DE Alex Brown, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, OLB Clint Ingram.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Patrick Robinson, OT Charles Brown, TE Jimmy Graham, DT Al Woods, C Matt Tennant.
QB Mark Brunell, RB Mike Bell, TE Billy Miller, OT Jammal Brown, G Jamar Nesbit, DE Charles Grant, DE Bobby McCray, DT Kendrick Clancy, OLB Scott Fujita.
2010 New Orleans Saints Offense:
The Saints finished first in both points (31.9) and yards per game last year, but that was hardly surprising given their personnel. Drew Brees had a masterful season, compiling 4,388 yards, 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with an NFL-record completion percentage of 70.6. He was nearly perfect in the Super Bowl, going 32-of-39 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.
Brees loves to spread the ball around. Seven Saints caught 35 or more passes in 2009. As a comparison, the Colts had only five players with that distinction. Marques Colston led the team in receptions (70) and yardage (1,074). Robert Meachem finally stepped up as a solid No. 2 with 45 catches for 722 yards. Both wideouts scored nine times. Devery Henderson (51-804) served as a quality deep threat, but he likely won't be effective in 2010 because of sports hernia surgery. Conversely, Lance Moore, who was hurt all last year, will likely reprise his role as Brees' trusty slot receiver.
A pair of running backs - Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas - were two of the players who caught 35 or more balls. Bush looked great in New Orleans' victory over Arizona in the playoffs, rushing for 84 yards on just five carries. But Thomas will be the workhorse back this season in the wake of Mike Bell's departure. Thomas is a talented runner, but it remains to be seen if he can shoulder about 250 carries.
What's amazing about New Orleans' Super Bowl run was that Brees didn't even have his Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown at his disposal. Jermon Bushrod filled in relatively well, but he's not nearly half the lineman Brown is. Brees' lightning-quick release was the reason he was able to thrive without his blind-side protector.
Joining Bushrod (Brown was traded to the Redskins for a third-round pick) on the offensive front will be the top guard tandem in the NFL (Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks), a sound run-blocker in right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, and solid center Jonathan Goodwin.
2010 New Orleans Saints Defense:
The Saints have always maintained a high-octane offense, but the difference in 2009 was their defense. In three playoff contests, they surrendered just 19.7 points per contest despite battling three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner) in the process.
Two things proved to be the difference. First, Will Smith was healthy again. New Orleans' Pro Bowl defensive end suffered through an injury-plagued, three-sack 2008 campaign, but bounced back to record 13 sacks last season. Charles Grant, starting across from Smith, was canned because he wasn't very good, so the Saints brought in Alex Brown from Chicago to take his spot. Brown isn't much of a pass-rusher (he's had anywhere between five and seven sacks in each of the past seven seasons), but he's solid against the run.
At defensive tackle, Sedrick Ellis has the potential to be the top player on New Orleans' defense. His problem was that he was always hurt last year; he missed six games and was limited in several others. But when he was out of the lineup, the Saints' stop unit was much less effective. Unfortunately for New Orleans, there's no one promising next to Ellis.
The second reason why the Saints' defense was able to improve was the secondary. Darren Sharper is the most prominent name, and deservedly so - he terrorized signal-callers by logging nine interceptions. However, a more amazing number is one - which is the amount of quarterbacks who compiled a passer rating of 80 or greater when starting corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter were both in the lineup. And that quarterback was Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl.
Roman Harper, who excels in run support, rounds out the starting secondary at strong safety. Depth here is plentiful; 2009 first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins will eventually take over for Sharper at free safety, while 2010 first-rounder Patrick Robinson is added insurance just in case one of New Orleans' stud corners gets hurt again.
The linebacking corps remains New Orleans' greatest concern even though middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is one of the better players at his position in the NFL. Scott Shanle and JoLonn Dunbar are penciled in at the weak and strong sides, respectfully, which is not good news because both are pedestrian talents. The Saints will be hoping that the young and promising Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux can take over at those respective positions. Don't be surprised if they're both starting by October.
2010 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints used to be pretty miserable at home - 54-66 as hosts from 1992 to 2007 - but they've completely turned it around. The Louisiana Superdome has transformed into a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can't hear anything. In the past two seasons, the Saints are 14-4 as hosts.
A year after scoring on three punt returns, Reggie Bush was surprisingly ineffective in this area, averaging a shameful 4.8 yards per attempt (opponents averaged 14.3 yards and scored once). Making up for that was kick returner Courtney Roby, who scored once and averaged 27.5 yards in the process.
It took a while for the Saints to find their kicker, but it all worked out in the end. In February, Garrett Hartley became the first kicker to nail three 40-plus field goals in a single Super Bowl. Two weeks before that, he drilled the game-winning kick in the NFC Championship. Hartley was 9-of-11 in the regular season.
Rookie punter Thomas Morstead had a decent first season, averaging 43.6 yards per kick with 18-of-58 attempts placed inside the 20.
New Orleans will be tested early - its first five opponents (Vikings, 49ers, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals) will all be teams that finished 8-8 or better last year. Things get easier later on with games against the Browns, Seahawks, Rams and Buccaneers (twice).
2010 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2010 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints are stacked everywhere and poised to make another Super Bowl run. Two things can prevent that from happening: injuries and complacency.
The first is unavoidable and unpredictable, but the second item is something that often happens to Super Bowl winners. Are all of the Saints players as completely focused and hungry right now as they were this time last year? They better be because they're going to get every opponent's maximum effort in 2010.
Unless Jammal Brown is traded, none of New Orleans' picks will be starters in 2010. But that doesn't mean the team had a poor draft.
The Saints acquired a bunch of players who will be starters in 2011 and beyond. Once Jammal Brown leaves, the athletic Charles Brown is expected to step in at left tackle. Jimmy Graham is a talented athlete and could replace Jeremy Shockey down the road. Al Woods could eventually start next to Sedrick Ellis. And Matt Tennant figures to take over the starting center position when Jonathan Goodwin leaves.
Unfortunately, the Saints weren't able to address the defensive end position, which was their greatest need. They wanted Jerry Hughes, but the Colts took him at No. 31. New Orleans then panicked and selected Patrick Robinson, who doesn't fill a need at all. Robinson was certainly in the draft range, but I don't believe he was the best player available.
Still, the Saints had a solid draft overall. If they moved up a couple of spots and obtained Hughes, this grade would have been an A.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: B
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
32. Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State
Not a need at all. I thought the Saints would either attempt to improve their pass rush or fill a need at linebacker. I'm not a fan of this pick, but I don't hate it either; Patrick Robinson certainly fits this draft range. (Pick Grade: C)
64. Charles Brown, OT, USC
Jammal Brown's days are apparently numbered. Charles Brown is a high-upside offensive tackle who fits a huge need if Brown moves on. Great value at the bottom of Round 2. (Pick Grade: A)
95. Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami
The Saints were expected to look for a tight end in the middle rounds because Jeremy Shockey can't stay healthy. Jimmy Graham is a very raw prospect but has enormous Antonio Gates-type upside. However, his bust rate is pretty high because he hasn't played much football. (Pick Grade: B)
123. Al Woods, DT, LSU
Al Woods is physically talented and was projected as a first-round pick two years ago. I don't know if the effort is there, as Woods never played up to his potential. This is all upside. (Pick Grade: B)
158. Matt Tennant, C, Boston College
The infamous Pick 158 - Saints (From Cowboys through Patriots, Broncos, Raiders, and Jaguars). At any rate, this is why the Saints continue to contend for a playoff spot year in and year out. Matt Tennant was the consensus No. 2 or 3 center in this class. He should take over for Jonathan Goodwin in 2011 or earlier. (Pick Grade: A)
239. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State
Sean Canfield has a weak arm, but is pretty pro-ready having played in an NFL system. The Saints needed a developmental quarterback. (Pick Grade: A)
"Louisiana, by the way of New Orleans, is back! And this shows the whole world! We're back! We're back!"
Saints sign RB Ladell Betts
Saints sign WR Mark Bradley
Saints cut FB Jason McKie
Dolphins sign DE Charles Grant
Jets sign QB Mark Brunell
Saints sign QB Patrick Ramsey
Saints re-sign DE Bobby McCray
Saints cut DE Bobby McCray
Redskins acquire OT Jammal Brown from Saints for conditional 3rd-round pick
Saints re-sign WR Lance Moore
Saints re-sign SS Roman Harper
Saints re-sign RB Pierre Thomas
Saints sign FB Jason McKie
Saints sign OLB Clint Ingram
Saints cut DT Rodney Leisle
Saints waive OLB Jason Beauchamp
Saints re-sign G Jahri Evans
Saints claim RB P.J. Hill
Saints re-sign FS Darren Sharper
Saints announce retirement of RB Aaron Stecker
Saints sign DE Jimmy Wilkerson
Saints re-sign ILB Marvin Mitchell
Saints re-sign WR/KR Courtney Roby
Saints re-sign S Usama Young
Saints re-sign S Chris Reis
Saints re-sign OT Jermon Bushrod
Saints re-sign NT Remi Ayodele
Saints re-sign TE David Thomas
Saints re-sign OT Zach Strief
Saints sign DE Alex Brown
Saints re-sign DE Anthony Hargrove
Saints re-sign DE Jeff Charleston
Eagles sign RB Mike Bell
Saints re-sign CB Leigh Torrence
Browns sign OLB Scott Fujita
Saints re-sign S Pierson Prioleau
Saints cut DE Charles Grant
Saints cut G Jamar Nesbit
Saints cut ILB Mark Simoneau
Saints tender OT Jammal Brown
Defensive End: Take away Will Smith's 13 sacks, and New Orleans finished with only 22 on the year. Charles Grant was a huge disappointment before got hurt. Someone like Everson Griffen will be considered at the bottom of the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Signed Alex Brown
Nose Tackle: The Saints struggle against the run. They have to find an upgrade next to Sedrick Ellis. Cam Thomas and Torell Troup will be options in Round 2. Drafted Al Woods
Weakside Linebacker: Scott Shanle started the year well, but really regressed against the run as the season went along. If Sean Weatherspoon isn't available at the bottom of the first round this April, Dekoda Watson, Navorro Bowman and Daryl Washington will be looked at later on.
Strongside Linebacker: Scott Fujita is a marginal 31-year-old free agent. He's not a big liability, but he can be upgraded. I'm sure New Orleans fans wouldn't mind bringing in local product Perry Riley. Signed Clint Ingram
Safety Depth: The Saints must bring Darren Sharper back. If they don't, this becomes a much greater need. Re-signed Darren Sharper
Reggie Bush Lite/Punt Returner: Reggie Bush is owed $8 million in 2010. There's no way the Saints pay that. If they cut him and can't re-sign him to a more friendly deal, they may consider Dexter McCluster this April.
Center: Jonathan Goodwin turns 32 in December. He'll be a free agent a few months afterward. New Orleans may consider a potential successor in the later rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Matt Tennant
Backup Quarterback: Mark Brunell should be in a museum, while Chase Daniel is definitely not the answer. Signed Patrick Ramsey; drafted Sean Canfield
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Clint Ingram, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 27. Signed with Saints (1 year)
Clint Ingram really struggled when the Jaguars experimented with the 3-4. He's a traditional 4-3 strongside linebacker.
Alex Brown, DE, Bears. Age: 31. Signed with Saints (2 years, $6 million)
Alex Brown is good for about six sacks a year. He's good against the run.
Jimmy Wilkerson, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 29. Signed with Saints (1 year)
Jimmy Wilkerson had six sacks in 2009, but tore his ACL in December. He probably won't be ready for the start of the 2010 season.
Jason McKie, FB, Bears. Age: 30. -- Signed with Saints (1 year)
Mark Bradley, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Saints
New Orleans Saints Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 12): No cap.
Jahri Evans (RFA), G, Saints. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints (7 years, $56.7 million)
The best guard in the NFL as far as I'm concerned.
Jammal Brown (RFA), OT, Saints. Age: 29. Traded to Redskins for conditional 3rd-round pick
An elite left tackle, Jammal Brown would be at the top of the offensive tackle rankings if it wasn't for his recent injury history.
Darren Sharper, FS, Saints. Age: 34. Re-signed with Saints (1 year)
Darren Sharper's age is a concern, but he still has one or two years left of top productivity. Sharper is one of the smartest defensive players in the NFL, and would be a huge upgrade for almost any secondary.
Pierre Thomas (RFA), RB, Saints. Age: 25. Re-signed with Saints (1 year, $1.6 million)
Pierre Thomas is a very talented and versatile running back who can go the distance on any play or catch eight balls in a contest. I don't think he could ever shoulder 300 carries in a season, but he's definitely a guy you want to touch the ball 20-25 times per game.
Garrett Hartley (RFA), K, Saints. Age: 24.
The Hartley House is 21-of-23 on field goal attempts in his career. He was 8-of-10 this year, but of course hit that big Super Bowl-clincher against the Vikings in overtime.
Roman Harper (RFA), SS, Saints. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints (1 year, $2.5 million)
Roman Harper is a quality strong safety who excels in run support.
Courtney Roby (RFA), KR, Saints. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints (1 year)
Courtney Roby averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return with one touchdown.
Lance Moore (RFA), WR, Saints. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints (1 year, $1.7 million)
Lance Moore barely played in 2009 because of nagging injuries, but he's still a very talented slot receiver.
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: The Saints have won seven of eight in this rivalry. The lone exception came in 2008, when the Falcons beat New Orleans, 34-20, at the Georgia Dome. Carolina Panthers: The road team has mysteriously won nine of the previous 13 matchups. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A road-dominated series. The visitor has won 10 of the last 16 meetings.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)