The Saints are another odd case study going into this year. They should have one of the better offenses in the league again as long as Drew Brees continues to play like we are used to seeing. However, like always this defense is their ultimate Achilles' heel always dragging them down from being able to be as competitive as they should be. This is by no means the fault of no one, but the GM Mickey Loomis who is often praised for his acquisition of Drew Brees while others passed on his injury history. However, his draft history is checkered with questionable selections and he is a big culprit of giving out big contracts to free agents who then go on to under perform. This year is Drew Brees walk year and if I were the Saints if they have another mediocre season I would be really tempted to start fresh going into 2018.
Like I said, this offense should be just fine even with the loss of Brandin Cooks who was just a vertical threat who wanted to be treated like a top receiver getting every pass thrown to him. That is something a Saints offense has never done and is often a spread it around attack. Fortunately, for Cooks he landed in New England where he most likely will have a shot to win a Super Bowl. I loved their moves to bolster their running game to take away some throws from Brees who's arm has a lot of mileage and their suspect line has not done him any favors keeping him upright. I doubt AP will make the big impact everyone expects especially as he ages and ended up being only wanted by a team with no real Super Bowl aspirations. It just shows how many teams do not think there's much in the tank for him. I do love them drafting Alvin Kamara who will probably be the better compliment to Mark Ingram as the season goes on. I worry most about the line on this offense and the injuries that have already happened to it. Max Unger who is a very underrated center will be behind the eight ball when the season starts due to his shoulder injury as well as Terron Armstead who may not be ready until a few weeks into the season. However, that is why they drafted Ryan Ramczyk since Armstead has had a checkered injury history already. I would like to see former first rounder Andrus Peat step up his game since he has been about below average since he got into the league and fellow guard Larry Warford is a good talented blocker, but he too has some injury concerns. Overall, this line may never see it's full potential due to so many moving parts and lack of continuity.
Now let's get to the real issue with the Saints, their dreaded defense. Let's get on with the good part about it, which will be quick then get to the issues. I love Cam Jordan who is an electric pass rusher who is awfully underrated in this league. He has been consistent year in and year out even while being the focus for opposing offenses to stop. If only they can find a compliment rusher so he can truly rack up some sacks. I did like Sheldon Rankins going into the season last year, but his broken leg in the pre season slowed down his ability to get reps to be ready for the season and it showed. Hopefully, with a full training camp he can prove his draft position from a year ago. Now let's get to the bad about this defense. They still have yet to find a compliment rusher to Jordan and the likes of Kikaha is not enough to take attention away from their All-Pro sack artist. The line in general is a mess outside of Jordan and Rankins with no clear cut starters. Meanwhile, I think this may be one of the worst linebacking corps in the league former first rounder Stephone Alexander has been an extreme disappointment to go along with A.J. Klein and Craig Robertson as potential starters....yikes. Now the secondary is a work in progress with some potential here that I actually kind of like. I love that they finally gave up on Jairus Byrd who can be labeled one of the biggest free agent busts in recent memory. If this secondary wants to be competitive they need former first rounder Kenny Vaccaro to start playing like he did in the beginning of his career where he actually looked like one of the leagues bright young stars. Vonn Bell too needs to prove himself after an up and down rookie year and the Saints put pressure on him by selecting Marcus Williams in the 2nd round this year to push him if not replace him all together. Corner all together is a mess for this team and the only high upside guy is Marshon Lattimore who I am suspect on actually being a successful draft selection.
In the end, this team has a tough road schedule wise and may end up being again a sub .500 team because of it. Their division is one of the toughest in the league and with their poor defense I doubt they can stop either the Bucs or Falcons offensively even the Panthers with their new pieces. Then they match up with the VIkes, Lions, Packers, Patriots, Bills, and Rams all of whom I think can definitely beat them or at least most likely beat them. At the moment in my draft I have them as an 8-8 club if they can split their divisional match ups with wins at home, but even now a days their home field advantage has not been as slam dunk as it was in previous years.
1 (11) - Marshon Lattimore CB - Let's start out by saying I was not a fan of his former teammate Eli Apple who was selected in the same range a year before. Apple turned out to have a fine year, but he was nicely hidden behind a terrific defensive front and fellow stud defensive backs. Lattimore does not have the same luxury and is already coming into the league with hamstring issues. Those injuries along with the back are two of the most fickle things to get over and for Lattimore who's game is predicated on speed it may hamper him from fully realizing his potential. I am also skeptical of one year wonders in the secondary. I believe defensive backs get a lot better with more reps and experience much like quarterback actually since both take a lot of instincts an ability to read the offense and not fall for fakes by receivers. It may take him longer than you want from a first rounder to actually show his potential.
1 (32) - Ryan Ramczyk OT - I would have rather seen them select a pass rusher or another defensive player here, but I guess the Saints are happy they picked him here with Terron Armstead injured yet again. I tend to like Badger blockers who are usually well coached, gritty, and technically sound. However, Ramczyk is none of these coming from a JUCO program prior to Wisconsin. He supposedly has a bad attitude and relies on his strength and athleticism more than refine his technique. I was not big on him coming into the draft and until he proves me otherwise I will remain skeptical on his ability to succeed in the NFL.
2 (10) - Marcus Williams S - Finally, a pick I liked from the Saints even though I wonder where he fits into their plans. Williams was an overlooked talent in this loaded secondary class, but he has the instincts, size, and ball skills you can fall in love with. However, where will he play for the Saints? Have they given up on Vonn Bell already or have they given up on Kenny Vacarro and his under performance and injury woes? It will be an interesting battle to watch in camp and I expect Williams to see the field more often than not as the season progresses.
3 (3) - Alvin Kamara RB - Another nice, but curious pick made by the Saints. They just signed Adrian Peterson to be a compliment to Mark Ingram to create a good one two power back combination. So, why the need to trade up for Kamara? They do have an opt out on Ingram in the 2018 off season so are they ready to move off from him after being a disappointing first round selection. Could they be skeptical of Peterson coming back to form? I do admit Kamara most likely needs to be apart of a committee to best utilize him with his size and injury concerns. I do expect him to be an excellent pass catching back right out the gate and if either Ingram or Peterson go down he could definitely pick up the slack if need be.
3 (12) - Alex Anzalone LB - For a team who needs healthy players and ones who can be relied upon of defense especially, they love taking injury concern/ high upside players. Anzalone could be a great late round gem if he can stay healthy, but that is an extremely big "if." He has never stayed healthy throughout his college career and I doubt that changes in the NFL. For the record I can see him being much like James Laurinaitis who the Saints hoped can be a possible savior at linebacker, but did not even see the field due to injuries ending his career. Both he and Anzalone have all the physical gifts to be a special player, but their health has hindered both. I hope the best for Anzalone, but if I were the Saints I would have selected a more reliable player here.
3 (39) - Trey Hendrickson DE - Now here is a pick that both makes sense for the Saints and is also an actually good player. Hendrickson flashed huge potential all throughout the draft process and may turn out to be an excellent steal for the Saints. He has the size, and motor to at least be a solid rotational pass rusher. His athleticism may be limited, but as long as if he can provide a solid spark across from Cam Jordan that would be enough to me to be a good selection here.
6 (12) - Al-Quadin Muhammad DE - A former highly recruited player who never took it seriously could end up being a nice upside pick here for the Saints. I would have rather seen him show up during the Greg Williams defensive regime and even for all his faults was a good coordinator who got the most out of his players. Not sure if the current defensive coordinator Dennis Allen could do the same, but if he can Muhammad could turn out to be a nice playmaker on the line. If not no big deal being a 6th round draft pick.
2018 Off Season:
This may be an extremely pivotal season for the Saints future. For starters this is Drew Brees' contract year and at his age is it time to hang it up? However, I think he loves football too much to retire and if he can still play he probably will. It will be interesting to see if he wants to stay on a team with no Super Bowl hopes. Maybe he goes to a team like the Redskins if they let Cousins leave, maybe the Lions if they decide to pass on Stafford, even the 49ers or Rams if they show some sort of potential, but want a better quarterback, and a big possibility can be the Cardinals who have a great roster and Palmer who is aging more rapidly than Brees. If Brees does leave the Saints I think it will be time to start all over from the top down for this franchise. I personally think Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have been given a lot of leeway since they won the Super Bowl, but since the team has been extremely mediocre. Maybe a new voice can jolt this team to play to their potential. If they stick with the regime they obviously need to continue to fix this defense and may need to improve the offensive line with their lack of consistent health and depth behind the starters. They will need to recoup draft picks too since they only have one in the first two rounds.
My 2018 Mock Selections:
1 (18) - Harold Landry DE/OLB Boston College