The Saints of New Orleans will be the team we’re discussing today on our NFL 32 Team Preview. New Orleans is coming off its first losing season since 2007. The team couldn’t be happier to have Head Coach Sean Payton returning next year. The NFC South is one of the hardest divisions in the NFL and, with a career record of 67-37, Payton is as important to this team as any player on the field. New Orleans should be in topics of appearing in the Super Bowl throughout the entire 2013 season.
Offense: New Orleans Offense didn’t struggle as bad as some would think without Sean Payton in 2012. They were the league’s best passing team thanks to Quarterback Drew Brees. Drew threw for more touchdowns (43) than any other player at his position, as well as accomplished passing for over 5,000 yards for the 3rd time in his career. Brees has throw 89 touchdowns in the last 2 seasons alone, and is the player that dictates this Offense. The team envisioned having a better running game at this point when they drafted Mark Ingram in the 2011 NFL Draft. This will be a make-or-break year for the Running Back with the Saints. He’s only carried the football 278 times total, putting up 5 touchdowns in each of his NFL seasons. Ingram hasn’t played horrible by any means. He just hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding him when he arrived in New Orleans. Darren Sproles is one of Brees’s favorites, targeting him on 104 passes last year. The Running Back has been a game changer since signing in 2011, combining for 2,224 total yards and 17 touchdowns in the Offense. Notably Pierre Thomas gets time at this position as well. I think that the team needs to focus on Ingram in 2013 though, with Sproles being the main 3rd down guy. Jimmy Graham is one of the best Tight Ends in the league and is another one of Bree’s favorite targets (135 in 2012). Graham was considered to be very raw with little experience when going into the 2010 Draft. Since that time, Graham has caught 215 passes for 2,648 yards and 25 touchdowns. Benjamin Watson will be backing up Graham going into his 10th season. Marques Colston has quietly been one of the best receivers since joining the league as a 7th round pick in 2006. He’s had over 1,000 yards receiving 6 out of his 7 years playing, totaling 58 touchdowns. Colston was number 1 on the Saints in plays that went for 20 yards or more with 15 last year. Lance Moore, who has been with the team for quite some time now, had his most productive year with the team last season with 1,041 yards on 65 receptions. Chris Givens and Courtney Roby will see more time on the field in 2013, but will be competing with Kenny Stills for the 3,4,5 spots on the depth chart. Stills is a play making Wide Receiver out of Oklahoma who had 204 catches, 2,594 yards, and 24 touchdowns in his 3 years. If Stills can build a rapport with Brees, he could have a big rookie season stat wise. The Guards for New Orleans are one of the better duos in the game. Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs will be responsible for the interior of the line. Tackle, both right and left, are a bit of a concern for the team going into the new season. Charles Brown will get the opportunity at left but has missed a lot of time due to injuries during his career. The Saints did draft Terron Armstead in the 3rd round of the Draft, so should Brown not hold up, he’s is the second option. Right Tackle should be Training Camp battle between Zach Strief and Jason Smith. In 2009, Jason Smith went 2nd overall and was thought to be the sure thing of the Draft. Today, Smith is fighting to stay in the league. If he is healthy and can play, he’d be a solid plus for the Saints line. I don’t think he’s going to be a factor for the team at all though. Center will be Brian de la Puente, who started all 16 games for the team in 2012. Things are set up to be business as usual in the Big Easy this coming season. The only thing that will stop this team is Brees getting injured or being sacked 50 times.
Defense: What was lack thereof, the Defense for the Saints was the worst in the league and posted 31st against both the run and pass. Trying to shore things up in the Secondary, the team selected Kenny Vaccaro with the 15th pick in the Draft. He’s good in coverage but has had some concerns with his tackling going through the Draft process. There are a couple of scenarios that could happen during Training Camp; either Vaccaro starts at Free Safety, which would move Malcolm Jenkins back to corner, and have Roman Harper as the starting Strong Safety. Or, Jenkins would be the starting Free with Vaccaro as the starting Strong. I believe the 1st scenario will take place because it makes more sense for the team’s layout. Harper had 115 total tackles last season (leading the Saints in solo tackles with 88) with 2 interceptions. In 2011, Roman registered 7.5 sacks, which is very productive for a player at his position. Jenkins was New Orleans’ 1st overall pick in 2009 and started his career at Cornerback. Jenkins is coming off of a hamstring injury, but should be ready by the time camp comes around. Keenan Lewis was signed in the Offseason to a 5-year $26 million dollar deal. He should start along side whoever wins the Jabari Greer/Patrick Robinson competition. Robinson is the favorite, in my opinion, intercepting 7 passes in the past few seasons. Going into his 4th NFL season, he needs to solidify his coverage skills and take a step forward to being a consistent corner. Greer is a 10-year vet who, over the past 6 seasons, has 12 interceptions. The Defensive Back situation is going to be the most interesting part of Training Camp, as to who steps up and plays where. The Middle Linebackers for the Saints would be David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton if I had a say. Lofton led the team in tackles (123 total) and tackles for loss with 6. Lofton will most certainly be one of the starters along side either Jonathan Vilma or Hawthorne. Vilma’s presence alone energizes the team but he’s going into his 10th NFL season. Hawthorne is a few years younger and has over 100 tackles 3 out of the last 4 years. Notably, New Orleans signed un-drafted rookie Kevin Reddick, who many though would go in the 2nd-4th round, but dropped mainly due to his pass coverage liabilities. I think Reddick has the tools to be a star. Victor Butler was signed via Free Agency to rush the Quarterback from the Outside Linebacker position. Butler only started two games in his 4-year career, and has registered 11 sacks. However, Butler injured his ACL a few weeks ago and will be replaced by either Martez Wilson or Junior Galette. Chase Thomas is a notable un-drafted signee who, in his Stanford career, brought the Quarterback down 27.5 times. The question will be if Will Smith starts at Linebacker or End. Smith had 6 sacks for the team in 2o12 and, with the newer 3/4 Defense, will start at one of those positions. If he starts at Defensive End, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette will battle for the starting OLB. Both are young players who only have 3 total starts combined. If Smith doesn’t start at Defensive End, then Akiem Hicks most likely will. Hicks, who was a rookie last season, hasn’t seen a lot of time but is a big 6’5 324 pound body. The real showcase End for the Saints is Cameron Jordan. Cam had a break out season last year with 8 sacks and will be looking to build off of that in 2013. John Jenkins, 6’3 359 pounds from Georgia, was drafted in the 3rd round to anchor the Defensive Line. If Jenkins is conditioned enough to play the position throughout the season, then Brodrick Bunkley would be backing him up. Bunkley is a little undersized to be a Nose Tackle, so I could see him interchanging at End some as well. The Defense has players who should produce better for New Orleans after a disappointing 2012. If they can rank in the Top 15, and you know their Offense should be in the Top 5, then New Orleans will win a whole bunch of games this upcoming season.
End Result: If they stay healthy throughout the season, I predict the Saints will have the NFL’s best record at 14-2.