2019 NFL Season Preview- New Orleans Saints
The Saints built upon their strong 2017 campaign for an even more successful 2018.
New Orleans' season got off to a rough start with a surprising opening day loss at home to Tampa Bay and barely squeaking by Cleveland, but they were able to win nine straight with noticeable improvement. Their winning streak including victories over a previously undefeated Rams team and a blowout win at home against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia which established them as one of the elite teams in the league. In the playoffs, the Saints defeated the Philadelphia Eagles again 20-14 in the divisional round. However, the Saints' season came to an end in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game in controversial fashion due to a pass interference non call.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was traded from the Jets during the preseason and could be the potential successor to Drew Brees. Taysom Hill was used in a variety of ways including quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner, and special teams gunner, but doesn't have the skills to be a future starting quarterback. Running back Mark Ingram missed the first four games due to a suspension but still averaged 4.7 yards per carry and seven total touchdowns. Fullback Zack Line is a useful blocker and Dwayne Washington showed potential in the season finale rushing for over 100 yards. The New Orleans offense likes to utilize two tight end sets and have to be able to block and catch, but the unit was largely disappointing. Ben Watson was solid for a 15th year veteran and caught Drew Brees' 500th career touchdown pass. Michael Hoomanawanui missed the entire season because of a neck injury, Josh Hill was a non factor, and Dan Arnold is still learning the position as he converted from wide receiver. Outside of Michael Thomas, the receiving corps wasn't productive. Ted Ginn Jr. missed 11 games because of a knee scope. The team signed Dez Bryant midseason, but tore his Achilles before he every played a game. Cameron Meredith couldn't shake a knee injury that plagued him in Chicago. The offensive line was the key to the team's success when healthy.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins had a breakout year with 40tackles and eight sacks, but tore his Achilles in the playoffs. Tyeler Davison was one of the most improved players and Alex Okafor bounced back after being injured in 2017. Middle linebacker Demario Davis was a huge free agency pickup and outside linebackers Alex Anzalone and AJ Klein returned to full heath which helped the corps become the team's most improved units. Davis led the team with 110 tackles and also had five sacks. Klein was a steady tackler and Anzalone's speed made him effective in coverage and in pursuit. Craig Robertson became a valuable player on special teams. The secondary had a rough start to the year, but became stronger once the team traded for cornerback Eli Apple. Marshon Lattimore didn't recreate his stellar rookie season but was still solid. PJ Williams had a rough start to the year, but excelled as the nickel corner after Patrick Robinson was injured. Safety Marcus Williams shook off his gaffe from the 2017 divisional round game to have a solid year. Vonn Bell became the starter at strong safety after spending his first two seasons as a slot corner.
Kicker Will Lutz broke Morten Anderson's franchise record for consecutive field goals made and punter Thomas Morstead was excellent as he has been the last 10 seasons.
The team had eight Pro Bowlers in quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, wide receiver Michael Thomas, left tackle Terron Armstead, guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford, center Max Unger, and defensive end Cameron Jordan while Brees, Thomas, Armstead, Jordan, and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk were named to the All-Pro team. Brees was as good as ever at age 39 despite this being his first sub 4,000 yard passing season since joining New Orleans. However his efficiency was even better as he broke his own NFL record for completion percentage with 74.4% and broke Peyton Manning's NFL record for career passing yards. Kamara joined Mark Ingram to form arguably the best running back tandem in football and accosted for 1,800 total yards and 18 total touchdowns. Thomas has become one of the most productive receivers in football, leading the league with 125 receptions to go with 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. Armstead and Peat made their first Pro Bowls while Unger and Walford returned to form after dealing with injuries. Ramczyk has become one of the best tackles in the league in just his second season. Jordan made his fourth Pro Bowl after registering a team best 12 sacks, 49 total tackles, 21 quarterback hits, six passes defensed, and one forced fumble.
If the rookies don't make strides in year two, it will be a disappointing class. Defensive end Marcus Davenport was slowed by injury but still finished with 4.5 sacks. Wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith starred in the preseason, but was mostly a non factor in the regular season. Center Will Clapp proved to be a smart and versatile player and could have a bright future. Tackle Rick Leonard, safety Natrell Jamerson, cornerback Kamrin Moore, and running back Boston Scott were all cut in training camp and wound up on other team's practice squads.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
With the disappointing end to the successful 13-3 season, head coach Sean Payton has to keep the locker room together as the Saints have had two heartbreaking finishes the last two seasons.
Notable Additions- RB Latavius Murray, RB Buck Allen, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, TE Jared Cook, T Marshall Newhouse, C Nick Easton, DE Mario Edwards, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Sylvester Williams, DT Ziggy Hood, CB Marcus Sherels
Notable Departures- RB Mark Ingram, WR Rishard Matthews, WR Dez Bryant, WR Tommylee Lewis, WR Cameron Meredith, TE Ben Watson, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, C Max Unger, DE Alex Okafor, LB Manti Te'o, S Kurt Coleman
Saints 2018 Highlights
2019 NFL Draft
Since the team traded up last year to draft Marcus Davenport, the Saints didn't have a pick in the 2019 draft until the second round. With such a late pick, the team has to prepare wisely to select upgrades at wide receiver, tight end, and return specialist.
The play behind Michael Thomas was very underwhelming. A solid number two receiver is needed for an offense that likes to spread the ball around.
Jared Cook is a solid pickup, but the offensive needs another tight end now that Benjamin Watson is back in New England and the rest of the unit were non factors.
Taysom Hill was an adequate kickoff returner but the team had a revolving door at punt returner. A dominant return specialist would raise the special teams to new heights.
When it came time to pick, New Orleans ended up selecting Texas A&M center Erik McCoy with their second round pick. McCoy was viewed as the top run block center prospect in the draft, but needs to improve his snaps from the shotgun formation.
Other Notable Draft Picks:
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida- Compact and athletic frame, average straight line speed
Saquan Hampton, S, Rutgers- Team leader, injury history
Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame- Prototype size, off the field immaturity issues
Kaden Elliss, LB, Idaho- Versatility across the front seven, production doesn't match traits
Notable Undrafted Free Agent Signings:
Lil'Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas- Well developed body, still learning routes
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson Highlights
What To Expect
Looking at the talent the team retained, the Saints still look on track for success.
Drew Brees has shown he can still get the job done even as he just turned 40. Latavius Murray is a nice power back complete to Alvin Kamara's versatility and Dwayne Washington showed enough to deserve some looks as a change of pace back. Jared Cook is coming off a Pro Bowl year with Oakland, but another tight end has to emerge to make Sean Payton's offense run at full force. Michael Thomas has more catches than any receiver in NFL history in their first three seasons and his contract extension has him locked in for the foreseeable future. The concern is still with the rest of the receiver corps as Ted Ginn Jr. is 34 and Tre'Quan Smith has to be more consistent. With the retirement of Max Unger, Max Clapp, Nick Easton, and Erik McCoy will be in competition for the starting center job.
Marcus Davenport showed what he could do when healthy and should be a solid complement to Cameron Jordan. Sheldon Rankins likely won't be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from a torn Achilles, but Malcolm Brown and Ziggy Hood should fill in nicely. The linebacker corps remained unchanged and are one of the more underrated units in the league. The secondary should be back to form and now has considerable depth.
I've seen analysts say the expect New Orleans to plummet after the NFC Championship loss but looking at the team's moves in the offseason, they still look like the team to beat in the NFC South.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 12-4