The New Orleans Saints surprised a lot of people a season ago with their somewhat unexpected playoff run, which saw them fall just short of reaching the NFC Championship Game and another shot at getting to the Super Bowl.
Just when it seemed impossible for them to break the “7-9 Curse”, they put all the pieces together and went (11-5). Heading into the 2018 season, the Saints will look to build upon the success they had last year. Changes have been made to the roster, but it seems to be greatly improved.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Saints offense is shaping up, for the upcoming 2018 campaign:
The Saints are set at QB for at least the next two years, thanks to Drew Brees signing a two year extension this off-season. We all know the wonders that he’s capable of, but it's behind Brees, however, where things start to get a little bit "iffy".
Last season, a lot of hype fell around 27-year old back-up and former BYU starting QB Taysom Hill. Hill was productive in preseason action with the Green Bay Packers, but yet he was still released and New Orleans swiftly claimed him off waivers.
To everyone’s surprise, Hill ended up excelling on special teams (something unheard of for the QB position), thanks to his all-around athleticism. His hype grew even further when head coach Sean Payton let it slip (though some believed he was joking at the time) that the heir to Brees "could already be in the building".
It will be interesting to see Hill get some preseason action this fall, as he has yet to take any meaningful snaps at QB with the Saints. Behind Hill on the depth chart are Tom Savage and rookie J.T. Barrett.
Savage will be playing in his 3rd NFL season, but struggled while starting for the Texans last season. News from rookie camp was much more positive for Barrett however, although it is way too early to tell how he will fare in the NFL.
The 3-way battle between Hill, Savage, and Barrett to be Brees' back-up, should provide one of the more intriguing storylines of the Summer for the Saints as Training Camp and the preseason quickly approaches.
At the RB position, the New Orleans Saints have two studs: Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Both had over 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year and both averaged over a robust 5 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, the running back position took a hit this off-season; when news of Ingram’s 4-game suspension for using PED's surfaced. While Kamara will be able to shoulder some of the load himself, he’s going to need some help.
Luckily (as it seems they always do), the Saints already had planned ahead. In the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Saints drafted an intriguing RB prospect named Boston Scott. Scott was a productive runner in college at Louisiana Tech despite his small size, and could contribute right away during Ingram’s suspension.
Also on the depth chart at RB are Trey Edmunds and Jonathan Williams. Edmunds was on the roster last season and was most known for his long TD run in garbage time against the Buffalo Bills. Williams however, is more of an unknown.
Last year, the Saints snatched Williams from the Denver Broncos’ practice squad in November. Last preseason while with the Bills, Williams rushed for 121 yards on 21 carries. He does have a lot of promise as a former All-SEC performer while at the University of Arkansas, but only time will tell how he will fare with more carries.
If there was one offensive position where the Saints were lacking last season (other than TE), it was at WR. They of course had budding superstar Michael Thomas on one side, but no other threats to compliment his play.
Free agent addition Ted Ginn, Jr. was a pleasant surprise however; although he is an older player and more of a "home run threat" than anything else. Outside of those two, the other receivers at the position failed to take any of the necessary steps to earn a starting spot in 2018.
Heading into the off-season, Sean Payton mentioned that the WR position needed to be addressed. To start the WR "make over" as it were, the Saints signed restricted free agent and former Bears WR Cam Meredith to an offer sheet; which the Bears decided not to match.
Meredith caught 66 passes for 888 yards and 4 TD's two years ago for Chicago, before tearing his ACL last year. As long as he recovers fully from his injury, he should provide a much needed threat opposite Thomas.
On top of adding Meredith, New Orleans drafted University of Central Florida WR Tre’Quan Smith in the 3rd round of the recently-completed draft. Smith is a fast receiver with good size; and he should prove to be a terrific deep threat once he gets used to NFL competition. With Thomas, Meredith, Ginn, and Smith, it can be said that the Saints now have one of the better receiving corps in the entire league.
A position everyone thought the Saints would address in the 2018 draft was the tight end position. Prior to the draft, 37 year old Ben Watson was atop the depth chart, followed by free agent "bust" Coby Fleener (who was later cut), Josh Hill, and Michael Hoomanawanui. None of these names really instill fear in opposing defenses.
As the draft wore on however, it became apparent that the Saints were not going to address the tight end position. Luckily, however, they may have found a potential playmaker during the UDFA frenzy: former Western Kentucky University TE Deon Yelder.
Yelder is a 6-foot-4, 255 pound tight end whose nickname is “Thump”. He flew under the radar while at WKU, as he only played the TE position as a senior and subsequently did not receive an invite to the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
He did, however, have the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl, where he was seen by Saints scouts and was also able to reel in a TD pass from fellow overlooked and underappreciated college star Kyle Lauletta (who was taken by the Giants).
While he looks like he could eventually make an impact for the team, it’s important to temper our expectations. Most rookie tight ends don’t have much of an impact in their first year, especially when they go undrafted. Heading into the 2018 season, the tight end position still appears to be an overall weakness for the Saints.
Offensive line is arguably the most important position in football besides quarterback. These are the guys that protect your franchise signal caller and pave the way for a successful passing and rushing attack.
The offensive line has always been a priority for the Saints, as they’ve used two first round picks in the past 3 drafts on offensive linemen (Andrus Peat in 2015 and Ryan Ramczyk in 2017). Using early picks on offensive lineman has helped the Saints create one of the best lines in the league.
Peat has lived up to being a top draft pick by providing stability and versatility on the offensive line. Over the past few years, he has been forced to play both tackle and guard due to injuries, and he has excelled at both positions. He looks to continue to improve as he enters his prime.
Ramczyk was a pleasant surprise last season after being drafted as a future replacement for the recently-retired Zach Strief. He was forced into the starting lineup early due to an injury to Terron Armstead. Ramczyk stepped up and held his own against top competition, proving he would be the future at the tackle position.
Another surprise from a season ago was free agent addition Larry Warford. Warford came over from Detroit and made an immediate impact by paving the way for a top rushing attack. He looks to be a nice investment that is already paying big dividends. Still young at age 26 (he turns 27 next week), Warford has his best days ahead of him.
Often overlooked, but arguably the most important player on the line, is center Max Unger. Unger has been with the team since the Jimmy Graham trade back in 2015. He has provided stability at the center position and is excellent in pass protection and run blocking. He doesn’t look to be slowing down either, despite his age.
Unfortunately, injuries have been the norm for the Saints on the offensive line in recent years. In years past, Senio Kelemete was able to step in and hold everything when injuries hit, but now he's playing in Houston.
Luckily, the Saints addressed their need for offensive line depth by drafting Rick Leonard and Will Clapp. Both players are raw, but with time should both add quality depth to a solid position group.