Saints fresh and focused after scandal filled 2012
CB K.Lewis, TE B.Watson,
DB C.Carr, OT J.Smith
OT J.Bushrod, DT S.Ellis,
RB Chris Ivory, WR D.Henderson
The New Orleans Saints would probably like to forget the 2012 season.
With Bounty-gate hanging over their heads all season long, the Saints stumbled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Their offence was still good, but just didn't quite have the usual punch with head coach Sean Payton serving a yearlong suspension.
The defence however was bad. Really bad. The Saints allowed a ridiculous 7,042 yards last season, an NFL record for futility, and failed to stop pretty much anything.
But all that is in the past, Payton is back from his ban and the team was able to enjoy a nice, scandal-free off-season. The team also brought in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Sean Payton is arguably the best play-caller in the NFL. His return alone should help the Saints get back into the playoff picture.
In his six seasons at the helm in New Orleans, Payton has taken the team to the playoffs four times, the NFC Championship game twice and led the franchise to its first and only Super Bowl title.
Without Payton last year, Drew Brees still put up good numbers with 5,177 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. But he also threw a league worst 19 interceptions and saw his completion percentage drop to 63.0 percent, his worst accuracy rate since 2003.
With Payton back calling creating good mismatches with his play design expect that completion percentage to go back up towards the 70 percent mark and the interceptions to come back down a bit.
Veteran wideout Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham will continue to be the focal points of the passing attack, while Lance Moore should also get plenty of work as the Saints second wide receiver.
After those three however, there is plenty of room for one or two of the young, inexperienced receivers to earn significant playing time in the Saints pass-heavy attack. Joe Morgan, Nick Toon and 2013 fifth-round pick Kenny Stills are in the running to crack the rotation.
In the running game, the Saints will do what they always do and use a platoon of backs to carry the load. Darren Sproles will get plenty of touches as a pass catcher out of the backfield while Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas will share the bulk of the carries.
Brand New Blindside
One notable change to the Saints offence this year is the absence of Jermon Bushrod who has protected Brees' blindside for the past four seasons. Bushrod left for Chicago in free agency, leaving the Saints to hope that Charles Brown, a second round pick in 2010 can fill the hole.
Brown has been steady at training camp putting himself in position to win the job over Jason Smith and Terron Armstead. However, Brown has had a plethora of injuries early in his career that raise doubts about his durability.
The rest of the Saints line is battle-tested and solid, so as long as Brown can keep Brees' blindside clear, the Saints offence should be able to hum again this season. (-TSN.ca)
Different But Same?
You knew it was going to be a one and done for last year's defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after the Saints went out and got torched for 440 yards per game last year.
Still, it's not like it was entirely Spagnuolo's fault. The Saints had some glaring personnel holes, had to deal with a few suspensions and were ravaged by injury that the cornerback spot.
But that Saints needed a fall guy and Spagnuolo was it.
In his place is Rob Ryan, who brings with him a brand new 3-4 scheme to implement. Unfortunately for Ryan, he has a lot of the same players Spagnuolo had and many of them are not particularly well suited to a 3-4.
NFC SOUTH PROJECTIONS
Surprising Division Winner
6th in NFC, wildcard berth
Defence holds them back
Need more playmakers
This is going to be a problem at linebacker in particular. Inside linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Jonathan Vilman are all suited to the 4-3. Vilma in fact originally came to the Saints because he struggled with the 3-4 system while he was with the Jets.
On the outside, the Saints have a big hole to fill with Will Smith out for the season with a torn ACL. Ryan's system relies heavily on a successful pass rush and unfortunately he doesn't have a DeMarcus Ware like he did in Dallas.
Junior Galette however, is one player who might benefit from the change in schemes. Galerre has 9.5 sacks over the last two seasons but only has two starts. He should see a lot more of the field in 2013 opposite Smith.
Up front on the line, one player to watch is nose tackle and former Regina Ram, Akiem Hicks. Hicks was very raw when the Saints drafted him this year but he has the size and strength to be an effective run stopper, something the Saints desperately need.
New Faces In The Secondary
The Saints secondary was, much like the rest of the defence, awful last year.
They still won't be anywhere close to a top team defending against the pass but they should at least be better with the additions of free agent Keenan Lewis at corner and first round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro at safety.
Vaccaro, the 15th pick in the draft, is a rangy defender and potential game changer. He should slide into a starting role right away and push incumbent free safety Malcolm Jenkins to nickel back.
Lewis meanwhile doesn't have great ball skills with just one career interception but is nonetheless a capable defender who represents a big upgrade at corner for the Saints.
What It All Means
Some folks out there seem to think that the return of Sean Payton will spell a return to the top of the NFC South for the Saints. That may well be the case but it certainly isn't as simple as that. The offence should be top-5 again this year but what type of production they can get out of Ryan's new 3-4 will really determine how they fare this season. Unless the Saints can get back towards the middle of the pack defensively it may not matter how many points the Saints can score, particularly in a tough division. Expect them to better, but don't expect miracles. (-TSN.ca)
B. De La Puente
Special Teams: K G. Hartley, P T. Morstead, KR D. Sproles, PR D. Sproles
Special Teams: K G. Hartley, P T. Morstead, KR D. Sproles, PR D. Sproles
Fantasy - By The Numbers
QB Drew Brees leads the NFL with 10,653 passing yards and 89 touchdowns over the last two seasons, yet he tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions in 2012 and there is some expectation that he should be better with head coach Sean Payton returning from his one-year suspension. In any case, it's not difficult to forecast Brees as the top quarterback for fantasy purposes.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF
Fantasy Schedules: AFC | NFC
2013 Auction Values: Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Depth Charts: AFC | NFC
TE Jimmy Graham is the cream of the crop at his position too, putting up 2,292 yards and 20 touchdowns in the last two seasons.
WR Marques Colston has 4,394 yards and 34 touchdowns over the last four seasons, ranking eighth in yardage and fourth in touchdowns over that time. WR Lance Moore is coming off his first 1,000-yard receiving season, so there are naturally many quality targets to benefit from playing with Brees.
Finding value in the running game for the pass-happy Saints is more challenging. Three backs -- Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram -- see significant time and Sproles, who racks up receiving yards, is likely the most valuable, but the fact that three of them had 123, 144 and 162 touches, respectively, limits the upside of any one Saints runner.
Defensively, SS Roman Harper is among the best defensive backs for fantasy, while DE Cameron Jordan and ILB Curtis Lofton are both productive enough to be quality fantasy starters. (-Scott Cullen)