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2017 Team Report: New Orleans Saints

Offensive Philosophy

Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been collaborating since 2006, which means New Orleans' offense is one of the most predictable in the NFL. Drew Brees is going to be among the league leaders in pass attempts. He likes big receivers and speedy deep threats, but he'll ultimately spread the ball around rather than focusing on a single target. The team will run a running back by committee. And there will be a lot of passes to the running backs; only seventeen times since 2006 have teams thrown more passes to their running backs than the 2016 Saints did... and seven of those seventeen times were other Sean Payton / Drew Brees Saints teams.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Drew Brees
Backup(s): Chase Daniel, Justin Thomas

Starting QB: Drew Brees led the NFL last season in passing attempts, completions and yardage. He completed 70.0% of his attempts for 5,208 yards and 37 TDs. Over his eleven seasons with the Saints, Brees has enjoyed unparalleled success. He has averaged 4,888 passing yards, 7.73 yards per attempt, a completion rate of 67.8% and 35 touchdowns. He has missed only 2 games out of 176 and even though he turned 38 in January, he has not yet shown signs of slowing down. This season is the final year of the two-year $44.5 Million contract that he signed just last August, yet Brees recently stated that he thinks he could play several more seasons. This will be the third straight season that Brees has lost a top receiver. He has lost Jimmy Graham (2015), Marques Colston (2016), and Brandon Cooks (2017), but the offense has remained passing focused and productive. Over the past five seasons, the Saints have averaged 664 pass attempts and only 389 rushes. Do they rely so much on the passing offense because their defense performs poorly? Or is the passing game always their strength? This off-season's free agency and draft indicates that the offense could feature the running more in 2017. The Saints upgraded at Guard signing Larry Warford and drafted an offensive tackle in the first round. They signed free agent Adrian Peterson and drafted Alvin Kamara early in the third round, setting up a strong Running Back Committee. It appears that a reduction of pass attempts is a strong possibility. Brees will likely target Michael Thomas frequently. Thomas was outstanding as a rookie a year ago with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 TDs. The Saints also have Coby Fleener and Willie Snead returning. That pair produced 1,526 yards and 7 TDs on 152 receptions a year ago. Brees has not finished below QB6 in any season with the Saints and this year at 38 years old, with the loss of Cooks and the off-season running game additions, it is conceivable that he could finish there or lower in 2017.

Backup QB: Chase Daniel signed a one-year contract in March to return to New Orleans as the Saints' back-up quarterback. Daniel spent his first three NFL seasons with the Saints and enters his eighth NFL season, but has little game experience. He has completed 51 passes on 78 attempts for 480 yards and one touchdown. Hopefully, he will get opportunities in the pre-season to get familiar with the offense and the team again, just in case he is forced into action. However, Brees' history of playing always in New Orleans should continue to keep his back-up on the bench.

Running Backs

Starter: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson
Backup(s): Alvin Kamara [R], Travaris Cadet, Daniel Lasco, Marcus Murphy
Fullback(s): John Kuhn

Starting RB: As sparingly as Mark Ingram has been used, it is somewhat surprising that in his seventh NFL season, he remains in New Orleans. It should not be a surprise that the team signed Adrian Peterson in April, which will again limit his carries. Ingram has two years remaining on the contract signed in March of 2015, with salaries of $3 Million this year and $4 Million next, but the guaranteed amounts expired last season. He had career highs last year with 1,043 yards rushing, 5.1 yards per rush and 10 total touchdowns including four on receptions. Even with those career highs, Ingram had only one game with 20 carries and topped 100 yards rushing only three times. The signing of Peterson, as well as the drafting of Alvin Kamara confirms that Ingram will again share snaps and carries. It is even conceivable that Peterson could have a larger role. Ingram has greatly improved as a receiver since early in his career. He was not used much in the passing game his first three seasons, but has averaged 48 receptions the past two seasons. Ingram's usage in the passing game could also be challenged in 2017. The Saints traded up to draft Kamara, who could fit in nicely in a receiving role. Adrian Peterson has been one of the NFL's best running backs over his career which began a decade ago after being drafted 7th overall by Minnesota. The Vikings declined to pick up his 2017 option and essentially released him. He recently turned 32 years old and had injury problems in two of his last three seasons. However, he averaged 4.5 ypc in 2015, rushing for 1,485 yards and 11 TDs and also caught 30 passes for 222 yards. He has overcome a lot late in his career and it would not be wise to sell him short this year.

Backup RBs: There is very little career production among the Saints' reserve running backs. Travaris Cadet will battle rookie Alvin Kamara for the Saints' third running back slot. Cadet has only 84 career rushing yards. He has had success in the passing game with 102 career receptions for 840 yards and 7 total touchdowns, including 40 catches last season. Another positive for Cadet is that he has played in New Orleans for four plus seasons. He signed a one-year $855,000 contract last month. The Saints traded away a 7th round pick and next year's 2nd rounder to move up to draft Alvin Kamara in the 3rd round (67th overall) in this year's draft. Kamara is a versatile running back who was used often as a receiver and also on punt returns in his collegiate years. He could win the camp competition for the third running back slot and perhaps play frequently in third down situations. Daniel Lasco, drafted in the seventh round a year ago only played in only 7 games his rookie season with only 11 rushes and two receptions for 43 total yards. Both he and Marcus Murphy could be on the roster bubble. Murphy has been with the Saints two seasons and has even less production than Lasco. Murphy has seen more time as a returner, but Kamara could potentially take over that role.

Fullback: John Kuhn signed a one-year minimum contract a year ago and returns this season on another one year deal signed in early February. Kuhn enters his twelfth NFL season, including nine years in Green Bay, where he scored 23 touchdowns. Although he only rushed for 37 yards with 16 catches for 70 yards in his first year in New Orleans, he scored 5 touchdowns, much to the dismay of Ingram owners.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Thomas, Willie Snead
Backups: Ted Ginn, Brandon Coleman

Starting WRs: The Saints drafted Michael Thomas (6'-3" and 212 pounds) in the 2nd round a year ago. He earned Brees' confidence early and had 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 TDs in his rookie campaign. Thomas showed promise early in last season's pre-season work-outs and was productive out of the gate catching 6 passes on 6 targets for 58 yards in his first game. After he was drafted by the Saints, Thomas remarked that he considered his competitiveness, routes, hands and passion for the game as his greatest strengths. His self evaluation rang true during his rookie season. The Saints trade of Brandin Cooks shows the team is confident in Thomas's ability to be the top receiver. Willie Snead, the son of a high school coach played collegiately at Ball State. In his final two seasons there, he became one of only two Ball State players to have two 1,000 yard receiving seasons. He totaled 223 catches for 2,991 yards, and 26 TDs there. Snead originally signed an undrafted free agent contract in 2014 with the Browns, but failed to make the team. He was then signed to the practice squad at Carolina and eventually wound up in New Orleans in December that same year. He impressed in the Saints pre-season practices in 2015 and eventually became their second most productive wide receiver that season with 69 catches for 984 yards and 3 TDs. He continued that success last year with 72 receptions for 895 yards and 4 TDs, even while Michael Thomas passed him by. He should have more opportunities in 2016 due to the trade of Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Backup WRs: Ted Ginn signed a three-year $11 Million contract with New Orleans near the end of March this year. Ginn who caught 98 passes for 1,491 yards and 14 TDs over the past two seasons in Carolina remains in the NFC South. He has had a lot of success on deep routes, averaging 15.2 ypc the last two years. Coach Payton likes Ginn's speed and said that he can do some of the same things that Cooks provided to the offense in his time with the Saints. Brandon Coleman signed a one-year $615,000 contract to remain with the team. He is the biggest of the reserve wide receivers, at 6'-6" and 225 pounds. Another unsigned free agent find by the Saints, Coleman has not quite broken through. He has averaged 28 catches and 377 yards over his first two seasons, with less production last year. His size has not resulted in consistent production as he has only three games with five or more catches and his high yardage game has been 81 yards. Coleman's size could continue to give him an opportunity, at least for 2017.

Tight Ends

Starters: Coby Fleener
Backups: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

Coby Fleener was not as successful in his first season with the Saints as many expected. Previously the Saints tight ends had dominated, with Ben Watson having a career year in 2015 catching 74 passes for 825 yards and 6 TDs. For the three seasons before that, Jimmy Graham had averaged 85 catches for 1,030 yards and 12 TDs. Fleener produced only 50 catches for 631 yards and 3 TDs. These numbers were not any better than he had averaged in Indianapolis. He seemed to struggle at times with the offense and lost snaps to Josh Hill in mid-season before Hill injured his fibula and went on IR. At this point, he remains the starter but it would not be surprising if Fleener faces pre-season competition for playing time at tight end this year. Josh Hill was re-signed by the team in March 2016, as the Saints matched an offer made by the Chicago Bears for $7.1 Million over three years. Hill is another undrafted free agent, who originally joined the Saints in 2013. Hill had limited opportunities in his rookie year, catching only 6 passes in 14 games. Hill had more success in 2014, making big plays in critical spots, but still managed only 14 receptions, but scored five times. Many predicted a break-out season in 2015, but that failed to materialize as Ben Watson earned the starting role in pre-season and never gave it up. Hill managed only 16 catches for 120 yards and 2 TDs. Hill has great familiarity with the offense and could be productive if given the chance. He will battle Fleener in off-season workouts and could see more playing time in 2017. Hoomanawanui is a journeyman tight end who has played with three teams over his seven NFL seasons, never topping 13 receptions in a season and he did play last year.

Place Kicker

Wil Lutz, Ben Grogan [R]: Wil Lutz had a rollercoaster ride last year. The Ravens released him right before the season, the Saints signed him after "the best kicking workout" head coach Sean Payton had ever seen, then Lutz missed six kicks in the first ten games, then Lutz didn't miss in the last six games, including 12 field goal attempts and 18 extra point attempts. The Saints did sign Ben Grogan of Oklahoma State after the draft, but he was only a 75 percent field goal kicker in his collegiate career and he is probably not going to push Lutz. The Saints offense produces numbers, and Lutz was able to capitalize with a top five finish in scoring that translated in leagues that reward distance of made field goal attempts. He isn't going in the top 10-12 kickers in 2017 drafts and should be a primary target if you wait until the last round for a kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ted Ginn, Marcus Murphy

Though his offensive production has never lived up to his top-10 draft position, Ginn has made a long career for himself as a decent receiver and top-notch returner. Over the last 10 years, Ted Ginn has been a do-everything returner for four different teams, and New Orleans will almost certainly become the fifth.

Punt Returners: Ted Ginn, Marcus Murphy

Though his offensive production has never lived up to his top-10 draft position, Ginn has made a long career for himself as a decent receiver and top-notch returner. Over the last 10 years, Ted Ginn has been a do-everything returner for four different teams, and New Orleans will almost certainly become the fifth.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, RT Zach Strief
Key Backups: Khalif Barnes, Senio Kelemete, Ryan Ramczyk [R]

The Saints' offensive line lost left tackle Terron Armstead to shoulder surgery in June. The timeline for this injury is 4-6 months. The team drafted Ryan Ramcyzk out of Wisconsin at the end of round one to be an insurance policy for Armstead. However Ramcyzk has hip issues and Khalif Barnes has been signed to take the reps until Ramcyzk is healthy. Most teams don't have the luxury of first round picks waiting in the wings and the Saints are no exception. Andrus Peat is another left tackle option, but the team appears set to let him stay at left guard, where he has been above average. Center Max Unger is one of the league's best but he has foot issues and should be a close call to start the 2017 season. If that were the case, center would be manned by Senio Kelemete, who has been a sort of do it all sub for the Saints in recent years. Right guard Larry Warford arrived from Detroit in free agency, and he can be a decent starter. Zach Strief has been a rock at right tackle for many years and there's no sign of that stopping. Overall the Saints' line has top notch starters and are one of the best when they are all healthy. However injuries have already weakened the lineup as the season begins and should further injury strike, depth could be a concern.

Team Defense

Another year, another NFL campaign of despair from the Saints defense. They were near the bottom in every important fantasy category and their scoring and 2017 ADP both reflect that. There is reason to project a bit of a turnaround. First-round pick Sheldon Rankins started the season injured and later lived up to his draft slot. Nick Fairley was kept in free agency to pair with Rankins inside on the defensive line, and the team drafted Marshon Lattimore at #11 to add length and speed to the secondary. There's no reason to draft the Saints D/ST, but with some good health and the potential for return touchdowns from free agent pickup Ted Ginn, they could merit streaming matchup consideration, especially when they are in the Superdome.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Nick Fairley, DE Cameron Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins
Backups: DT Tyeler Davison, DT David Onyemata, DE Obum Gwachum, DE Alex Okafor, DE Darryl Tapp, D.J. Pettway, DE Trey Hendrickson [R], DT Tony McDaniel

Starting DL: Former first round pick Nick Fairley went from a low-risk signing last season to a four-year, $28m contract this offseason. Clearly, the Saints liked what they saw from the formerly disgruntled player whose effort was always a sore spot. Fairley's snap count of 700+ from 2016 will likely see a downturn with the return to full health of Sheldon Rankins, but he will still contribute. There is an additional concern that Fairley may miss time - or even be forced to retire - due to a heart condition that gave him problems in his pre-draft process. Rankins missed a portion of last season due to injury and never quite managed to get into a rhythm. As the season wore on, however, he began to show why the Saints picked him 12th overall last year. Cameron Jordan continues to be the anchor of this line, however, and will be moved all over the front to influence the game as a run defender and pass rusher.

Backup DL: The Saints have no lack of depth on the line, with Hau'oli Kikaha (listed as a linebacker by some) easily able to slot in as a pass rusher. Tyeler Davison has provided decent depth of late, while veterans like Tapp and Okafor are solid options to call upon in a pinch. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen preached an open competition after minicamps wrapped up, with the edge rusher role opposite Cameron Jordan up for grabs. Trey Hendrickson is a raw prospect from Florida Atlantic who could end up being a steal for the Saints. He has excellent burst, but will need to refine his pass rushing technique to make the step up to the next level after facing few pro-calibre offensive tackles in college. The signing of former Seahawk Tony McDaniel in the offseason could be insurance against a potential Fairley absence.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Manti Te'o, SLB A.J. Klein, WLB Dannell Ellerbe
Backups: LB Stephone Anthony, LB Nathan Stupar, LB Craig Robertson, LB Hau'oli Kikaha, LB Travis Feeney, LB Alex Anzalone [R]

Starting LBs: The Saints seem to churn through linebackers like they are going out of fashion. The retirement of James Laurinaitis left a gap at middle linebacker, so the team went out to sign veteran Manti Te'o. Oft-criticised, Te'o will have to prove to the team he can be a three-down force. A.J. Klein was brought on board after an impressive showing in spot duty during his years in Carolina. He will more than likely step in right away as the strong side linebacker. Dannell Ellerbe is the only holdover of the trio, but he has only played 15 games in two seasons with the team; he could very well be on the roster bubble when the time for cuts comes.

Backup LBs: Stephone Anthony has every chance to secure a starting role, but the regime appears to have a reluctance to fully invest in him. Assistant GM Jeff Ireland stated this offseason that Anthony was still in their plans, and 2017 will go a long way to determining his future. His new linebacker coach Mike Nolan seemed to provide an endorsement of his skills in May, stating that Anthony 'made a lot of plays' in limited action in 2016 and is best suited to playing inside. Craig Robertson performed very well last season and could have a say as well in unseating one of the starting trio. Alex Anzalone can play all three linebacker spots and will be a key depth and special teams player.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Marshon Lattimore [R], CB Delvin Breaux, FS Vonn Bell, SS Kenny Vaccaro
Backups: CB B.W. Webb, S Marcus Williams [R], S Rafael Bush, CB Sterling Moore, CB Ken Crawley, CB Damian Swann, CB P.J. Williams, S Chris Banjo, CB De'Vante Harris

Starting DBs: Delvin Breaux had his second NFL season cut short by injury, but he will be eager to put that bad experience behind him and return to his rookie form of 19 passes defensed. Opposite him will presumably be rookie Marshon Lattimore, the former Ohio State player who fell into the laps of the Saints on draft night. A fluid playmaker, Lattimore could become the top cornerback in the league within a few years. At safety, Vonn Bell will hope to pick up where he left off in his rookie year when he played almost 900 snaps. Kenny Vaccaro, meanwhile, has insisted he wants to remain in The Big Easy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. His play on the field hasn't been what the Saints might have envisaged when they drafted him in 2013, so the ball is in his court.

Backup DBs: Among the backups, Rafael Bush and Ken Crawley stand out as the most dependable options based on experience alone. B.W. Webb has been a serviceable backup option in a pinch for the team in the past, but Marshon Lattimore will be expected to unseat him in short order. Marcus Williams is a safe pair of hands in the back end who rarely let players get behind him in college. A sure tackler, Williams will be an asset as a do-it-all backup option initially. With such depth at defensive back, the competition for the final spots in training camp will be fierce.

Last modified: 2017-06-20 11:14:52