QB Mark Brunell, TE Jeremy Shockey, G Matt Lehr, DE Bobby McCray, DT Marquay Love, ILB Jonathan Vilma, CB Randall Gay, CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Aaron Glenn, S Lance Schulters.
WR Adrian Arrington, OT Carl Nicks, DT Sedrick Ellis, DT DeMario Pressley, CB Tracy Porter, K Taylor Mehlhalff.
QB Jamie Martin, TE Eric Johnson, C Jeff Faine, DE Josh Cooper, OLB Dan Morgan, ILB Brian Simmons, CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Fred Thomas, S Steve Gleason, S Jay Bellamy, K Olindo Mare.
2008 New Orleans Saints Offense:
It's safe to say New Orleans' ineptness on offense early in the year befuddled everyone. They just couldn't do anything right. It all started against the Colts on national TV in the first game of the season. Drew Brees completed 28 passes in that contest, but threw for 192 yards, which was a 4.7 yards-per-attempt average. It looked like the Saints were scared to death to test Indianapolis deep. For some reason, Brees seemed content to take everything underneath, which is why New Orleans scored 10 points in a 41-10 loss.
The Saints would struggle until Week 6. They scored 14, 14 and 13 in losses the next three contests. Brees' YPA never rose above six. Through four games, Brees had one touchdown and nine interceptions.
Things eventually turned around, as the team averaged 27.3 points per game the rest of the year. Brees finished with 4,423 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 picks, and even set an NFL record for completions in a single season.
The 0-4 start killed the Saints, as they finished just inches short of a playoff berth. The question, as far as the offense is concerned, is if they can avoid a similar commencement to their 2008 campaign.
I think so. Look at three of New Orleans' four opponents in that 0-4 start: Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee - three of the toughest defenses in the NFL. I'm not saying they won't face any strong stop units in 2008, but the Saints went on to score plenty of points against the likes of Seattle, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Chicago later in the year.
In short, I'm not concerned about the Saints' passing attack. Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Though he's not an every-down back, Reggie Bush is a dynamic weapon out of the backfield; he was second on the team with 73 catches. Marques Colston definitely didn't disappoint in his sophomore campaign, as he eclipsed his rookie stats with 98 receptions, 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns. Across from Colston, David Patten impressed with 792 yards in 2007. Patten, however, could be supplanted by Robert Meachem at some point in the year. Meachem, the team's No. 1 pick last April, missed his rookie campaign with a knee injury, but reportedly has looked incredible in offseason workouts. If Meachem is truly 100 percent, it's going to be exciting watching Brees throw to him and Colston all year.
I decided to exclude New Orleans' ground game from the previous paragraph because I'm not convinced the team will be able to run the ball effectively in 2008. Deuce McAllister will get some playing time, but how effective will he be? McAllister had surgery on both of his knees this offseason (he tore his left ACL). Even when he was healthy, he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. One reason for this was left tackle Jammal Brown, who despite coming off a Pro Bowl campaign in 2006, struggled with a knee injury last season. I was confident Brown would be 100 percent until there were rumors that New Orleans offered him for the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft. The Saints denied everything, but it makes you think.
That said, my main concerns center around McAllister's health and Bush's inability to be an every-down runner; not Brown - nor on anyone else on the offensive line. Center Jeff Faine is gone, but Jonathan Goodwin was considered one of the better reserves at the position. He'll be a fine replacement next to solid guards Jamar Nesbit and Jahri Evans. John Stinchcomb is adequate on the right side. As a whole, the unit surrendered only 16 sacks in 2007.
Except for the Buccaneers, the Saints don't play any dominant defenses in September, so I doubt they'll go into another early offensive funk. If Pierre Thomas (226 total yards and one touchdown in his only start) proves to be an effective replacement for McAllister, New Orleans will have one of the top five offenses in the NFL. If not, top 10 could still be a possibility, though winning in the postseason without a ground game could prove to be difficult.
2008 New Orleans Saints Defense:
While the Saints' offense gave the team problems early in the year, it was the defense that ended all hopes of a playoff berth. The most significant loss the squad incurred in 2007 was a 27-23 home defeat to Tampa Bay on Week 12. The Buccaneers, missing Jeff Garcia, were able to win with Luke McCown, who went 29-of-37 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The year concluded with two more embarrassing efforts from the stop unit, as the Eagles and Bears combined for 71 points. Those teams aren't exactly the Colts and Patriots.
Give New Orleans' front office a ton of credit; management made tons of upgrades to improve its defense. The Saints used their No. 1 selection defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who has the potential to become a powerful force next to Brian Young on the interior of the front. Ellis still has to beat Hollis Thomas for the starting job, but that's a question of when; not if.
Ellis wasn't the only upgrade the Saints made on the defensive line. They signed Bobby McCray, who's a year removed from a 10-sack campaign. McCray has looked great in workouts this offseason, and his presence couldn't have come at a better time, given that Charles Grant has been charged with involuntary manslaughter this offseason. Grant had just three sacks in 2007, so it's not like he'll be missed much if he's unavailable for whatever reason. McCray will start across from Will Smith, who recently signed a 6-year, $61.4 million deal. Smith has 35 sacks in his four seasons as a pro.
With McCray and Ellis on the front, there's a good chance the Saints will exceed their sack total of 32. That's huge because the secondary was an abomination last year, as Jason David was a bust signing. The other corner, Mike McKenzie, slowed down a bit at age 31. Meanwhile, free safety Josh Bullocks happens to be one of the worst starters at his position in the NFL.
New Orleans made upgrades here too, though Bullocks, for whatever reason, is cemented into the lineup. Joining McKenzie is former Patriot Randall Gay, who was one of the top reserve corners in the league last season. Gay had a brutal game against the Jaguars in the playoffs, though he should be able to help out a horrific secondary ranked 30th versus the pass. Meanwhile, the Saints selected Tracy Porter in the second round of April's draft. Porter's not the most physical corner in the world, though this is something that can be fixed. He's a tremendous athlete who has the potential to be a star defensive back for years. Rounding out the secondary is strong safety Roman Harper, who is probably mediocre at best. Still, that means he's a billion times better than David and Bullocks.
Excluding Ellis, the offseason acquisition likely to make the greatest impact over the next few years is Jonathan Vilma. Vilma was an excellent 4-3 middle linebacker with the Jets early in his career, but has struggled the past two years when Eric Mangini transitioned to the 3-4. As long as Vilma can come back from a knee injury, he'll be a dominant force for New Orleans' defense, a scheme he's much more suited for. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Saints' other linebackers. Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, the team's strongside and weakside linebackers, respectively, leave much to be desired. There's also a lack of depth because Dan Morgan unceremoniously retired after signing with the organization this offseason. The loss isn't a huge deal though, as I didn't expect Morgan to make much of an impact.
The Saints did a great job acquiring talent to fill their many holes on defense. That said, there were just way too many voids to take care of in a single offseason. They'll be better than their 25th ranking in 2007, but some things need to happen: McCray must regain 2006 form; Ellis needs to beat out Thomas quickly and become a force at defensive tackle; Vilma has to come back healthy off a knee injury; and either Porter or Gay must step up at corner.
2008 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints received a great reception from their fans in their first home game against Atlanta in 2006, but overall, the Louisiana Superdome has not been a kind home to them. Their 54-66 home record since 1992 (only 3-5 in 2007) is downright abysmal.
When Deuce McAllister went out for the year with knee injuries, Reggie Bush had to carry the ball more often, thus eliminating his return opportunities. The Saints consequently scored no touchdowns on special teams and allowed two themselves. Sean Payton stated that Bush will see more action in the return game, which is good news for the team.
Olindo Mare was horrendous for New Orleans in 2007; he was just 10-of-17 on field-goal attempts. He was replaced by Martin Gramatica, who hit all five kicks he tried late in the year. That said, Gramatica's percentages were 61.5 and 57.9 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. He'll have to hold off drafted rookie kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. I have my money on the latter.
In his second year, Steven Weatherford maintained a 43.8 average, but nailed only 20 punts inside the opposing 20. He didn't fare too well in that category as a rookie either.
I mentioned New Orleans' easy September schedule earlier; take away the Buccaneers, and they have the Redskins, Broncos and 49ers. The team also gets to beat up on the Panthers (twice), Falcons (twice), Raiders, Chiefs, Bears and Lions. If New Orleans beats out Tampa Bay for the NFC South crown, it could be because of its very favorable schedule.
2008 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 New Orleans Saints Analysis: While the Buccaneers have a strong defensive advantage between the two NFC South contenders, the Saints completely kill them on offense. When comparing the two weaknesses, I have to give New Orleans' stop unit the edge over Tampa Bay's scoring attack.
The difference could be the schedule. Instead of the Cowboys, the Saints play the Redskins. Instead of the Seahawks, the Saints play the 49ers. In what should be a very tight race, two much easier opponents for New Orleans could decide the divisional crown.
Projection: 11-5 (1st in NFC South)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Drew Brees: Drew Brees set the NFL single-season record for completions in 2007 with 443. Despite an increase of about 90 from the year before, Brees had only 10 more passing yards than he had in 2006. This was because he spent all of September using his checkdowns and refusing to go deep. This changed later in the year, so look for a similar campaign from Brees in terms of yardage and touchdowns.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 4,200 passing yards. 27 passing TDs. 40 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 382.
Reggie Bush: If receptions count in your league, make sure to bump Reggie Bush up a couple of notches; in his two seasons as a pro, Bush has caught 161 passes for 1,159 reciving yards. Bush actually has more of those yards than he does on the ground. He had his opportunity to be an every-down back when Deuce McAllister was out for the year, but he struggled, gaining just 3.7 yards on the ground. Bush finished with 1,098 total yards and six touchdowns before suffering a season-ending PCL injury in Week 13. Those aren't bad numbers in PPR leagues.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 655 rushing yards. 600 receiving yards. 7 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 167.
Pierre Thomas: Pierre Thomas is pretty enigmatic at this point. He had just 52 carries last year, but dominated all Saints running backs with a 4.8 yards-per-rush average. He started one game and garnered 105 yards on 20 carries. More impressively, he had 12 catches for 121 receiving yards and a touchdown. If McAllister is limited and Bush continues to struggle in between the tackles, Thomas could be primed for a big year. Then again, he played just one contest, so it could have been a fluke. I'd take a shot here toward the end of the draft.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 600 rushing yards. 450 receiving yards. 5 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 135.
Deuce McAllister: Coming off two knee surgeries, one of which was to repair an ACL, Deuce McAllister probably won't be a huge factor in 2008. He'll play, but it's tough to say how much. I'd stay away; Pierre Thomas is the better bet right now.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 200 rushing yards. 20 receiving yards. 2 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 34.
Eric Johnson: To the chagrin of all Saints fans, the team failed to find an upgrade over Eric Johnson this offseason. Johnson's a major injury risk, so I'd just stay away.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 325 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 44.
Marques Colston: So much for a sophomore slump. After an amazing rookie season (70 catches, 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns), Marques Colston squashed those numbers, registering 98 receptions, 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns. Colston's pretty consistent; after Week 7, there were only two contests where he didn't register at least seven catches.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,350 receiving yards. 11 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 201.
David Patten: David Patten had 242 yards in 2005 and 2006, so it was surprising to see him come out of nowhere to garner 792 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. There's no reason to draft him; I just think it's a nice story.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 78.
Robert Meachem: Robert Meachem missed all of the 2007 season with a knee injury. He's ready for 2008, as he reportedly looks great in practice. I'm not really sure what to expect, but I would definitely draft him in a keeper league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 450 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 57.
Taylor Mehlhaff: Drafting rookie kickers may sound like fun, but I wouldn't do it; not until you see them in preseason at the very least. Taylor Mehlhaff could be hit or miss.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 20-25 FG (1-3 50+). 44 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 112.
New Orleans Defense: Though they'll be better than they were in 2007, they still won't get many sacks or interceptions. Look elsewhere.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 12 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
I love every single pick the Saints made. Trading up for Sedrick Ellis was a no-brainer. He, fellow rookie DeMario Pressley and Brian Young will be a force in the middle of the defensive line, and I'm confident New Orleans will exceed last year's sack total of 32 ... Tracy Porter was the best cornerback available at No. 40 and he actually fits the Saints' scheme ... Carl Nicks was the steal of the draft at No. 164. He's a first-round talent, and I can't believe his stock dropped because he simply attended a college party that got a little out of hand ... Taylor Mehlhaff was my top kicker ... Adrian Arrington has the potential to be a seventh-round steal just like Marques Colston.
None, except the free safety position wasn't addressed.
Grade give on 4/28/08: A+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
7. Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Nice job by the Saints trading up ahead of the Bengals. Given Cincinnati's draft history and ineptitude, I doubt they would have drafted Sedrick Ellis, but you never know. New Orleans fans have to love the monstrous beast the team added to its defensive line. (Pick Grade: A)
40. Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Tracy Porter was listed as a first-round prospect in some mocks, so the Saints got tremendous value at 40 at a position of need. More importantly, Porter actually fits the team's system. (Pick Grade: A)
144. DeMario Pressley, DT, N.C. State
The Saints needed all the defensive line help they could get going into the draft. They acquired two talented tackles. DeMario Pressley, projected to go in the third round, is a bargain in the fifth. (Pick Grade: A)
164. Carl Nicks, OT, Nebraska
The Saints have established that they're one of the few teams in the NFL that actually know what they're doing. This is the biggest steal in the draft. Matt McGuire had Carl Nicks in the first. I had Nicks very early in the second. New Orleans just drafted a winner in the fifth round. (Pick Grade: A)
178. Taylor Mehlhalff, K, Wisconsin
Good to see the Saints don't plan on counting on Martin Gramatica. (Pick Grade: A)
237. Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Like Steve Johnson, this is a seventh-round receiver taken three rounds too late. An absolute steal for the Saints. (Pick Grade: A)
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The Saints started out 0-4 and just couldn't dig themselves out of that hole. I think they'll look at dumb loses to Carolina, Tampa Bay (at home) and Chicago, and realize that despite their losing record, they weren't that far away from a second-consecutive Doggone Playoff berth.
Saints sign S Lance Schulters
Saints cut TE Eric Johnson
Saints announce retirement of CB Jerametrius Butler
Saints acquire TE Jeremy Shockey from the Saints for second- and fifth-round picks
Saints cut DT Marquay Love
Saints sign CB Jerametrius Butler
Saints sign DT Marquay Love
Saints announce retirement of LB Dan Morgan
Saints cut DE Josh Cooper
Saints sign CB Aaron Glenn
Saints sign G Matt Lehr
Saints sign QB Mark Brunell
Saints re-sign TE Eric Johnson
Saints re-sign TE Billy Miller
Saints sign MLB Dan Morgan
Saints re-sign WR David Patten
Saints sign DE Bobby McCray
Saints sign CB Randall Gay
Saints re-sign RB Aaron Stecker
Saints re-sign WR Devery Henderson
Saints cut MLB Brian Simmons
Saints receive ILB Jonathan Vilma from the Jets for a 2009 fourth-round pick
Saints re-sign DT Brian Young
Saints re-sign ILB Mark Simoneau
Saints re-sign G Jamar Nesbit
Saints cut K Olindo Mare
Two Cornerbacks: One to replace the ineffective and overpaid Jason David; another to be a solid backup. The Saints really sucked against the pass because they had no talent at cornerback. They need a speed-burner like Leodis McKelvin or Mike Jenkins, one of whom will probably be available at No. 10 overall. Drafted Tracy Porter; signed Randall Gay, Jerametrius Butler and Aaron Glenn
Free Safety: Josh Bullocks' ineptness didn't help matters. If New Orleans eschews drafting Kenny Phillips in the first round, DaJuan Morgan or Thomas DeCoud can be theirs in the third. Signed Curome Cox
Middle Linebacker: You know your defense sucks if you have Mark Simoneau starting at middle linebacker. Simeoneau is a solid special-teamer, but there's no excuse for having him in the lineup. Curtis Lofton and Jerod Mayo would be upgrades in Round 2. Traded for Jonathan Vilma
Nose Tackle: The Saints need a forceful nose tackle next to Brian Young. There's a slim chance Pat Sims could fall to them in the second round. Otherwise, Frank Morton later on. Drafted Sedrick Ellis and DeMario Pressley
Return Specialist: Neither Pierre Thomas nor Lance Moore is a threat to go the distance. New Orleans' backup corner should be able to take back kicks and punts (Justin King, perhaps).
Strongside Linebacker: Scott Fujita is yet another piece of New Orleans' defense that needs to be upgraded. Too bad the team doesn't have enough draft picks to take care of all of their needs.
Tight End: Eric Johnson caught 34 passes for 250 yards the first half of the season and looked like he would finally live up to his 2004 production (825 yards). However, the second half of the season saw Johnson registering just 14 receptions and 128 yards. He's a free agent, and I'll be shocked if the Saints bring him back. A replacement can be found in the middle rounds. Traded for Jeremy Shockey; re-signed Billy Miller
Re-Sign Linemen: The Saints need to re-sign guard Jamar Nesbit, center Jeff Faine and defensive tackle Brian Young, all of whom are quality free agents. Re-signed Jonathan Goodwin and Brian Young; drafted Carl Nicks; signed Matt Lehr
New Orleans Saints Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 17): $22.91 million
Jeff Faine, C. Age: 27. Signed with Buccaneers
A dependable starter who missed just two games while in a Saints uniform. One of the better free agents at the center position, the Saints should re-sign Jeff Faine.
Brian Young, DT. Age: 31. Re-signed with Saints (3 years, $12 million)
Brian Young was placed on the IR after a bout with pneumonia. A shame too because he was having a solid season. If the Saints re-sign one player, this is the guy.
Martin Gramatica, K, Saints. Age: 32. - Re-signed with Saints (1 year)
Jamar Nesbit, G. Age: 31. Re-signed with Saints (3 years)
A solid guard who has about 3-4 good years left in the tank, Jamar Nesbit is a dependable lineman who hasn't missed a start in two years. He's not the most talented player in the world, but there's something to be said about dependability.
Eric Johnson, TE. Age: 28.
Eric Johnson is talented, but his problem has always been staying on the field. Since 2002, Johnson has missed 41 games. Damaged goods.
Olindo Mare, K. Age: 35. - Signed with Seahawks (2 years, $3.5 million)
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: For years, the Saints had trouble defeating the Falcons because Aaron Brooks couldn't find a way to beat his cousin, Michael Vick. I guess it's no coincidence that New Orleans is 4-0 against Atlanta in the wake of Brooks leaving for Oakland. Carolina Panthers: The road team has mysteriously won eight of the previous nine matchups. Guess the Saints' horrendous home record plays a factor here. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another road-dominated series. The visitor has won eight of the past 12 meetings.