2014 New Orleans Saints Season Preview: Fantasy Sleepers and Predictions: Can The Saints Claim Their First Division Title Since 2011?
- Sign up to receive the lastest news from LATINONE
With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
New Orleans Saints
Last Season: 11-5 (2nd in NFC South, lost in divisional round)
Key Additions: CB Champ Bailey, C Jonathan Goodwin, S Jarius Byrd, FB Erik Lorig, WR Brandin Cooks (1st round), CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2nd round), ILB Khairi Fortt (4th round), SS Vinnie Sunseri (5th round)
Key Losses: RB Darren Sproles, WR Lance Moore, OT Charles Brown, C Brian De La Puente, DE Will Smith, S Roman Harper, FB Jed Collins, DT Tom Johnson, K Shayne Graham, ILB Will Herring, CB Jabari Greer, S Malcolm Jenkins
Games to Watch: Sept. 28 at Dallas, Oct. 26 vs. Green Bay, Oct. 30 at Carolina, Nov. 9 vs. San Francisco
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
1. Who replaced Darren Sproles?
New Orleans isn't simply filling a running back slot with Darren Sproles joining Philadelphia. They're losing an average of 356 rushing yards, 660 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns per season since 2011.
Sproles' declining skillset never deterred Drew Brees from looking in his direction. They connected for 71 receptions. He was an unconventional running back who played second-and third-fiddle to Pierre Thomas.
Sure, Sproles was a running back. But he was also a wide receiver. A kick returner. A piece of New Orleans' offense head coach Sean Payton can't fill with one player.
Payton's tenure in The Big Easy consists of a relentless aerial attack and a three-man running game. In the Saints' pair of 13-win seasons, they ranked 6th in rushing. Every other year saw them near the NFL cellar.
Thomas can't carry a full workload anymore. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson can and will split time until one proves capable of 20-plus carries. The oft-injured Ingram averaged seven yards per carry during the preseason. Robinson averaged close to six. Few can forget his 102 yards on 21 carries last postseason.
Thomas is still a reception machine- reaching a career-high 77 in 2013. He doesn't have the versatility to handle 60-70 percent of the carries anymore. Robinson doesn't have more than 13 attempts in a single game, giving Ingram an early go as starter.
New Orleans' running game is stronger with Sproles gone. Thomas hits the open field more frequently while Ingram and Robinson get to prove their worth.
2. Who will lead the defensive secondary?
Longtime safety Roman Harper is gone. So is last year's interception co-leader Malcolm Jenkins, yet the Saints didn't panic. They even cut 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey in training camp.
In his first season as defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan transformed a laughable defense into an NFC standout. The team surrendered 18 or fewer points in 11 of 16 games and held opponents under 300 total yards in 10, including playoff visits to Philadelphia and Seattle.
If healthy, Jairus Byrd is a massive upgrade over Jenkins. The three-time Pro Bowl safety recorded nine interceptions and 90 tackles over his last two years in Buffalo despite missing time with foot injuries. He underwent back surgery last spring and was placed on the physically unable to perform list last Friday.
Byrd will start alongside breakout rookie Kenny Vaccaro. The 2013 draft pick notched 62 tackles, 17 assists, and one pick. He made such an impact fans Vaccaro the defensive MVP in a preseason poll.
With Keenan Lewis starting at right corner and near-unstoppable Cameron Jordan heading the front line, New Orleans' secondary won't have to be perfect to make a significant impact.
3. Who will start at placekicker?
Veteran placekicker Shayne Graham and 24-year-old Derek Dimke competed through training camp to be named starter. Neither missed a field goal. As of Tuesday, neither is listed on Saints' roster.
Both were victims of Saturday's round of cuts. Graham, who has a career field goal percentage of 85.5 percent and extra point percentage of 98.7, replaced Garrett Hartley at season's end. He converted six of eight field goal attempts, including a game-winner over Philadelphia in the wild card round.
Dimke is still looking to play in his first NFL game after stints in Detroit, New York (Jets), and Tampa Bay.
New Orleans is without a kicker less than a week before Sunday's opener in Atlanta. If worse comes to worst Payton can bring Graham or Dimke back. In all reality, he's likely waiting to see who else becomes available.
Khiry Robinson- RB
Ingram may be a Heisman Trophy winner but Robinson doesn't have as many health concerns. Robinson doesn't have the quickness of a Sproles or elusiveness of a Thomas, but he's got better upside than anyone else in New Orleans' backfield.
Robinson picked up momentum late in 2013 and broke out for 57 yards and a touchdown in a divisional round game against Seattle. He's a viable receiving threat who tallied 38 catches for 430 yards as a senior with Texas A&M in 2012. If Ingram goes down, which he will most certainly do, Robinson will make for a nice RB2 option.
- Sign up to receive the lastest news from LATINONE