The New Orleans Saints had many key issues to address this off-season after another lackluster 7-9 showing. Offensively, New Orleans continued to play well underneath quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton, finishing second in total yards (403.8 yards per game).
Despite the high-powered offense, the defense plagued the Saints as they gave up huge plays downfield, leading to countless scores resulting in their league-worst average (29.8 points per game). By firing the eccentric, long-haired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints plan to rebuild their defense this off-season to help keep pace with the offenses around the league.
New Orleans Saints Off-Season Review
Key Off-season Acquisitions: Offense
Michael Thomas (Wide Receiver) Rookie– Once thought as a lock to be a first-round pick, Michael Thomas, a receiver out of Ohio State University, fell to the Saints at the 47th pick. Thomas fills the void left by Marques Colston’s release. At 6’3” with a 4.55 forty-yard dash, Michael Thomas seems to be the next down-field, outside target for Drew Brees to sling the ball to.
Coby Fleener (Tight End) Free Agent- A former Stanford Cardinal and Indianapolis Colt, Coby Fleener will provide an upgrade at the tight end position, replacing Benjamin Watson who left through free agency. Fleener can line up on the outside, in the slot, and put his hand in the dirt. Versatility is key for New Orleans as they love to go up-tempo and use numerous different formations.
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Defense
James Laurinaitis (Middle Linebacker) Free Agent- Finishing second on the team with 106 tackles for the St. Louis- now Los Angeles- Rams, Laurinaitis plans to anchor the New Orleans defense by playing middle linebacker. Under new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, the Saints are switching from a base 3-4 scheme to a new 4-3 system that will benefit the current personnel. Laurinaitis will assume the play-caller position as Stephone Anthony will move to strong-side linebacker entering his sophomore campaign.
Sheldon Rankins (Defensive Tackle) Rookie- Standing 6’1” and weighing 299 lbs, Rankins is a specimen on the interior defensive line. Rankins was viewed as the best three-technique player in this year’s draft. With 28 bench press reps and a combine leading 4.59 20-yard shuttle amongst all defensive tackles, Rankins has a unique blend of quickness and power. He can provide an interior push to a team that created very little pressure.
Nick Fairley (Defensive Tackle) Free Agent- When playing for the Detroit Lions, Fairley was one of the most ferocious interior presences in the entire league. However, last year when playing with the Rams, Fairley posted subpar numbers as he appeared in all but one game. The Saints are hoping to get the physical presence he displayed during his earlier years. Playing alongside Rankins and John Jenkins, New Orleans will have a threesome rotating in playing two defensive tackle positions.
Vonn Bell (Safety) Rookie- After trading back into the second round, the Saints think they have one of the steals of the draft with Vonn Bell. Lacking in size and speed, Bell makes up for with versatility and hard work. The Saints can use all the help they can get in the secondary that allowed 284 passing yards per game. Bell figures to play early as a nickel and dime package player and will look to fight for a starting spot with safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro.
Roman Harper (Safety) Free Agent- Anchoring the Saints defense, playing strong safety during the Super Bowl run, Roman Harper returns to New Orleans looking to provide a veteran presence on the field. Harper is an excellent open field tackler that can play along the line of scrimmage as well as deep in a single high safety set.
2016-17 Season Expectations
The Saints are looking to improve on back-to-back mediocre 7-9 seasons. With new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen switching base defenses, the unit will play better collectively. By adding veteran presences this offseason to mix in with the current young talent, more cohesion will be present immediately.
Offensively, any team led by Drew Brees and Sean Payton will be superb. But with the lack of offensive guards, the line will struggle to keep Brees upright, who is returning from a plantar fasciitis injury that sidelined him for one game. Losing the physical, bruising running back, Khiry Robinson will hurt the Saints ground attack that will see a heavy dosage of Mark Ingram this year.
Overall, the Saints will be more competitive defensively. From an offensive standpoint, they should remain near the same. The Carolina Panthers remain the front-runner to win the NFC South. However, do not be surprised if the Saints sneak into wildcard contention late into the season.