2018 NFL Offseason: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 11-5)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Tom Savage, WR Cameron Meredith, TE Ben Watson, G Jermon Bushrod, DT Jay Bromley, ILB Demario Davis, CB Patrick Robinson, S Kurt Coleman.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Marcus Davenport, WR Tre’Quan Smith, OT Rick Leonard, S Natrell Jamerson. Saints Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
FB Zach Line, TE Coby Fleener, OT Zach Strief, G Andrew Tiller, G Senio Kelemete, DT Nick Fairley, ILB Gerald Hodges, CB Delvin Breaux, S Kenny Vaccaro, S Rafael Bush.

2018 New Orleans Saints Offense:
Drew Brees told the media last offseason that he plans on playing until he’s 45. So far so good. Brees turned 39 this offseason, and as a 38-year-old, he threw for 4,334 yards, 23 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, getting the Saints to the divisional round of the playoffs. And had it not been for a horrible missed tackle, Brees would’ve led his team to the NFC Championship.

Brees’ yardage and touchdowns declined from 5,206 to 4,334 and 37 to 23, respectively, but that wasn’t because his skills regressed. There were two primary catalysts for this, and one was the improved running game. The Saints opened the year with a trifecta of running backs in Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but it was quickly clear that the former did not belong. Ingram had a strong season, but it was Kamara who impressed the most. Kamara rushed for 728 yards despite carrying the ball just 120 times, giving him a 6.1 YPC average. He also caught a ridiculous 81 passes for 826 receiving yards, scoring 13 total touchdowns in the process. Kamara is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball. Sean Payton told the media that he plans to involve Kamara more, and that was even before Ingram’s four-game suspension for PEDs.

Kamara should be able to produce great numbers once again because the offensive line is mostly intact. The Saints had three stellar tackles last year, though one of them (Zach Strief) retired this offseason. Still, that leaves the Saints with two talented edge blockers in Terron Armstead and second-year Ryan Ramczyk. The latter thrived as a rookie in 2017, while Armstead missed six games. The one danger with Strief retiring is that the Saints will have to count more on Armstead, who has yet to play a full 16-game slate as a 5-year pro.

New Orleans’ offensive line isn’t as strong in the interior. Right guard Larry Warford is fine, but left guard Andrus Peat and center Max Unger both struggled this past season. Perhaps Unger didn’t perform well because of a foot injury that caused him to be listed on the active/PUP list during training camp. Peat, on the other hand, has always been atrocious as a former first-round bust.

With the ground attack covered, the Saints acquired more threats for the passing game. They signed Cameron Meredith in free agency, which is a move that could really take the offense to an even higher level. Meredith seemed poised for a big 2017 campaign with the Bears, but tore up his knee in the third preseason affair. The Saints were confident in Meredith’s health enough to sign him, so he could be a dynamic threat for Brees across from Michael Thomas, who is emerging as one of the top receivers in the NFL.

The Saints also signed Ben Watson to serve as another viable target for Brees. Coby Fleener was a bust addition, so New Orleans was dead set on upgrading him this offseason. It tried to sign Jimmy Graham, but the former Seahawk opted to go to Green Bay. Watson was the consolation prize, and while he’s 37, he caught 61 passes in Baltimore last year. The last time Watson played for the Saints, he logged 74 receptions for 825 yards in 2015.

2018 New Orleans Saints Defense:
It was mentioned that Brees’ statistics declined for two reasons. The first was the improved running game. The second was the simple fact that a vastly upgraded defense made it so Brees didn’t have to throw the ball nearly as often.

The secondary was the biggest difference for the Saints last year. Routinely torched, New Orleans finally found some major upgrades in its defensive backfield. The primary one was cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Chosen in the opening round last April, Lattimore instantly proved to be a lock-down corner. He actually emerged as one of the top players at his position in the entire league. Lattimore will once again start across from Ken Crawley, who was a solid performer last year.

New Orleans utilized three safeties last year, and two of them will return. One is Marcus Williams, infamous for screwing up on the aforementioned missed tackle on Stefon Diggs. However, Williams had a great rookie campaign, so he’ll undoubtedly rebound from that blunder. Vonn Bell is the second incumbent safety; he’s decent in coverage, but whiffs on too many tackles. Kenny Vaccaro, meanwhile, is gone. New Orleans’ defense took a step backward when Vaccaro suffered a season-ending injury, so a replacement was needed. That’s why the Saints signed Patrick Robinson, who just had a prolific year for the Eagles. Robinson has endured a roller-coaster career, but if his play can continue to be on a high level, he’ll be an immense boost for New Orleans’ secondary.

Vaccaro was one of several New Orleans defenders to go down with a season-ending injury in 2017. Defensive end Alex Okafor was another. Okafor registered 4.5 sacks in 10 games before tearing his Achilles. Because of the nature of the injury, it’s unclear if he’ll be 100 percent at all this upcoming season, which may have been the catalyst for the Saints trading up for defensive end Marcus Davenport. The UTSA product has immense upside, but is very raw. We do know, however, that opponents won’t be able to focus on him too much because of his bookend, Cameron Jordan, who continues to be one of the top defensive linemen in the pros.

Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison will start in between Jordan and Davenport on the front. Rankins, a first-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft, struggled as a rookie because of injuries, but greatly improved his play this past season. Rankins generates a quality interior pass rush, while Davison specializes in clamping down against the run. David Onyemata does both well and could be ticketed for more snaps this year.

A third Saint who suffered a season-ending injury was linebacker Alex Anzalone. Despite being a mere third-round rookie, Anzalone performed well in four games before hurting his shoulder. He’ll be back to full strength this season and will join newly acquired Demario Davis in an improved linebacking corps. Davis, signed over from the Jets, just had a great season and should help bolster the interior of the Saints’ stop unit, which was the one weakness in 2017.

2018 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints were 40-11 as hosts in a 7-year span prior to 2014, including a perfect 8-0 in 2013. The Superdome is known as a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can’t hear anything. The Saints stumbled as hosts after that, but were once again dominant at home last year, going 8-1. Their sole loss was to the Patriots.

New Orleans must improve its special teams. Opponents outgained the Saints on both punts and kickoff returns.

Wil Lutz hit a high percentage of his kicks last year, going 31-of-36, including 4-of-5 from beyond 50. He missed three extra points, however.

Thomas Morstead is one of the league’s best punters. In regard to net average, he was tied for first in 2012, third in 2013, second in 2014, 10th in 2015, fifth in 2016 and sixth this past season.

The Saints have an easy schedule prior to the end of October, as some of their initial opponents are the Buccaneers, Browns, Giants, Redskins and Ravens. Beginning on Oct. 28, however, they have a stretch where they battle the Vikings, Rams, Eagles and Falcons in a span of five weeks.

2018 New Orleans Saints Rookies:
Go here for the Saints Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2018 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints are one of the best teams in the NFL. They have a great quarterback, a tremendous running game, numerous downfield threats, and an underrated, improving defense. They have just two weaknesses – the interior offensive line and special-teams coverage – but they might be able to overcome those areas to win Super Bowl LIII.

Projection: 13-3 (1st in NFC South)

2016 Projection: 8-8. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.
2016 Projection: 6-10. 2016 Actual Result: 7-9.

NFL Draft Team Grade: D Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: New Orleans is caught in between the present and future. The team is on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl, but it must also focus on finding a quarterback to replace Drew Brees in two or three years. For the present, the Saints need some help in the front seven, plus a new tight end after missing out on Jimmy Graham.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Only one player made sense for the Saints when it was announced that they surrendered their 2019 first-round pick to trade up from No. 27 to 14. That would be Lamar Jackson. Only a quarterback is worth using two first-round picks on, yet the Saints opted to go in a different direction, selecting ultra-raw defensive end Marcus Davenport. There’s a chance Davenport could develop into a talented edge rusher, but considering that the 2019 NFL Draft class is packed with great defensive line prospects – six of the top 10 picks in the current 2019 NFL Mock Draft are defensive linemen – the Saints could’ve just addressed the position a year from now, all while using the 2018 first-rounder on help elsewhere.

While the decision to trade a 2019 first-round selection for Davenport was horrible, it wasn’t even the worst pick the Saints made. That would be fourth-round offensive tackle Rick Leonard, who was not a draftable prospect by most accounts. Excluding the seventh round, the Saints had just three individual grades higher than a C-, and all three were Bs. Third-round wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith was probably the best selection the Saints made, and yet that wasn’t even all that great.

The Saints had a legendary 2017 NFL Draft class, so it was very disappointing to see them make so many dubious decisions this year. It’s inevitable that the front office will regret not owning a first-round pick in next year’s loaded draft class.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

14. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA MILLEN DAVENPORT Grade
What…??? You don’t trade a future first-round pick for a non-quarterback, especially in a draft class that is absolutely loaded on the defensive line! This is absolutely atrocious. I wouldn’t have minded this pick at all if the Saints were stationed at No. 14, but to give up this much for a raw edge rusher. Ugh.

I don’t get it. The Saints had such a great 2017 NFL Draft class. How could they screw up this much? The only way this makes any sense is if the Saints know the world is going to come to an end before the 2019 season. This is a Millen grade all the way.

91. Tre’Quan Smith, WR, Central Florida B Grade
The Saints signed Cameron Meredith, but they can’t be overly confident about his health. Tre’Quan Smith has the potential to be a solid, No. 2 possession receiver in the NFL. His best attribute might be his blocking, so he’ll help Alvin Kamara break for more long runs. Smith makes sense in this range.

Uhh… what? Rick Leonard was not a draftable prospect. He’s a super-raw tackle who’s still learning the position. He wasn’t on many teams’ radar as a non-UDFA player. He could’ve been acquired following the draft.

164. Natrell Jamerson, S, Wisconsin B Grade
Natrell Jamerson is going to play special teams for a while, but he’s a smart, instinctive player who could eventually develop into a starter. This is a logical pick, as Jamerson was drawing fifth-round grades.

189. Kamrin Moore, CB, Boston College B Grade
Kamrin Moore seems like he could be a solid slot cornerback in the NFL one day. He fits the range in the fifth or sixth round, and New Orleans may want him to take over for Patrick Robinson in a couple of seasons. Moore will play special teams in the meantime.

201. Boston Scott, RB, Louisiana Tech C- Grade
This is a reach, but we’re in the 200s now, so it’s not a huge deal. I didn’t have Boston Scott as a draftable prospect, and there were better running backs available.

245. Will Clapp, C/G, LSU A Grade
I had Will Clapp in the fifth round. He’s a smart, versatile interior lineman who can play both guard and center. He needs to work on pass protection, but could be a stout run blocker. I could see him starting one day.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Saints appeared as though they were going to the NFC Championship. And then the Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs pass happened. It’ll be difficult to get over that, but New Orleans has great aspirations for 2018.

Offseason Moves:
  • Saints cut TE Coby Fleener
  • Saints sign WR Cameron Meredith
  • Saints sign TE Ben Watson
  • Saints sign G Jermon Bushrod
  • Saints sign QB Tom Savage
  • Saints sign ILB Demario Davis
  • Saints sign CB Patrick Robinson
  • Saints announce retirement of OT Zach Strief
  • Saints sign S Kurt Coleman

    Team Needs:
    1. Linebacker: New Orleans’ top need is at linebacker. The team’s defense was so much better in 2017, but there was still a major liability at this position. Alex Anzalone will be back from injury in 2018, but the front office needs to find a talented player to start alongside him. Signed Demario Davis

    2. Guard: The Saints have three talented offensive tackles on their roster, but they’re lacking at guard. Larry Warford is a skilled blocker, but that’s all New Orleans has at the position.

    3. Safety: Kenny Vaccaro has been a valuable defensive back for the Saints in most years, but he’s an impending free agent who will need to be retained or replaced. Signed Kurt Coleman

    4. Tight End: After two disappointing seasons, it’s fair to call Coby Fleener a bust free-agent signing. New Orleans needs a viable threat over the middle of the field. Signed Ben Watson

    5. Quarterback: Drew Brees is a free agent, but will almost certainly be back next year. Still, the Saints will need to bring in a new quarterback to eventually replace Brees, as he turns 39 this offseason. Re-signed Drew Brees

    6. Wide Receiver: Willie Snead has an expiring contract soon, and he was a major disappointment this season. Ted Ginn is not a long-term option. The Saints could attempt to find a No. 2 receiver this spring. Signed Cameron Meredith

    7. Defensive End: The Saints had a nice edge rush at the beginning of the season with Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor. However, Okafor suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, and now he’s an impending free agent who will have to be replaced if he leaves. Re-signed Alex Okafor

    8. Defensive Tackle: New Orleans had good play from its defensive tackles in 2017, but were missing Nick Fairley due to his unfortunate heart condition. Another interior pass-rusher could stand to be added.

    9. Fullback: Zach Line is an impending free agent.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Patrick Robinson, CB, Eagles. Age: 30.
      Signed with Saints (4 years)

      Patrick Robinson has undergone an up-and-down career ever since being the 32nd-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. This past season was the ultimate up, as Robinson was absolutely prolific. He was one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, clamping down against everyone in coverage. Robinson perhaps is a late bloomer, though he’ll turn 31 in September.

    2. Demario Davis, ILB, Jets. Age: 29.
      Signed with Saints (3 years, $24 million)

      Demario Davis had struggled for most of his career heading into 2017, so it was considered laughable when the Jets opted to start him at one of the linebacker spots. Davis had the last laugh, however, playing extremely well last year. Was this a fluke, or a sign of things to come? Perhaps Davis will have to sign a 1-year “prove it” deal so his next team can find out.

    3. Cameron Meredith (RFA), WR, Bears. Age: 25.
      Signed with Saints (2 years)

      It’s difficult to rate Cameron Meredith. He’s a young receiver who has shown plenty of potential. He caught 66 passes for 888 yards in 2016. He seemed poised for a big 2017 campaign, but missed all of it with a torn ACL and MCL. It’s unclear if he’ll ever be the same player again, unfortunately.

    4. Kurt Coleman, S, Panthers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Saints (3 years, $18 million)

      Kurt Coleman was great for the Panthers during their run to the Super Bowl two years ago, but has struggled since. Still, he’s only turning 30 in April, so perhaps he can rebound and have another quality season for some other team.

    5. Ben Watson, TE, Ravens. Age: 37.
      Signed with Saints (1 year)

      Ben Watson missed all of 2016, but bounced back this past season, catching 61 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he just turned 37, so he’ll continue to regress.

    6. Tom Savage, QB, Texans. Age: 28. — Signed with Saints
    7. Jermon Bushrod, G, Dolphins. Age: 34. — Signed with Saints

    New Orleans Saints Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints. Age: 39.
      Re-signed with Saints (2 years, $50 million)

      Drew Brees is no longer the quarterback he once was because of his age, but even with slight regression, he’s still one of the top signal-callers in the NFL. He’s 39 now, but Brees should be able to have one or two more exceptional seasons at the very least. He completed 72 percent of his passes in 2017 with an 8.1 YPA.

    2. Kenny Vaccaro, S/CB, Saints. Age: 27.
      Kenny Vaccaro was having a great year covering players in the slot, but suffered a groin injury in the middle of the season. He returned after a two-game absence, but struggled after that before landing on injured reserve.

    3. Zach Line, FB, Saints. Age: 28.
      Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are obviously incredibly talented, but Zach Line helped them dominate on the ground with his excellent blocking.

    4. Alex Okafor, DE, Saints. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Saints (2 years)

      Alex Okafor was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and he has worked hard to improve each year. He was playing on a high level in 2017 – 4.5 sacks in 10 games – but tore his Achilles in November. He’s only 27, but may not be ready for training camp.

    5. Delvin Breaux (RFA), CB, Saints. Age: 28.
      Delvin Breaux came out of nowhere to put together a terrific 2015 campaign. However, a myriad of injuries have limited him to just six games in the past two seasons. Breaux is going to have to sign a 1-year “prove it” deal.

    6. Nick Fairey, DT, Saints. Age: 30.
      Nick Fairley is a very disruptive interior force – 6.5 sacks in 2016 – and he’d be rated a lot higher than this if it wasn’t for his serious heart condition. There’s a chance Fairley may never play again.

    7. Gerald Hodges, ILB, Saints. Age: 27.
      A former fourth-round pick of the Vikings, Gerald Hodges carved out a role for himself in San Francisco’s defense prior to 2017. Hodges played the run well and hasn’t been a liability in coverage. He didn’t see much action this past season for some reason.

    8. Willie Snead (RFA), WR, Saints. Age: 25.
      Signed with Ravens

      Willie Snead posted 984 and 895 yards in 2015 and 2016, respectively, but had just eight catches for 92 yards this past season because of injuries and a suspension. Perhaps he’ll rebound with a healthy 2018 campaign.

    9. Rafael Bush, S, Saints. Age: 31. — Signed with Bills (2 years)
    10. Coby Fleener, TE, Saints. Age: 29.
    11. Brandon Coleman (RFA), WR, Saints. Age: 26.
    12. Andrew Tiller, G, Saints. Age: 29.
    13. Senio Kelemete, G, Saints. Age: 28. — Signed with Texans (3 years)
    14. Kasim Edebali, OLB, Saints. Age: 29.
    15. George Johnson, DE, Saints. Age: 30.
    16. John Hughes, DT, Saints. Age: 29.
    17. Sterling Moore, CB, Saints. Age: 28.
    18. Tony McDaniel, DT, Saints. Age: 33.
    19. John Kuhn, FB, Saints. Age: 35.
    20. Josh LeRibeus, G, Saints. Age: 29.
    21. Jonathan Freeny, OLB, Saints. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions
    22. John Phillips, TE, Saints. Age: 31.
    23. David Parry (RFA), NT, Saints. Age: 26.
    24. Chase Daniel, QB, Saints. Age: 31. — Signed with Bears
    25. Clay Harbor, TE, Saints. Age: 31.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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