2015 Season Preview: New Orleans Saints

I had the opportunity to work with Sean Payton for a four-year period when I was a scout for the New York Giants. He was a young position coach and then a young offensive coordinator who I had the utmost respect for. You could see that he had a bright future, which, of course, turned out to be correct. Fifteen years later, he is the successful Head Coach of the New Orleans Saints, and I feel he is one of the better Head Coaches in the NFL. He sees the big picture as well as any coach. That said, Payton felt the Saints needed change. What worked early in his career in New Orleans wasn’t working now. What we will see this year from the Saints is not what we have seen the past few years. Quarterback The Saints are led by 36 year old Drew Brees. While Brees is getting up in age, he is still capable of putting together a few more strong seasons. He will not have the same cast of receivers he had in the past, but he will still be ultra-productive. I feel Brees is one of the more instinctive quarterbacks in the NFL and a strong leader. While he may lack some of the natural physical traits that he possessed earlier, his instincts will carry him through now. Behind Brees will be rookie Garrett Grayson. I feel Grayson may have been one of the steals of the draft. Grayson put up some excellent numbers while at Colorado State, and he did it with a supporting cast that didn’t have anywhere near the talent that Marcus Mariota had at Oregon or Jameis Winston had at Florida State. It would not shock me that in three or four years, Grayson turns out to be the best quarterback from this draft class. Running Back Mark Ingram, who was signed to an extension this offseason, is the lead back. I have never been overly impressed with Ingram. In my view, he is more of a journeyman type who works well when playing in a rotation. He doesn’t win games, but when he is on his game, he can help a club win. 2014 was his best season as a pro, and I doubt we will see him play any better. I like the addition of C.J. Spiller. Spiller has big play speed and athleticism and when used properly can be an outstanding weapon. He is not a bell cow, but he can be very productive when used in a rotation with Ingram. I assume that this is how New Orleans is planning to use him. He also has excellent receiving skills and can be used in the slot or split out to create mismatches. When New Orleans uses a fullback, Erik Lorig is the man. He is a very good blocker and can also be used as an extra tight end. Wide Receiver and Tight End Saints' fans better go buy a program because the receiving corps isn’t what it was a year ago. Gone are All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham as well as Kenny Stills. This year the leaders of the wide receiver corps will be veteran Marques Colston, who is an excellent possession receiver and second year man Brandin Cooks. Cooks had 53 receptions in an injury-shortened rookie year and should be ready to light it up this year. Behind Cooks and Colston is an unproven group of young receivers who have traits but still have to prove they belong in the NFL. The group includes Nick Toon, Joseph Morgan, Jalen Saunders, and Brandon Coleman. Replacing Graham at tight end will be Josh Hill and veteran Benjamin Watson. Neither is close to being Jimmy Graham, but both have their strong points. Both can play as a “Y” or flexed out. Brandon Coleman, with his size, also may be able to play the Graham role. Offensive Line The Saints have made some changes in their offensive line since the end of last season. The two biggest are acquiring Pro Bowl center Max Unger as part of the trade for Jimmy Graham and the addition of tackle Andrus Peat, the Saints first round pick from Stanford. Personally, I liked Peat as much as any tackle in the draft. Going into training camp, it has not been determined where Peat will play as a rookie. The Saints have two veteran tackles in Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. Peat could easily play left guard this year and move to tackle after he gains experience and confidence. The right guard is All Pro Jahri Evans. Depth will come from the group of Tom Lelito, Mike Brewster, Bryce Harris, Mike McGlynn and Senio Kelemete. If Peat can't handle starting, Lelito could be a starter early in the season. Defensive Line While the Saints wanted to upgrade much of the defense, the defensive line was pretty much left alone. The starters look to be Akeem Hicks, Cameron Jordan, and Broderick Bunkley. Both Hicks and Jordan can be dominant defensive ends. Jordan was a Pro Bowler in 2013 but didn’t play quite as well last year. Injuries have hurt Hicks play the last couple of years. Depth will come from John Jenkins, Glenn Foster and Rookie Tyeler Davison. This is a solid group that the Saints can win with. Linebackers The linebacking corps will have a different look from last season. The Saints had two first round picks and used the second first on linebacker Stephone Anthony from Clemson. Anthony is an athletic playmaker and big hitter. He should upgrade the inside as soon as he steps on the field. The other inside starter should be David Hawthorne. Hawthorne missed some time last year with injuries. For depth inside, the Saints acquired Dannell Ellerbe who was a former starter at Miami. He, too, was hurt by injuries in 2014. On the outside, both Junior Galette and Parys Haralson return. Galette has some special pass rush ability with 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He also has an off-field issue that may affect his availability for part of the season. Haralson has been a consistent performer since he came to New Orleans in 2103. In the draft, the Saints selected Hau’oli Kikaha in the second round. He was one of the better pass rushers in this past draft and is also strong versus the run. If Galette misses time, Kikaha will be ready to step in. He will also strongly challenge Haralson. The Saints also signed former Cowboy Anthony Spencer. At one time, Spencer was a feared pass rusher but hasn’t done much the last two seasons because of various injuries. The Saints are hoping he can have a comeback year. Another rookie with excellent pass rush traits is Davis Tull, who was a star at the FCS level at Tennessee – Chattanooga. Secondary The prize acquisition for the Saints was corner Brandon Browner, who the Saints signed as a UFA this spring. Browner helped New England win a Super Bowl last year and, before that, was a top player for Seattle. The other corner will be Keenan Lewis, who was considered the Saints best corner a year ago. Rookie P.J. Williams, who was drafted in the third round, should be the nickel corner. He has outstanding cover skills and instincts. If Jairus Byrd can stay healthy, he is one of the better free safeties in football. He has great awareness and ball skills. The strong safety is 2013 first round pick Kenny Vaccaro, who is a big hitter and physical presence. Depth will come from second year man Vinnie Sunseri and Rafael Bush who started 7 games a year ago. Outlook This is not the same Saints team we saw a year ago and that team was a disappointment with a 7-9 record. On defense, the Saints should be much improved and much more physical. In most divisions, the Saints would be picked to end up third or fourth, but being they are part of the NFC South, maybe the weakest division in the league, the Saints will have a chance. Like all teams, the key players have to stay healthy and the young players have to perform. If that happens, the Saints just may challenge for a playoff spot and maybe even the NFC South crown. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Oct 29th, 8:20 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

Indianapolis -2.5 +100

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 1:00 PM

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Nov 1st, 4:05 PM

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Nov 1st, 4:25 PM

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Nov 1st, 4:25 PM

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Nov 1st, 8:20 PM

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Nov 2nd, 8:15 PM

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NY Giants +10.5 -110

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Nov 5th, 8:20 PM

Green Bay +1 -110

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