2018 NFL Season Preview: New Orleans Saints
After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Saints broke free and had one of the best turnaround seasons in the NFL. New Orleans went on an eight-game win streak after a 0-2 start and claimed the division title for the first time in six years. After winning their wildcard game against Carolina, they were seconds away from the NFC Championship but gave up a 61-yard touchdown on the final play of the divisional round.
Player Notes: Offense
- The team relied a lot less on quarterback Drew Brees as he threw for the second fewest yards of his career.
- Since signing with New Orleans, tight end Coby Fleener has failed to live up to expectations. He went on injured reserve with a concussion midway through the year.
- Michael Hoomanawanui is a valuable blocker while Josh Hill is a serviceable receiver and blocker but doesn't stand out in either aspect.
- Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is still a dangerous deep threat who came on strong in the second half of the season.
- Brandon Coleman had his best season, but he is more serviceable as a blocker.
- Willie Snead was a disappointment with only nine receptions, and he missed three games due to suspension.
- Despite injuries, the offensive line was one of the team's strengths. Left tackle Terron Armstead is a Pro Bowl quality tackle even though he battled through injuries. Right tackle Zach Strief missed most of the season with a knee injury.
- The interior line of Andrus Peat, Max Unger, and Larry Warford is one of the league's best.
Player Notes: Defense
- Defensive end Alex Okafor was everything the team had hoped, but he tore his Achilles late in the season.
- Defensive tackle Nick Fairley's career is likely over due to a heart condition.
- The linebacker corps was both one of the most improved units and one of the hardest hit by injuries. A.J. Klein was an every down leader, and Manti Te'o was solid in Klein's absence.
- Craig Robertson picked up where he left off after a strong 2016.
- The secondary improved but is on pace for change. Safety Kenny Vaccaro is viewed as an underachiever while Vonn Bell was solid in his second season.
Pro Bowlers and All-Pro
The team produced seven Pro Bowlers and two All-Pros:
- Quarterback Drew Brees
- Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara
- Wide receiver Michael Thomas
- Guard Larry Warford
- Defensive end Cameron Jordan
- Cornerback Marshon Lattimore
Brees led the league in completions and yards per attempt while also setting an NFL completion percentage record with 72%. Ingram and Kamara were the first teammates to have 1,500 total yards each in NFL history, with Ingram having his second consecutive 1,000 yard rushing season.
Thomas is a star as a possession receiver, and his 196 receptions in his first two seasons in the league were the most in NFL history. Warford made his first Pro Bowl in his first year in New Orleans. Jordan had the best season of his career with 13 sacks.
The Rookie Class
The rookie class was everything the team could have hoped for and then some.
- Cornerback Marshon Lattimore made an instant impact with five interceptions and was named the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- Tackle Ryan Ramczyk responded well after being forced into the lineup and moved across the line.
- Despite his crucial breakdown at the end of the divisional round loss, safety Marcus Williams had a very good rookie season with four interceptions.
- Running back Alvin Kamara exceeded all expectations as a runner, receiver, and return man while being named the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. It is the first time in league history that both the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year came from the same team.
- Linebacker Alex Anazalone's athleticism earned him a starting role on the weak side before he was injured.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
Saints 2017 Highlights
After the 11-5 season, head coach Sean Payton knows what has to be done in order to avoid a playoff breakdown and get to the Super Bowl going into his 13th season in New Orleans.
On March 15, team owner Tom Benson passed away from influenza. His legacy as owner included purchasing the team when a move to Jacksonville was being discussed, plus a world championship in Super Bowl XLIV. Benson's wife Gayle assumed ownership duties for both the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.
Notable Additions: QB Tom Savage, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Shane Vereen, RB Terrance West, WR Michael Floyd, WR Josh Huff, WR Cameron Meredith, WR/RS Brandon Tate, TE Ben Watson, LB Demario Davis, CB Patrick Robinson, S Kurt Coleman
Notable Departures: QB Chase Daniel, FB John Kuhn, WR Brandon Coleman, WR Willie Snead, TE Coby Fleener, TE Clay Harbor, T Zach Strief, DT Nick Fairley, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Delving Breaux, CB Sterling Moore, S Rafael Bush, S Kenny Vaccaro
2018 NFL Draft
What the Saints Needed
Going into the draft with the 27th overall pick, the Saints have to address position needs in order to take the next step as a Super Bowl contender. Most notably at tight end, defensive end, and defensive tackle.
- Tight End: Sean Payton loves to utilize in the passing game. The offense needs a top-flight receiving threat that they haven't had since trading Jimmy Graham.
- Defensive End: Alex Okafor helped bring life back to the pass rush, but he is coming off a torn Achilles. Another edge rusher could be needed as a rotation player.
- Defensive Tackle: Nick Fairley's heart condition may have ended his NFL career. Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison are strong starters, but the position needs depth.
What Happened on Draft Day
On draft day, New Orleans decided to trade up to the 14th overall pick with Green Bay to select Texas—San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport. Davenport has the impressive versatility to rush the passer and drop in coverage given his size, but he is very raw in terms of pad level and pass rushing technique.
The Saints also notably drafted Central Florida wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith and LSU center Will Clapp in the seventh. Smith is a deceptive route runner with great hands, but he lacks top end speed. Clapp has the ability to play either guard or center, but he lacks the traditional base for an interior lineman.
New Orleans also signed Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett as an undrafted free agent. Barrett left college as the Big Ten's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and total offensive yards, but his skills as a passer are very shaky.
What To Expect
On paper, New Orleans looks as tough as anyone in the NFC.
Drew Brees is coming off one of his most efficient seasons, and I expect that efficiency will continue with the weapons around him. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara balance each other very well, with Ingram being the classic run between the tackles back and Kamara being the versatile change of pace back. The team reloaded the receiving corps in free agency and the draft with Michael Thomas being the go-to target.
The team added Benjamin Watson at tight end, but he'll be 38 before the season's over, and his best days are behind him. Ryan Ramczyk will likely start at right tackle in place of the retired Zach Strief, and the offensive line as a whole should be very strong.
With Alex Okafor signed for the next two years and the addition of Marcus Davenport, the pass rush looks to have nice complements to Cameron Jordan. The linebackers needed the offseason to get healthy, and adding Demario Davis gives the unit added depth. The team brought back Patrick Robinson and signed Kurt Coleman, so depth in the secondary is not an issue.
In the Division
Given the reload of key roster spots, I can see the Saints repeating as NFC South champs and finishing what they started and contending for a Super Bowl.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 12-4