be considered a success. Linebacker Junior Galette will be asked to line up at defense end at times to help add some speed and validity to a pass rush that was non-existent last season.
The Saints took two linebackers with their first two draft picks, Stephone Anthony out of Clemson and Hau’oli Kikaha out of Washington who racked up 19 sacks last year. Anthony is the more classic prototype at linebacker, while Kikaha is another acquisition they hope will add something to a lost pass rush. Dannell Ellerbe and David Hawthorne are the veterans in a line backing group that together – have lost a few steps.
Keenan Lewis is the Saints man-to-man specialist at the corner back spot and now he is paired up with the big Brandon Browner. Browner is a physical corner with reach, but there were times he could not turn his hips around fast enough and was dusted. It would be nice to see Kenny Vaccaro do more than just be a rotational secondary player, but he has to earn his spots with safeties Jairus Byrd ahead of him. After signing a six year deal with the Saints, Byrd was sidelined with a knee injury for most of the season. His healthy comeback is necessary for this Saints defense to rebound. Not sure why the Saints signed free agent corner back Kyle Wilson. He shouldn’t touch the field even in emergencies.
Predicted Record: 8-8
Predicted Pro Bowlers: Bradin Cooks, Cameron Jordan