Did the Saints properly replace Drew Brees?

Should the Saints have added a QB?

by: Reese Nasser

NFL great and longtime New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees announced his retirement early in the off-season. While this came as no surprise considering Brees had a 20-year career, all eyes were on how the Saints would address the QB position. The Saints currently have four quarterbacks on the roster: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, and rookie Ian Book. 

The Saints have options at quarterback and it is still unknown who will be QB1 once the season begins. But did the Saints make a mistake? Should they have traded for a player like Carson Wentz or moved up in the draft to take someone else? Or will the duo of Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston be enough? Let’s take a look. 

The Case for Jameis 

Jameis Winston has proven to be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. His record of 28-42 during his six-year career can’t be all attributed to him as the teams he played on in Tampa were never great.. He showed flashes during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it was enough for the Saints to take a chance on him. In his last full season with the Buccaneers, he threw for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions; becoming the first and only player in the 30/30 club. While he has been known to be reckless on the field, he will occasionally do things like this.

Now, after spending a full season learning behind Brees and getting lasik surgery to fix his eyes, the Saints should feel comfortable handing him the keys. The risk is worth it. Brees has publicly endorsed Winston as his successor and the Saints should do the same. 

The Potential of Taysom Hill

The Saints are still clearly all in on the Taysom Hill experiment after signing him to one of the strangest contracts in NFL history. The five-year extension has four voidable years which would mean the Saints could get out of it as soon as the 2021 season ends. The 31-year old utility player will make the occasional appearance but he can’t and should not be the Saints long term plan at quarterback. While talented, he hasn’t proven to have the ability of being a QB1. 

The Rookie

The Saints selected Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round of this year’s draft. While Book wasn’t one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class, he showed glimpses in college. His 72 passing touchdowns and 17 rushing touchdowns showed that he has playmaking ability.

Many analyst feel as if the Saints may have reached on this pick. Scouts had his projected draft spot in the range of rounds 5-6 yet the Saints took him in the fourth. If you felt that there was a need at quarterback, why not take one in an earlier round? At the end of the day, the Saints took a QB that they potentially see a future with somewhere down the line. So let him learn and when he’s ready, let him go ball out.

The Decision

So did the Saints make a mistake? Should they have traded up to take Justin Fields in the first? Or take a QB in the second round such as Kellon Mond or Kyle Trask? Maybe. But the Saints felt confident enough to rock with the guys that they already have on the roster. The group that they have assembled, while somewhat questionable, is still better than a decent amount of QB rooms in the NFL. So let the guys on the roster give it a shot. Give Winston the opportunity that he deserves and see if he can be what the franchise needs. The team as a whole is talented and the quarterback will make or break them. It is still too early to say that the Saints make a mistake at the QB position this off-season, but in my eyes, they made all the right moves. And if it fails and the season goes down in flames, use the first round pick next year and draft the future of the franchise. 

Why the Saints Made Fantastic FA and Draft Moves with Little Cap

The Saints had a sneaky good offseason

By: Ladarius Brown

As in every offseason, teams position themselves to be successful while keeping the salary cap in mind. The New Orleans Saints, who have historically been legitimate title contenders for the past decade, had an intriguing offseason that began with them losing some major players:  

  • QB Drew Brees (retirement)  
  • WR Emmanuel Sanders (signed with the Bills)  
  • EDGE Trey Hendrickson (signed with the Bengals)  
  • DT Sheldon Rankins (signed with the Jets)  
  • DT Malcolm Brown (signed with the Jaguars)  
  • LB Alex Anzalone (signed with the Lions)  

A major reason for these departures is the salary cap purgatory the Saints are in. Even still. GM Mickey Loomis and the Saints have the 5th highest dead cap space ($22.8 million). Overall, they have nearly $62,000 in cap space, which is the last in the league and nearly the annual salary of a high school teacher. Despite their cap situation, there are a few FA signings I liked and good draft moves.   

FA Signings  

Signing DE Tanoh Kpassagnon from the Chiefs was a signing that could have great upside if Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen can maximize his talents. Nielsen has been one of the best in the league over the last four years doing as such. The 6-foot-7, 289-pounder Kpassagnon is a former second-round draft pick who has started 23 games over the previous two years and has the adaptability to slip inside on downs using the pass-rush.   

He will possibly serve as a rotational backup behind starting DE’s Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. However, the Saints have a great affinity to move bodies on the defensive line, needing more valued depth after losing DTs Malcolm Brown and Sheldon Rankins. Kpassagnon is still just 26 years old and has plenty of experience under his belt, logging more than 60 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps last year.  

Another great signing is that of TE Nick Vannett. This takes care of one of the Saints’ more immediate needs after they moved on from their top two tight ends from last season: Jared Cook (signed with the Chargers) and Josh Hill (signed by the Lions). The Saints should be thrilled about the upside of their second-year TE, Adam Trautman out of Dayton, as both a pass-catcher and a blocker. Yet, they needed some veteran depth, and Vannett fills that role.   

The 6’6”, 261 pounds, Vannett has served primarily as a blocking tight end during his five-year career with the Seahawks, Steelers, and Broncos. Nonetheless, the former third-round draft pick out of Ohio State also has 75 catches for 686 yards and five TDs in his career.  

Draft Picks  

I will be honest here in saying that I did not see DE Payton Turner of Houston going in the first round but I understand why the Saints took him 28th overall in this year’s draft. At 6’6”, 270 pounds, Turner has potential that can be unlocked by the Saints defensive coaching staff. He possesses and formidable reaction time and athleticism along with how he creates and bursts into contact. Thinking about Turner playing alongside with All-Pro Cameron Jordan ought to excite Saints’ fans. Plus, if he can be as successful as another Payton, HC Sean Payton, Turner will work out great.   

They stayed on the defensive side of the ball in round two, drafting linebacker Pete Werner from Ohio State 60th overall. Werner was a two-time All-Big Ten Conference honoree including third-team honors in 2020. At 6’ 2”, 242 pounds, he played in 47 games as a Buckeye, started 35 times, and entered his senior season in 2020 with a stat line of 131 total tackles, 13.5 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.   

Werner has lined up in the box, as an overhang player and a middle safety. Being a hybrid who plays in and out of the box is ideal in the NFL. He projects as a weakside LB in the 4-3 defense.   

One pick that I like that might shock some folks is their fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame: QB Ian Book. I understand they re-signed Jameis Winston (one-year deal worth up to $12 million) and Taysom Hill (four-year deal worth $140 million) but Book could be a steal here. HC Sean Payton “was drawn to his athleticism, accuracy, big-game experience, and track record of winning.” There is a handful of coaches who knows the QB position and Payton is high on that list.   

The Saints’ offseason was investing in the upside of players and seeking out veteran talent in FA. In the NFL, they went after players who either start day one or become starters within the next year or two. GM Mickey Loomis did his best Houdini impression, pulling some rabbits out of that gold & black hat.   

Why Sean Payton Will Prove Again Why He is the Best Offensive Mind Without Drew Brees

A New Challenge in New Orleans…

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Sean Payton has consistently shown that he is the best offensive mind in the NFL since taking over as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Now entering his 15th full season in this role, he will face a brand new challenge. For the first time since getting the job, he will not have the luxury of Drew Brees at the quarterback position. That is of course because Brees officially retired this offseason.

This new situation provides Payton with an excellent opportunity to remind everyone around the league just how much of an offensive genius he is. Brees is a lock to be a first-ballot hall of famer, but Payton is ready to show that he can still run a highly productive offensive scheme without him. This will certainly be a challenge, especially considering the options on the current roster at quarterback including the swiss army knife Taysom Hill, the big arm but turnover machine Jameis Winston, journeyman backup Trevor Siemian, and newly drafted rookie Ian Book.

If anyone is up for the task of losing a legend at quarterback but not missing a beat on offense, it’s Sean Payton. His track record speaks for itself and his offensive rankings are beyond impressive. Here is why he will prove it again this year.

Offensive Production

The Saints have been an absolute offensive juggernaut since Payton took over as head coach. It may be easy to forget that Brees spent the first five years of his career with the Chargers, where he was a good quarterback but by no means the legendary one that he became with the Saints. The head coach and quarterback relationship is a very important one in the NFL, and few have been on the level of Payton and Brees. It was a match made in heaven, and their offensive rankings since becoming a tandem verify that.

In their 14 season run, the Saints offense ranked first in the NFL in total yards six times, was ten times in the top five, and only once finished outside of the top ten. Their scoring rankings are just as impressive, leading the NFL twice, including nine top fives and only twice finishing outside of the top ten. They were in the top five for passing yards in eleven straight seasons including being ranked first five times. Passing touchdown rankings are a similar story, leading the league twice and finishing in the top ten in all but two seasons. The list of offensive accomplishments goes on, but they have obviously been a powerhouse in the Payton era.

No Brees, No Problem?

That is the massive question that Payton will be looking to answer this season. He will be excited to embrace this new challenge and show off his brilliance. It’s an opportunity to quiet the doubters that may believe that the success of the Saints offensive has solely been due to the greatness of Drew Brees, rather than the collaborative efforts of the pair. Payton is an extremely creative schemer and play-caller, which he has demonstrated in the way he has utilized a unique player like Taysom Hill recently and Darren Sproles in the past, as well as unlocking the true weapon that Alvin Kamara has become and setting receiving records with Michael Thomas.

Do not sleep on the Saints offense no matter who is playing quarterback. They will certainly look different than they did with Brees, but different does not necessarily mean worse. This new set of circumstances will really get the creative juices flowing again for Payton, and it will be exciting to watch what he comes up with. If there were any doubt about the genius of Sean Payton before this upcoming season, it’s highly unlikely that there still will be when it’s over. Expect to see the new Saints offense towards the top of the league once again.

Michael Thomas Will Return to the Reception King in 2021

After a frustrating 2020 campaign, MT is poised to take back the receptions throne this season.

by Michael Obermuller

In 2020, Stefon Diggs led the NFL in receptions with 127 during his inaugural season in Buffalo. It was a legendary campaign for Bills’ new WR1, but he’s still more of a newcomer when it comes to this honor. The recent king of catches has been New Orleans Saints star Michael Thomas, and he’s the only player to actually top Diggs’ 2020 output.

It was a rough 2020 for MT, starting with a high ankle sprain in Week 1. Then, after an altercation on the practice field before his expected Week 5 return, Thomas was benched and fined for breaking team rules. Things got worse from there, as the wide-out did not end up returning until Week 9 (injury flare ups). After six games on the field, Thomas finished the year off it again, joining the injured reserve before Week 15.

“Can’t Guard Mike” was the receptions leader in both 2018 and ’19, and there’s no reason to believe that he cannot take back this title again in 2021. Here’s why.

1. Career Consistency

The New Orleans Saints WR1 caught 149 passes two seasons ago, totaling 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns through the air. The next closest pass-catcher was running back Christian McCaffrey, with 116 receptions. This was not just a career season by MT, it was a campaign that will go down in the NFL history books as one of the greatest of all-time. Thomas was never a one-hit wonder either. He also led the NFL in receptions in 2018 (125), and finished third in 2017 (104).

In fact, since his rookie season in 2016, MT has only caught less than 100 passes twice; 92 as a rookie (which is actually pretty ridiculous) and 40 during his injury-ruined 2020 campaign. This is one of the most consistent players in all of football. Not wide receivers, players. No wide-out has been as steady as Thomas in terms of receptions though, and that includes rivals like DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams. He is currently averaging 7.3 receptions per game throughout his career, with a 77.6 percent catch rate.

2. Stats Without Brees

One of the arguments against Thomas has always been that he plays with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, but this is an unfair critique of MT’s game. Whenever Brees has missed time in recent years, his top wide receiver has performed just as impressively without him, if not more so.

The stats above are from three games with Teddy Bridgewater in 2019. Thomas averaged 8.3 catches per game during that span, which is actually higher than that 7.3 career average. Brees also went down in 2020, and MT produced yet again (and with lingering injuries and Taysom Hill at QB this time). During four games with Hill throwing the ball, Thomas caught 30 passes for 343 yards, which averaged out to 7.5 receptions per game.

Clearly, MT doesn’t care who’s throwing him the football, so why would it matter if Jameis Winston (or Hill again) is his quarterback in 2021? If anything, Winston is known as a gunslinger who actually led the NFL in passing yardage in 2019. The Saints may also play from behind more with Jameis or Taysom at QB, which generally means more passing attempts and wide receiver targets. Thomas will be just fine without Brees, after all his nickname is Can’t Guard Mike for a reason.

3. Sean Payton

NOLA general manager Mickey Loomis extended Thomas in 2019. The five year deal was worth a record-breaking $96 million-plus. That is an expensive weapon, and don’t think for a second that head coach Sean Payton won’t milk that weapon for every penny so long as he’s wearing a Saints jersey. We are talking about one of the most creative offensive minds the game has ever seen, with one of the best pure route runners of the NFL today.

Whichever route New Orleans goes at quarterback, Thomas will be a major part of it. Outside of 2020, MT has averaged 150.5 targets per season in Payton’s offense, and the HC has already proven he can win without Brees just like the wide-out has proven he can put up numbers without his former QB. This is not meant to disparage Brees, but instead credit a couple of the key influencers on his career. The Saints have also lost WR2 Emmanuel Sanders and TE Jared Cook in free agency, meaning Payton may have to rely on his WR1 more than usual this season.

Two things are for certain; the Saints offense will score in 2021, and Michael Thomas will catch many passes so long as he’s on the field. He may even reclaim his crown.

Post NFL draft Winner and loser from each division

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

In every endeavor, there is a winner and a loser.  The repercussions from the 2021 NFL Draft are no different.  Of course, who won and who lost is all subjective until the playing actually starts.  But some teams did do better than others, and here they are.

AFC EAST

WINNERS: MIAMI DOLPHINS

It remains to be seen whether letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go handing the team completely over to Tua Tagovailoa was the right move.  However, the Dolphins did little wrong elsewhere. 

Drafting Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle should help settle Tagovailoa and the offense.  But having the sixth-ranked scoring defense return in a division that has to deal with quarterback Josh Allen and newly arrived gunslinger Zach Wilson just seems good business.

LOSERS: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Yes, the Patriots are loaded up from their spending spree in free agency, including returning quarterback Cam Newton. 

Drafting their presumptive franchise quarterback, Mac Jones feels right.  But now the Patriots have two quarterbacks with diametrically opposite skill sets. 

So what do you do? It could work, and of course, you never count the Patriots out, but….

AFC WEST

WINNERS: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers solidified and added depth to their offensive line.  They added Larry Roundtree in the sixth round, who may prove what the Chargers offense needs behind Austin Ekeler to round out what was already a very good offense.

LOSERS: DENVER BRONCOS

If the Broncos passed up their chance to draft a franchise quarterback because they know something we don’t, my apologies.  But under current conditions, it appears to be an omission that will come to bite them in the ass.

AFC NORTH

WINNERS: BALTIMORE RAVENS

In two of the past three drafts, the Ravens have taken a wide receiver.  It has not helped.  The third time is the charm?  Rashod Bateman has the skill set to be WR1 in the Ravens offense (albeit a low bar), but if he can help the Ravens pass/run ratio become more equitable, it is a win.

In a division historically known for its defense, adding edge Odafe Oweh to their top-ranked defense is a bonus.

LOSERS: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

It could all work out; after all, tight end Pat Freiermuth is known for his blocking skill set.  But the offense, which finished last season 32nd in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per attempt (3.6) per teamrankings.com, needed to improve the 31st ranked run-blocking offensive line.

Fun fact Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 676 more rushing yards than the entire Steelers team in 2020.

AFC SOUTH

WINNERS: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

With the number one pick and nine total picks, the Jaguars got their franchise quarterback and seemingly faster on offense. 

There was really nowhere to go but up.

LOSERS: HOUSTON TEXANS

They could not have won this.  The Texans needed a lot.  Their first pick was not until round three, and they managed only five total picks.  Thanks to Bill O’Brien, the Texans did good with what they were given, but winning wasn’t an option.

NFC WEST

LOSERS: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks had the 30th ranked defense in passing yards last season.  They lost Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency.  And they only had three picks in this year’s draft. 

Their first pick was a wide receiver, D’Wayne Eskridge.

WINNERS: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It may be more accurate to say winner Trey Lance.  Going to a team that, but for injuries, is a playoff contender is a win. 

Now Kyle Shanahan has the quarterback of his dreams, and the 49ers are back in playoff contention.

Can we just acknowledge that this might be the most competitive division in the NFL?

NFC EAST

This was the hardest division to project a loser because basically, they all got what they needed.  However, it must be done.

LOSERS: WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, okay, I get it.  But not getting a quarterback for the future may prove costly.

WINNERS: NEW YORK GIANTS

It remains to be seen if stockpiling 2022 NFL Draft picks will win the day.  Not getting offensive line help for quarterback Daniel Jones may hurt this season.

NFC SOUTH

LOSERS: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints needed a cornerback.  Their first two picks were defensive end and linebacker.  There is also the questionable acquisition of quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round. 

It all seems so muddled. 

WINNERS: ATLANTA FALCONS

Taking arguably the best player on the board seems like a smart choice.  Adding him to an already prolific offense is a no-brainer.  Picking up much-needed help in a secondary that allowed 293.6 passing yards per game, check.

NFC NORTH

LOSERS: GREEN BAY PACKERS

I don’t know if further pissing off your reigning MVP quarterback counts as a loss, but it should.

WINNERS: CHICAGO BEARS Jumping up to #11 to pick up the second-best quarterback in the draft is a w

A new Saint: Pete Warner

Who is Pete Warner?

By: Courtney Burrows

So, the draft has come and gone, and now it is time to grade teams, picks, and potential future of these young athletes.  Back in the beginning of April, I wrote an article for a Saints Mock Draft and selected Pete Werner, LB out of Ohio State in their 3rd round.  As we now know, the Saints landed Werner in the 2nd round at Pick 60th overall, which I do think might have been one round too early.  The Saints have drafted five Ohio State players in the past few years that have performed well for us like WR Michael Thomas and CB Marshon Lattimore.  So needless to say, The Saints have had success with Buckeyes!  Here’s to hoping that Werner makes the same big name for himself in the Big Easy.  Linebacker was also an immediate need the Saints had to fill with the loss of Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander in the offseason.  Pete Werner can and will be an immediate starter. 

Werner is a stout run defender who is fast and athletic for his 6’2” 242 lb. frame. At Ohio State, he led in 2020 with 54 tackles and was second on the team in 2019 with 64 tackles.   He should immediately step into the WLB role alongside Demario Davis, who was named a first-team All-Pro in the NFC by the Associated Press.   Werner fits well as he should be able to hold the line while the more athletic and quicker Davis can move off and pounce in the open field. Having both strong defenders in the middle of the line will help to stop the run and rush the pass. Ultimately, this will help the Saints to continue to compete in the NFC South.  Werner is an extremely smart player who fits into Coach Payton’s defensive scheme and will help round the front seven.  The one thing I notice from watching the tape was that he is not strong with open field tackling he is fast and gets there but needs to fine-tune and wrap up tight ends and others, but that is definitely something that is coachable.  I feel he will give the defending NFC and Super Bowl Champ Buccaneers’ TE Gronkowski and run for his money.

Will Pete Werner be a Pro Bowler for the Saints?  That is the question that all fans look at when combing over rookies and what they can do for the team.  I would like to hope that the combination of Davis and Werner translate into a new era similar to when Jonathon Vilma and Scott Fujita ran the defense and helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.  Vilma was the leader and tremendous in coverage and Fujita helped to the line and stop the rush.  Though Fujita was never a Pro Bowler, Vilma was named to the Pro Bowl and All-American Team multiple times.  In the Saints Super Bowl season, Vilma had 58 to Fujita’s 43 solo tackles.  They both were a defensive wall that stopped many opponents in their tracks.  This is the future for the Saints defense.  Davis should step up and become the leader that the front seven need, and with that will come helping the young, talented Werner.  Together they will continue to disrupt defensives and keep the Saints on track to again fight for their place atop the NFC South.  So, the question is will Werner become a Pro Bowle? Yes, in time I think he has all the pieces to become one, but first Davis will get that honor this year and help to mold Werner into our future. 

Breaking down the Saints first round draft pick

By: Courtney Burrows

Day one of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books.  How did your favorite team do?  The Bears have the steal of the draft with Ohio State’s QB Justin Fields at Pick 11.  The Raiders left most scratching their heads with Alabama’s OT Alex Leatherwood at Pick 17 when there were bigger needs still on the board. 

My beloved New Orleans Saints had Pick 28 and had been rumored to have been in talks all day with other teams for potential trades to move up.  My gut tells me they were trying to move up for one of the top QBs or WRs, but when that didn’t happen the expectation was to take a CB, DE, or WR.  My blood pressure was rising, the tension in the air was thick and looming. 

As I saw the Titans take CB Caleb Farley at Pick 22, I thought there was a chance for us to grab another highly ranked CB and even potentially take Ole Miss’s star WR Elijah Moore.  Remember our famous QB Archie Manning, who graduated from Ole Miss, and son Eli Manning followed him there years later?  Of course, you do, so the Saints and the Rebels have a long history together, which made me even giddier to think about Thomas and Moore running slants and catching touchdown passes. 

At this point, I’m on my feet with nervous anticipation.  This pick is in and with the 28 pick the Saints choose Payton Turner, DE out of Houston.  My jaw drops, and I am confused.

Let’s go back to 2018, when the Saints traded up to Pick 14 and selected Marcus Davenport out of Texas-San Antonio.  He definitely wasn’t immediate starter material as he was viewed as a developmental player, our defensive future.  Davenport has not lived up to his expectations.  He recorded three sacks his rookie season, a few more in 2019, then seemed to regress.  He has not panned out to be the elite pass rusher the organization thought he would become. 

Flash forward to 2021, Turner was not expected to go until the late 2nd or 3rd round.  He is 6’6” and 268lbs and was a three-year starter at Houston with a 4.25 short shuttle on pro day.  Needless to say, he is fast and explosive off the line with long arms, but was he the elite 1st round pick the Saints needed? 

Still on the board were DEs Joe Tyron Washington, Gregory Rousseau, Miami, CBs Eric Stokes, Georgia, Asante Samuel Jr, FSU, and Elijah Moore, WR Ole Miss.  I do believe that any of the players would have been an immediate need filled and potential future face for the Saints. 

The Saints really needed a top-tier CB to play opposite Lattimore. The team also desperately needs a strong receiver to help elevate whoever is under center and take pressure off Thomas as he looks to bounce back from 2020. Yet, here we are. As any good faithful fan and fantasy football guru knows, you must dig deeper, watch a few tapes, and realize that an NFL organization might know more than we do.  So, that’s what I did.  Turner is a beast and superbly athletic.    

He needs fine-tuning, but he showed great progress in the last three years at Houston.  He posted 68 solo tackles and 9.5 sacks in his collegiate career.  The Saints must compete even harder now in the NFC South with the loss of Brees.  The Superbowl defending champions Buccaneers have an incredible defense and brought back all their key players and will continue to add to that in the draft. 

If the Saints have added depth to the defensive front with Turner to keep atop their division, then I hope to not be bitter.  Turner might just be the surprise draft pick. The change in NOLA, the player that bolts off the edge, rushes the offensive line and gets to the QB, specifically Brady, and if that happens, then I am a happy fan. 

The more and more I dive into Turner’s playing ability and potential, the more I like the pick.  It might take some time for me to shake the feeling of what-ifs, but as a devout WHO DAT nation member, I have to respect the pick and look to round two where we must get a WR to complement Thomas.  I also have to trust the process and trust the fact that the organization remembers the Davenport pick and we don’t forget, I hope they didn’t either.  Welcome, Payton Turner to New Orleans!

5 Saints with the most to prove in 2021

Michael Thomas needs to bounce back next season

By: Courtney Burrows

The New Orleans Saints are looking forward to the 2021 Season to try and build on the legacy of their years of NFC South dominance behind Drew Brees.  Now that Brees has retired, the team really needs to come together and fight for each other and the beloved city in which they play.  There are many players on defense and offense that need to step up and prove that they are ready to be a leader on the field and in the locker room. 

Michael Thomas, WR- Though it was not all his fault, as he played most of 2020 with a nagging ankle and recurring hamstring injury, Thomas left a bad taste in the football world as he had a lackluster season.  There were already rumors of Brees retiring and what a season it was destined to be for the QB/WR duo.  In 2019, he set the single-season reception record with 144th career catch passing Marvin Harrison and ended up with 1,725 yards, and then fell to hit the mark with only 438 in 2020.  Elite receivers in this league can be up and down, especially after their main QB leaves as a new rhythm must be established.  Welcome to the off-season, where Thomas has been catching with Winston and Hill to get comfortable with both.  Thomas is entering the 2021 season healthy and 29 years old.  He can still produce but must prove that he can get separation from defenders and corners and get open for deep balls and shorter passes and then use his acceleration to beat coverage.  Since we don’t know who will be under center for the Saints, we don’t know arm strength or accuracy and Thomas must be prepared for it all, whatever is thrown at him.  Thomas must regain his phenomenal level of play so that the Saints can justify keeping him.  The Saints should draft a rookie slot receiver to complement him which can take some load off Thomas’s shoulders, but he must produce in 2021 or he might just find a new home in 2022. 

Jameis Winston QB- We all know the story of Winston’s fall from grace as a Buccaneer.  He was a Heisman winner drafted first overall in 2015 becoming the third rookie to throw for over 4,000 yards.  He continued to produce in the NFL, but in 2019 he set the record for interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season.  The Buccaneers did not resign him, and he landed in New Orleans to potentially back up future Hall of Famer Brees.  Though, he did not see much playing time in 2020, as the Saints used Hill to replace injured starter Brees, Winston did appear in Week 9 against his former team, and then faced them again as he came in on a trick play in the Divisional Playoff Game and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre-Quan Smith.   If anyone has something to prove to not only The Saints for signing him but to the entire NFL, it is Winston.  He was a turnover and interception machine last time he was a starter, and if he wants to be the head of the Saints’ offense, he must produce.  Winston needs to prove that he has matured, studied, become a more patient passer, and show that he has put in the hard work since leaving the Bucs to be named a starter again and lead a team.  I expect the Bucs to be the presumed NFC Champs and the ones to beat as reigning Superbowl champs, but if Winston can play like a man with a mission, listen to his coaches, put any ego aside, and get the naysayers out of his head, I think he could be the one facing the Bucs in the Divisional Game again and walking away victorious. 

Tayson Hill QB- If we are going to talk about the elephant in the room surrounding the Saints 2021 starting QB, Hill must be mentioned as someone with lots to prove.  Coach Payton turned to Hill in Week 10 after Brees was ruled out, and he threw for 233 yards and rushed for two touchdowns against the Falcons.  Hill continued to get the start and had ups and downs, but he seemed to find more success rushing and scrambling then throwing.  If anyone has the most to prove, it is Hill.  He has a new 4-year contract and will compete with Winston for that starting job under center.  Is he simply a utility player that can throw, rush, block, and confuse defenses, or is he the real deal learning for the past few years under Brees?  Only time will tell, but Hill should be practicing and connecting with all his weapons and becoming one with his offensive line to prove that he has the stuff.  Payton trusted him once to lead the offense, which left most in the NFL wondering why, but then we saw glimpses of strength, athleticism, and determination that can translate well under center, and if anyone can nourish that it is Sean Payton.  I for one and excited to see who is given the reigns come September. 

Marcus Williams Safety- The Saints placed a franchise tag on Williams who was drafted in the 2nd round in 2017 and has played every season since in New Orleans.  Williams is best known for the blown tackle in the NFC Divisional Game vs the Vikings dubbed the Minneapolis Miracle, but he didn’t give up.  Instead he worked harder and got more efficient at tackling.  Last season, he had 59 total tackles and three interceptions and was pivotal in the defense ranking 4th in the NFL with an average of 300 yards per game allowed.  Williams must continue to step up and prove that he was worthy of the tag especially now that other key defensive players left in free agency.  I see the Saints drafting a WR and an CB as first priorities, so Williams must be the leader of the secondary keeping their opponents off the field so that the offense can do their job without Brees leading the way. 

Sean Payton Coach- Even though he isn’t a player, Payton has a lot to prove this upcoming season to himself, the league, and most importantly his team as they move on from Drew Brees and their 15-year offensive brilliance that led the team to one Superbowl win and multiple Divisional wins and appearances.  Can Payton make the right moves to keep his team in the NFC South race and Superbowl contention?  Payton has a master offensive mind creating plays that keep defenses scratching their heads, but he always had Brees with the talent to execute those plays.  He must make decisions now based on lesser talent but still talent nonetheless and other coaches with fewer excelled players have risen, so will Payton.  If Thomas bounces back and Kamara keeps grinding, then the rest should fall into place.  They must draft a slot receiver and hope that last year’s draft of Adam Trautman at TE will pan out.  Coach must place full trust in Cam Jordan to lead the defensive so that he can put the pieces back together on offensive and rise to the top again where the Saints and the city of New Orleans belong. 

What do you think? Of course, there are others who will step up and shine and others that will fade. I am looking forward to watching the coaches and players continue to flourish even though the 15-year dream of the Future HOF Drew Brees era is over and walk gloriously into the light of NFC stardom and continued league respect. The Saints as a whole will have chips on their shoulders losing yet another Divisional Round and not finishing where they desired. I believe they all will have something to prove and say, “Yes we lost one of the greatest, but together we are still phenomenal.” #WHODAT!

Remaining Free Agent Targets for New Orleans Saints

Will the Saints Get Sherman?

By: Courtney Burrows

The off-season for the New Orleans Saints was a doozy, wasn’t it.  We said goodbye to the leader of the pack, Drew Brees.  The Saints resigned CB PJ Williams, S Marcus Williams, QB Jameis Winston, and brought EDGE Tanoh Kpassagnon over from the Chiefs.  They also added Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington both running backs who will contribute mightily to special teams and returns.  The Saints also released LB Kwon Alexander, TE Jared Cook, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DT Sheldon Rankins, and Malcom Brown, CB Janoris Jenkins, DE Trey Hendrickson, and punter Thomas Morstead.  Needless to say, there are holes to fill that can be addressed in the draft but some can be fixed right now.  The Saints cleared up $111 million in cap space to releases, retirements, contract restructures, so let’s look at the top 3 free agency needs for the Saints and how they might be secured. 

KJ Wright Linebacker- Wright is 6’4” and 246 lbs. and has not yet been resigned by the Seahawks and reports out of Seattle state that they are not interested either, so he could be cheap and would be able to step in day one and produce.  In 2020, he had 86 tackles and 11 for losses, he is been a quiet, consistent linebacker.  Even tough he turns 32 this summer, if the Saints drafted a LB, Wright could be the plug and play needed while the new prospect develops under the coaching staff.  This would be a very low risk move by the Saints, as Wright was already passed over the Cowboys which should make his price even lower now.  Wright wants to play and given the chance despite his age, could easily move onto the line and help the Saints fill immediate holes. 

Richard Sherman Cornerback-The Saints have an all-star CB in Marshon Lattimore but releasing Jenkins hurt in having a reliable, speedy corner to complement him.  The re-signing of Jenkins helps but having to rely on other defensive backs to cover is not ideal.  There are many great talents in the draft that the Saints could easily slot into the role, but for now, let’s shift our eyes to veteran Sherman to help the defense cover the slot.  Sherman is aging and missed out on numerous 2020 games due to injury, but don’t sleep on him just because he is older.  Remember Sherman is a 5-time Pro Bowler and elite secondary machine that plays with grit and fire in his belly.  In just five game sin 2020, he still managed 18 combined tackles, one pass defended, and one interception.  The point is Sherman can still produce and should be a steal in terms of money because so many teams have already passed him by.  New Orleans is a perfect fit for a 1 to 2-year contract for Sherman.

Jurrell Casey DT- Losing defensive tackles Rankins and Brown definitely hurt the Saints, but salary cap had to be refined.  Casey is someone that makes me scratch my head in wonder because his 2020 season was cut short due to a bicep tear, so can he regain his explosive power?  Is he worth the gamble and cheap enough to consider?  Those questions I cannot answer, but in 142 career games, Casey has had 51 sacks and 507 tackles.  Again, this is another aging player who might be worth the risk for a year to help round out the defense for the Saints.

Bottom line is that the Saints need to address more defensive free agents now so that they can focus on the offensive side of the ball earlier in the draft.  That does not mean that they ignore talented, raw defensive players that fall in their laps like a potential DE or LB in rounds three and four.  The Saints first grab in round one should be a wide receiver to complement Thomas as they must rebuild the confidence in the offensive after losing Brees, unless they make a move up for a shot at a QB.  If that does happen, round two should then be a WR.  I also could see the Saints grabbing a cornerback in round two, which means adding Sherman now for security and depth makes perfect sense. 

Saints 7 Round Mock Draft

Who Will The Saints Draft?

By: Courtney Burrows

The New Orleans Saints are still reeling from the news of Drew Brees’s retirement.  Yes, everyone knew it was coming, but that doesn’t change that fact that it is a tough pill to swallow.  The show must go on in New Orleans, and that started with free agency re-signing Winston at QB, James Hurst as a fill-in offensive lineman, and PJ Williams at safety.  There are glaring other holes to fill like Edge, CB, LB, as Kwon Alexander was released and TE since Jared Cook left (even though the Saints drafted TE Adam Trautman 3rd round in 2020).  One of the most needed draft positions is a strong slot WR complement to Michael Thomas, even though Emmanuel Sanders was released, he wasn’t what the Saints needed so that was an easy decision.  The 2021 Draft is less than 40 days away, and the Saints need to make big moves early.  There is still a high possibility that the Saints trade up for their future QB, but these picks will be made where they currently stand with no trades.  Here is a look at potential picks for each round.

Round One, Pick 28- Rondale Moore WR, Purdue.  Moore is a top slot receiver in the draft, and the Saints need one to complement Thomas.  His toughness and speed in the slot make him a perfect fit.  Moore is an incredible deep threat with explosiveness and vertical leap allowing him to come up with the ball and propel past defenders.  He finished his career at Purdue with 1788 receptions for 1,915 yards.  If he is still on the board, the Saints can’t turn his talent down. 

Round Two, Pick 60- Eric Stokes CB, Georgia.  The Saints need a real #2 CB since releasing veteran Jenkins.   Stokes is a 2nd round pick having him ranked as the 6th  to 8th  best CB in the draft behind his teammate Tyson Campbell.  Stokes ability to break up passes and disrupt receivers’ routes in zone coverage elevate him despite his size.  Stokes will make an impression from day one on any defense, why not the Saints where they desperately need the help.

Round Three, Pick 98-Pete Werner LB, Ohio State- Werner is a stout run defender whose instincts and quick reads of the offensive action help him locate the ball and tackle the runner.  He is underrated and will be available in the third round.  Werner is fast and athletic for his size and has large hands that break up passes and get in the faces of offensive players makes him a great fit that defensive line coach Ryan Nielson can coach up and mold into exactly what the Saints defense needs.

Round Three, Pick 105-Payton Turner DE, Houston- Turner is a versatile defensive player who is quick off the edge and solid in size and power.  Though he has quick bursts and acceleration, his stamina of overall speed is lacking in comparison of other DE, but that is something a good coach helps to fix.  Turner is smart and uses his mindset to know what offenses are thinking and has the flexibility and agility to switch gears mid-run.  He is a steal!

Round Four, Pick 133-Tony Poljan TE, Virginia- Jared Cook was released and Taysom Hill is no longer designated as a TE/QB, so the need is there.  Poljan reminds me of Hill since he played his first two collegiate years as QB, and we know how much the Saints have utilized Hill’s multi-tasking talent.  He is a physical pass protector pushing defenders away from the pocket.  Poljan has a huge wingspan and height that elevates him over defenders to be the first to the ball.  He is a great late-round pick that could translate into a TE1 in the coming years for the Saints. 

Round Six, Pick 218-Larry Rountree RB, Missouri- Granted the Saints have one of the best RB in the league with Kamara, but who better to learn from either.  Rountree is an undervalued RB whose quick feet let him weave in and out of holes and defenders.  His career stats include 40 touchdowns and 3,720 yards with an average of five yards per carry.  He is raw and needs grooming especially as a three-down and receiving back, but again learning from Kamara will be crucial to his future in the NFL. 

Round Seven, Pick 229-Dan Moore Jr. OT, Texas A&M-As an Aggie, Moore playing left tackle helped QB Kellen Mond complete 63.3% of his passes and throw for 2,282 yards.  Moore’s large size is balanced by his steady feet and frame, and though he does not have the quickness off the line, he does not quit on plays and charges until the whistle is blown.  That determination is something that can’t be taught.  Moore should spend at least a season on a practice squad to develop more refined pass protection and blocking, but he worth the gamble in the 7th.

Round Seven, Pick 225-Max Richardson OLB, Boston College-Richardson returned for his 2020 season at BC and became an immediate leader on the field and in the locker room.  The Saints thrive on players rich in discipline, character, and heart, just like Richardson.  He finishes his collegiate career with 315 total tackles.    Richardson has the ability to read plays and zone coverage well and established himself as a blitzing menace in college.  He has had some knee issues, which is why he might fall to the 7th, but the Saints will be lucky to snag him. 

What an exciting draft this is set to be, and if the Saints make wise moves to upgrade their roster to help return to NFC Glory without Brees, then they will continue to battle for one of the top spots in the league. I personally am excited to see who they grab, but maybe Coach Payton and GM Loomis will read my post and agree. I truly believe that they will trade up and grab Mac Jones or Trey Lance as the heir to the throne in NOLA. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds Thursday, April 29th.

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