Super Bowl Contenders 2019: New Orleans Saints
Updated: Jul 20, 2019
The New Orleans Saints, as many know, came pretty close to playing in the Super Bowl last season. But as “fate” would have it, a certain something got in the way, and that something wears black and white stripes for a living. Time is not changeable, not within our current laws of physics anyway. Yet as things stand right now, the Saints are still loaded on both sides of the line, and should be one of the favorites to win it all this season. The question to ask is, what can the Saints do to make sure the zebras don't decide the game this time around? Well, as with all teams, New Orleans was not without flaws in 2018. Early on it looked like the defense would once again be the culprit, but as the season wore on, the defense was able to regroup, and fell back into place (the addition of Eli Apple helped over time). No, the most glaring problem down the stretch came from the last place one might expect, the passing game.
Despite setting the record for highest completion for the second strait season (and for the fourth time in his career), Drew Brees was held to under 4,000 plus yards for the first time with the Saints (12 straight seasons with 4,000 yards or more). Yes, Brees being held out for the final game played a part in it, Brees finished the season with 3,992 yard, 342 yards less then he's previous low (with the Saints). So what contributed to the drop from what had been their strength in the past?
Everyone is familiar with Micheal Thomas, and that includes defensive coordinators. Stopping Thomas isn't really possible, but teams double team him anyway, and it can slow him down. When Ted Ginn went down with an injury in week four, an injury that would keep him out till week fifteen, rookie Tre'Quan Smith slipped into the number two spot, and rookie Kieth Kirkwood was brought up from the practice squad. Smith, a third round draft pick, finish his rookie season with 427 yards and five touchdowns. The problem for Smith, was 371 of those yards, and four of his touchdowns, came before week twelve. Kirkwood had modest numbers for a player who only played in eight games, 209 yards and two touchdowns. But Kirkwood never had more then three receptions or more then 45 yards in any one game. Brees didn't get much help from the tight ends either. Ben Watson had 400 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Tight ends as a whole had 735 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
Jared Cook is a 254 pound Tight End with a knack for catching the ball. Cook had a career year in Oakland in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns, giving Cook his first Pro Bowl nod. The Saints seem ready to dust off the old Jimmy Graham playbook for Cook, something that caused a lot of problems for defenses then, and could do so again. The Saints also took a gamble in the draft to pick TE Alize Mack from Notre Dame. Mack was rated as the number one TE out of high school, but had problems through out his college career, and only time will tell if the pick was worth it.
Camron Meredith seems finally ready to come back from injury. If Meredith can prove to be half of what he was in Chicago, the Saints should have a solid third option. Smith and Kirkwood are talented but raw, the two need development, and who better to learn from than Payton and Brees? With Tommylee Lewis signing elsewhere, that would seem to leave his spot open. UDFA WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey seems to have impressed in rookie camp, however, the resently signed Rishard Matthews could push Humphrey to the practice squad. With proper development, this can once again become a strong point for the Saints, but it's not the only way they improved their chances this off season.
Mark Ingram signed with the Baltimore Ravens.... now that the wailing has died down, let's continue. No one wanted Ingram to leave, and Ingram didn't want to. But the signing of former Viking Latavius Murray could pay off for the better. How? One name, Alvin Kamara, okay that was two names, but still one person. Kamara is a generational talent, whose skill set exceeds most. With Ingram in the fold, Payton tried to split the carries as best as possible, and that needs to change for the better. Kamara skill set is similar to that of Hall Of Famer Marshall Faulk, he is an elusive play maker who not is only an elite rusher, but also an elite pass catcher as well. Number 41 could easily rush for 1000 yards and catch for 1000 yards with 20 plus touchdowns in a season. The big thing you want to avoid doing, is overloading him 30 plus touches a game for sixteen games, and Murray allows for that. While it can be argued that Murray is a step down from Ingram, he is still a quality back cable of gaining good yards. Payton can feed him multiple times a game, while still allowing Kamara the extra touches he had not been previously getting. And with Taysom Hill returning after a season where he seemly lined up everywhere but kicker, the Saints running game should remain as strong as ever.
In a playoff game against the Eagles last January, Sheldan Rankins tore his Achilles tendon, and is expected to miss the first half of the 2019 Season. David Onyemata violated the leagues substance policy and is expecting a suspension. Alex Okafor signed with the Chiefs and Tyler Davidson signed with the Fal--... the Foul--... Fa.... Atlanta. Just like that, what was one of the Saints deepest position in 2018, was a position of need in 2019. New Orleans signed two time Super Bowl winner Malcom Brown away from the New England Patriots, and picked up a curious signing in Mario Edwards. 2018's first rounder Marcus Davenport showed continued progress until injuring his foot, an injury that would lead to off season surgery. But looking over the games leading up to the injury, Davenport's talent becomes clear, as he was on his way to becoming solid contributor. Rankins is coming of a season that showed why the Saints made him a top 15 pick in the 2016 Draft. Rankins' injury is a serious one, but not an impossible one one to come back from, as Okafor was coming off of one last year and played well. Omyemata's suspension shouldn't last more then four games, and 2018 UDFA rookie Taylor Stallworth showed promise in what little action he was shown. As for 2019, New Orleans didn't draft any D-linemen, but have signed a number of D-linemen as UDFA. DE Carl Granderson out of Wyoming, has turned head in Rookie camp, but it's one thing to handle a fellow Rookie, it's another to go up against a 10 year multi Pro Bowler Vet.
After a promising 2017 season, the secondary took a huge step back in 2018, even 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore struggled to start the season. In 2017, Ken Crawley paired with Lattimore as one of the leagues best cornerback tandems. However, Crawley took a huge step backwards in 2018, so much so, that New Orleans would trade for New York Giants Eli... wait for it... Apple. Apple (ironically reuniting Apple with college teammates Lattimore and Von Bell) understandably struggled early on, but would come into his own as he played more games. The Saints pass defense would dramatically improve down the stretch. This past draft, New Orleans would move up in the fourth round to take hybrid defensive back Chauncey Garden-Johnson out of Florida. CGJ has been the top highlight of offseason workouts so far, yet some precaution needs to be taken, as CGJ has yet to face real game competition. Non - the - less, CGJ should be an up grade from 2018's Free Agency bust Kurt Coleman. The defense should take a step forward in 2019, or so Saints fans hope.
Micheal Thomas is as elite as they get, but he needs consistent help. Alvin Kamara needs to be let loose, but not overloaded. The New Orleans defense has come a long way from ranking 32nd in 2015, but still needs work. The signing of Cook should help spread the offense a little better, while Smith and Kirkwood need to develop more consistency this off season. Bringing in Murray should help the running game keep going, and Brown and Edwards should help ease things in the absence of Rankins and Omyemata. Despite its flaws, New Orleans is Super Bowl ready. However, looking at who they have coming up in free agency in both 2020 and 2021, it is clear their time is now. Not only is Brees now forty, but his continued presence on the books could prove to be a problem when trying re-sign some of their younger players (something not lost on Drew either). If New Orleans is able to juggle the books while making a successful transitions from Brees in the future, then this team could compete for championships for a number of years. But for now, their focus is today (you could argue that they should have won the last two years), and not looking to the future. It may be bias, but WHO DAT 2019!
By John Behrens
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