The 2016 NFL regular season has reached the halfway point for most NFL teams. As such, it’s an appropriate time to analyze which players have put together a Pro Bowl-worthy campaign. For this series, the three most deserving on each team will be considered. Obviously, some teams will have more than three players selected. But for simplicity’s sake, only the top three candidates will be discussed.
With that in mind, here are the three frontrunners to make the 2016 Pro Bowl from the New Orleans Saints.
Top Midseason New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl Candidates
Despite the amount of steadiness and turbulence throughout his tenure in New Orleans, Drew Brees has remained the reliable constant for the Saints. In the midst of his 11th season as the team’s signal-caller at age 37, Brees continues to avoid “father time” and post big numbers for an offensive unit that is once again among the league’s elite. Currently top five in completions (first), yards per game (first), yards (second) and touchdowns (second), he’s remains one of the league’s premier guys under center. The Purdue alum consistently delivers in spite of a traditionally-anemic defensive bunch.
From 2006-2015, the Saints defense ranked in the top 20 only three times (2006, 2010, 2013), including three years placing 30th or worse. This storyline remains the same in 2016 as the unit is bottom three in total yards allowed. Even in the team’s four victories thus far, an average of 29 points were surrendered. Although the defense has gradually improved in recent weeks, the team would be completely out of contention without Brees’ productivity.
One player who’s been a pleasant surprise for the “Who Dat” faithful is rookie wideout Michael Thomas. Writing up our website’s post-draft analysis for the Saints in May, experts had his early selection as one of the team’s surprise moves during the weekend. At that time, experts deemed the wide receiver position as a distant need for the team and not an area to address right away, despite Thomas’s statistical output at Ohio State. The talent and overall ability were evident, but his rapid contributions have been unexpected.
Through nine weeks, Thomas leads all rookies in receptions (47) and yards (573) while holding second place in touchdowns (five). Granted, he does benefit from Drew Brees throwing him the ball and Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead alleviating his workload, but the first-year pass-catcher has been nothing short of dependable. Based on his fast start, he could legitimately become the first Pro Bowl receiver that Drew Brees has ever played with. Being Compared to Saints’ all-time leading receiver Marques Colston from a size and skillset standpoint, who knows what the future holds for the 23-year-old.
Defenders Craig Robertson, Nick Fairley, Nate Stupar and Kenny Vaccaro have provided sparks for the Saints through the first two-plus months, but none of their individual numbers were enough to overtake Max Unger for this final spot. Unger, who was part of the blockbuster 2015 off-season trade that sent him and the Seattle Seahawks first-round pick (later becoming linebacker Stephone Anthony) to New Orleans in exchange for All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, has been a critical piece for a Saints offensive line that declined in its performance since 2013. The acquisition was further validated when Graham made his return to the Superdome. While Graham was virtually nonexistent with only 34 yards on three catches, Unger helped pave the way for a 100-yard rushing outing in the home triumph.
Currently the NFL’s 11th-best center according to Pro Football Focus, Unger’s 82.5 grade is second only to right tackle Zach Strief on the team’s front five. With the team’s ground attack in the top half in football, coupled with an upper-echelon passing attack, perhaps the best is yet to come.