New Orleans Saints 2021 Team Previewby John Lepore August 21, 2021 0 comments
Coming into the 2020 season, the New Orleans Saints were poised to make a run at another Super Bowl and send Drew Brees off into the sunset as a champion. Even though the Saints started off 1-2, they quickly rebounded, rolling off nine in a row. They took the NFC South with a 12-4 record and were the second seed heading into the playoffs. While they beat the Chicago Bears in the first round, the offense didn’t look on the same page. That would prove problematic as they fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week. There are a lot of new faces in the Big Easy this season and some big names will be missing for a bit, but the Saints still have some top-end skilled talent to make the playoffs.
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Obviously, the main loss of the offseason was Brees retiring. It isn’t easy to replace a future Hall of Famer, but the Saints should be alright as we will get to later. The cap hell that New Orleans was in strapped them as far as what moves they could make and who they had to let walk. Trey Hendrickson tied Aaron Donald for the NFC lead in sacks with 13.5 and then got his payday with the Cincinnati Bengals to the tune of a four-year deal worth $60 million.
Another position where the Saints were already thin was at linebacker and Alex Anzalone defected to the Detroit Lions. Veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is now in Buffalo and starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be playing for the Tennessee Titans this season. The Saints used the draft to address most of these departures, using their first three picks on edge rusher Payton Turner, linebacker Pete Werner, and cornerback Paulson Adebo.
Due to their cap restrictions, the Saints only managed to bring in a few veterans as depth pieces. Wide receiver Chris Hogan, cornerback Brian Poole, and running back Devonta Freeman were added to the team. New Orleans brought in some new coaching faces as well. Kris Richard is a nice addition as defensive backs coach after his 10 years in Seattle building the “Legion of Boom”. Also, Ronald Curry steps in as the quarterbacks’ coach and will be tasked with helping the Saints transition from Brees.
The offense was solid last season finishing fifth in the NFL in points (482). That was despite Michael Thomas missing most of the year and Brees missing four games. With Thomas out again for about half the season and Brees no longer there, the Saints will need to find out who they can depend on in this offense aside from Alvin Kamara. Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway will be very important to keeping this team scoring points. If they can’t step up, it won’t matter who is under center.
New Orleans was excellent against the run last season allowing a league-low 11 rushing TDs while only surrendering 1,502 yards on the ground (fourth-best). Their passing defense was good as well leading the league with 18 interceptions. With rookies stepping into important roles this year as the Saints try to replace the production of Hendrickson, Anzalone, and Jenkins, a scheme and a cohesive system will be important. There are a few players who have been around for a couple of years now and will need to prove that they deserve a spot on the roster.
Winston didn’t see the field much last season going just 7-for-11 for 75 yards. Sean Payton had Hill start the four games that Brees missed. While Hill performed pretty well and adds the rushing ability to the position, expect Winston to be given the starting job out of camp. Fourth-round pick Book will round out the quarterback position and beat out Trevor Siemian for the third spot.
With the lack of proven talent at the wide receiver position, Kamara’s catching ability will be even more important this year. Murray will remain the between-the-tackles back for the Saints offense despite them bringing in Devonta Freeman for a look. Jones looked excellent in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens despite a fumble. Not only did he rush for 82 yards but also added five catches for 38 yards. Armah should handle the fullback duties.
Smith, Callaway, and Humphrey will handle most of the receiving work with Thomas out. Harris will be the slot receiver, but he is also expected to be suspended for a couple of games due to a DUI charge stemming from an incident over the summer. Montgomery rounds out the rotation as he can be used as a rusher as well. If White can stay healthy, he will make the team.
Johnson has been getting most of the targets and has impressed so far. His athletic ability will allow him to step right into the role vacated by Jared Cook. Trautman will be in the mix as he is a solid blocker and has good hands. He is also a nice red-zone target with his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds). Griffin will have to beat out Nick Vannett for the final spot in the tight end room.
As far as the starting five go, this is one of the best units in the NFL. Armstead and Ramczyk will be the tackles. Peat and Ruiz will be at left guard and right guard respectively while McCoy is the center. Clapp backs up the interior as the Saints have a little flexibility with Ruiz being able to slide over to center. Hurst and Greenidge round out the tackles.
With David Onyemata suspended for six games, the Saints will need a solid rotation in the middle of their defensive line. Tuttle and Roach will see most of the time there. McIntosh and Ringo will both try to make their mark as former late-round picks who moved on from their original teams. Bronson is the undrafted rookie out of Washington filling out the rest of the line.
Jordan is a mainstay. Davenport and Granderson will likely handle most of the rotation on the other side as First-round pick Turner tries to carve out a name for himself. Kpassagnon comes over from the Kansas City Chiefs and gives the Saints another piece to rotate in.
Davis and Alexander will be starting. Former third-round pick Baun and last year’s second-round pick Werner will be battling for playing time. Elliss is in his third season and will be a fill-in for any of the top four. Dowell, who has been on the practice squad the past two years, is depth and a solid special teams player.
Lattimore may be suspended for an incident that happened in March. Crawley and rookie Adebo have the other two spots locked up. Poole is best as a nickel corner and rushes the passer well. Williams can play outside although he is better at safety and Haley will be in on a few packages but is mostly a special teams player.
These four players are locks. Williams was given the franchise tag and Gardner-Johnson enters his third season and is looking to have a breakout year. Jenkins comes back as a veteran presence and can still make plays. Gray is a depth piece and will play on special teams mostly.
For the first time since 2008, the Saints will enter the season with a punter not named Thomas Morstead. Gillikin has taken that role now and he will be good. Zach Wood is the long snapper, as he has been for the past four years. Rosas is trying to take over for the injured Wil Lutz. Time will tell if he sticks with the team.
One Player to Add
Cornerback is the position with the most glaring need. Aside from Lattimore who may miss some time, there isn’t much else as far as the talent on the outside. The Saints will look to bring in a veteran like D.J. Hayden. The 31-year-old former first-round pick missed most of last season with a knee injury. He is still a free agent and if he can prove he is healthy, the Saints should be able to bring him in on a one-year prove-it deal for short money.
2021 Outlook & Odds
With holes left by the suspension of Onyemata, the likely suspensions of Lattimore and Harris, and the injury to Thomas, the outlook for the Saints could be seen as dire. Nevertheless, they still have an excellent offensive line and one of the best backs in football. Payton will have the team competitive. If Winston and/or Hill can limit mistakes and someone can step up and catch a few passes, the offense will be fine. The defense will take a little time to be a cohesive unit with a lot of new faces. The over/under win total is nine. It won’t be easy, but if the Saints can win a few games early, they will be fine.
Season Prediction: 10-7 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card
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