Saints’ D on the Upswing
Backfield may carry New Orleans defense this season
It hasn’t been the rosiest offseason for Saints fans. After a few years in the NFL spotlight, many have been wondering if after taking the bags off their heads will they now be left holding them.
The Saints – coming off of a 7-9 year in which many had them as preseason favorites to play in the Super Bowl – have traded Pro Bowl caliber tight end Jimmy Graham and dumped guard Ben Grubbs, running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton. In turn, Las Vegas odds makers have decreased New Orleans’ chances to win this year’s Super Bowl from 22:1 to 40:1 odds.
Team followers have gone as far as to speculate that no one, not even Drew Brees – the greatest Saint of all time, is immune from being shipped out of town. Some, myself included, have looked at all of the changes and agreed with the oddsmakers.
But what if general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton are on to something? Maybe there has been an overreaction to the moves and the loss of star players.
Let’s start with the biggest move, the Graham trade for center Max Unger. While it scares me that the Saints lost their top receiving threat and don’t have much at wide out to put fear into opposing defenses, Unger, if healthy, will be a huge upgrade over former center Jonathan Goodwin, who at times looked a step or two behind the competition last year. Shoring up the middle of the offensive line will help the entire team better execute on every play. Unger will handle the ball every play and not have just a few touches. His impact will be immediately felt.
The greatest anticipation has to be in regard to the defense. With cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner and safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints may have the best defensive backfield in the NFL. Again, if healthy, the Saints back four should be able to provide cover in order to allow the front seven to be more aggressive in attacking the ball. Junior Galette and Cam Jordan have proven themselves before. Hopefully they can get back to their top form.
Some of the best news this offseason involves the nine picks the Saints have in the coming draft, including two in the first round. The team may use all nine picks for up and coming players to fill the roster or may chose to package some of the picks in order to trade for a higher pick or current player. Although the team is cash strapped due to the NFL’s salary cap, rookies do not receive big money contracts right out of the gate like they used to and the team can pick up free agents at almost any moment. Finding a draft pick that can come into the league and make an impact, much less start, in their first year in the NFL is incredibly rare. But Loomis and Payton have shown a knack for getting the most out of the draft.
After an offseason full of concern maybe the team is not in full rebuild mode but restocking for another championship run. Could it be that the team is simply remolding itself to the strengths it has retained? It may be that Drew Brees doesn’t have to carry the team this year. It may be that the team is looking for a more balanced approach where the running game and defense will be counted on more often to secure victories.
Loomis and Payton made the New Orleans Saints winners. Let’s hope the gloom that has surround this offseason departs and the good times continue to roll.
New Orleans Saints 2015 Draft Picks
The New Orleans Saints have nine picks in the 2015 NFL Draft including two in the first round. The Draft will be held on April 30-May 2 in Chicago. The first round will begin at 7 p.m., on Thursday, April 30. The second and third rounds are set for Friday, May 1 at 6 p.m., followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday, May 2 at 11 a.m.
31 (from Seattle for tight end Jimmy Graham)
78 (from Miami for wide receiver Kenny Stills)
154 (from Kansas City for guard Ben Grubbs)