The New Orleans Saints are focusing on the next steps to rebuild after their heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in the 2017 NFC divisional playoffs. Reinforced by an excellent draft class, the Saints are putting exciting young players on both sides of the ball, giving future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees a chance to reach for that second Super Bowl win. The roster is holding onto 21 starters from the team that claimed the NFC South title a year ago, and motivation is high for redemption.
The coach-quarterback team of Sean Payton and Drew Brees is one of the most successful in the game today. Similar to Tom Brady, 39-year old Brees shows no signs of slowing down. He knows Payton’s complex plays by heart, and remains one of the most accurate passers in NFL history, proven by his NFL-record breaking 72 percent completion rate last year. His arm strength may have diminished, but he makes up for it with a quick release and anticipation of other players. Few quarterbacks are better at identifying and targeting opponent’s weak spots than Brees.
But this team isn’t just counting on Brees to move the ball. The backfield team of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara is one of the best in the league. The Saints also signed seasoned Terrance West to hold down the fort during Ingram’s 4-game PED suspension. Ingram and Kamara each have their own style – Ingram does the majority of work between tackles using his low center of gravity, powerful legs and balance. Kamara excels in open space and is effective on screen and slip passes out of the backfield. Wide receiver Michael Thomas’ 196 receptions are the highest made by anyone during their first two years in the NFL. His leaping skills and 6’3″ frame have made him Brees’ go-to man in the red zone as well as on third down. Forever youthful 31-year-old Ted Ginn Jr. still has the speed to take the top off of defenses. The Saints are also counting on former Chicago Bear Cameron Meredith to bounce back from his knee injury. If he’s healthy, the Saints might have a steal. Third-round draft pick, rookie Tre’Quan Smith, is there for insurance in case Meredith fails to meet expectations.
Offensive left tackle Terron Armstead can block rushers easily, and second-year pro Ryan Ramczyk started 16 games as a rookie and will be playing right tackle. Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford can form a solid pocket for Brees.
The Saints overhauled their defense with an flurry of high draft picks and free agents in 2016 and 2017, and the results are beginning to show. Although the defense ranked No. 17 overall last season, it was still among the league leaders with 42 sacks and 25 takeaways.
Cameron Jordan has been in the left end position for the last seven seasons. He is considered one of the most complete ends in the NFL, as well as the undisputed leader of the defense. The Saints have spent years trying to complement Jordan on the right, and have decided on rookie Marcus Davenport. He will compete with veteran Alex Okafor to start opposite Jordan.
Sheldon Rankins had a quiet sophomore campaign, but the Saints are still high on the former first-round pick. The Saints would like to see him make more plays of his own. The same goes for Tyeler Davison, who completes the front four at the other tackle spot.
Demario Davis was signed to captain the defense on the second level. A.J. Klein has been moved to where he’s more comfortable. Alex Anzalone has potential as long as he stays healthy, and depth is solid with veterans Mike Mauti, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar and Manti Te’o.
Marshon Lattimore started all 13 games he was in previously and became the first Saints corner to make the Pro Bowl since Eric Allen in 1995. Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams and Patrick Robinson are all capable starters as well. Crawley plays with confidence but needs to cut down on penalties. Robinson is expected to man the slot position, a weak spot in defense in previous years.
Free safety Marcus Williams’ solid rookie season was overshadowed by his now infamous missed tackle in the NFC playoffs against Minnesota. Vonn Bell is an excellent blitzer and big hitter, but his limitations can be exposed. The Saints are confident that veteran safety Kurt Coleman can still make plays on the back end and were excited to sign him in free agency. He brings much-needed experience and savvy to the position group. He’ll be employed often in coordinator Dennis Allen’s three-safety packages.
Punter Thomas Morstead and kicker Wil Lutz are both reliable veterans, ranking among the best in the field. Morstead has a powerful right leg and is great at directional kicks. Lutz can kick 55-yards with ease. Rookie Boston Scott will be competing with Tommylee Lewis and Ted Ginn Jr for their return jobs.
The Saints are ready to compete for NFC supremacy against the Eagles, Vikings, Rams and Packers this season. The offense is still one of the most dynamic in the league and their new talented young defense will only improve with time. The Saints face a brutal schedule and will do well to equal last year’s 11-5 record, but they’ll again be a factor in the NFC playoff race and are a solid sleeper pick to go all the way.