Over the last 12 seasons with Sean Payton as the head coach (suspended in 2012) and Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints finished first or second in the NFL in offense yards nine times. Payton has a career 105-71 record with one Super Bowl title and six playoff appearances.
The Saints returned to the playoffs in 2017 after sitting on the sidelines in each of their previous three years. Their growth in wins (11-5) came more from the defensive side of the ball. Last season New Orleans allowed 128 fewer points than 2016 (454) leading to a 17th place finish in points allowed (326) and ninth in yards allowed. Dennis Allen will run the defense for the fourth season. Dennis held the same position for the Broncos in 2011 leading to a head coaching job for the Raiders from 2012 to 2014 where he struggled to have success (8-28). Allen has 17 years of NFL coaching experience.
New Orleans scored 448 points (4th) in 2017 while ranking second in offensive yards gained. The Saints have been a top two offense in the NFL over the last four years. Pete Carmichael will return for his ninth season as offensive coordinator. Pete has been in the New Orleans’ system since 2006.
New Orleans released backup QB Chase Daniels while replacing him with QB Tom Savage. Both players have minimal experience starting in the NFL.
The Saints signed G Jermon Bushrod who struggled over the last two seasons after ranking just below the league average over his previous five years. G Senio Kelemete moved on to the Texans after offering no value over his five years in the league.
They added CB Patrick Robinson, S Kurt Coleman, and LB Demario Davis to the defense. Robinson played great in coverage after failing to live up to expectation in his previous seven seasons after getting drafted in the first round in 2010. He may have found his niche as CB3. Coleman struggled last year after three solid strong years for the Panthers. He tends to play well against the run. Davis set a career high in tackles (135) and sacks (5) while playing at a high level vs. the run.
New Orleans moved up from CB Rafael Bush and LB Jonathan Freeny. Both players found new homes in the NFL. Bush had minimal impact as a part-time player. Freeny struggled to find a home in 2017 despite four different chances.
The Saints parted ways with WR Willie Snead and FB John Kuhn. They signed RB Terrance West to cover the missed time by Mark Ingram while improving the overall RB depth. TE Ben Watson returns to New Orleans to fight for the starting job.
With their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, New Orleans added DE Marcus Davenport. His best skill is rushing the QB where he flashes upside in power, speed, and quickness. Davenport can help in run support when attacking the line of scrimmage, but his change of direction speed and vision lead to mistakes and missed tackles. Marcus needs to develop his hands in heavy traffic zone to create more space to make plays.
With no draft pick in the second round, the Saints fired a bullet at the WR position in the third with Tre’quan Smith. His route running and strength limit his value in 2018. Smith shows a willingness to block in the run game with the wheels and skill set to be a deep threat in the passing game out of the box. Tre’quan won’t beat top physical corners off the line in press coverage.
In the fourth and seventh round, New Orleans invested in two players for their offensive line – T Rick Leonard and C Will Clapp.
Leonard brings quickness and athletic ability to the offensive line, but he just learning the position. His technique and strength need a lot of work with his balance being his most significant area of risk. Clapp has a football mentality, which gains value due to his vision and feel for the game. He works hard, but his ceiling isn’t high enough to be a difference maker at the next level.
New Orleans added S Natrell Jamerson and CB Kamrin Moore in the fifth and sixth round.
Jamerson has blazing speed (4.4) for his position with a huge plus in strength. His skill set projects well in run support while owning the vision to make winning plays. Natrell is a former WR who has limited experience on the defensive side of the ball. His next step is becoming a hitter in defense where he finishes off runners in a big way.
Moore has risk at the next level in coverage, but he can win battles at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. He should help against the run with his early career value coming on special teams.
The Saints drafted RB Boston Scott in the sixth round. Scott is an undersized back (5’7’ and 195 lbs.). His value will come in his quickness and open field ability while offering downside in pass blocking. His game has upside in the passing game. Boston needs to shore up his base to help sustain his balance after contact.
The Saints found their run game in 2017 leading to the 5th pace finish in rushing yards (2,070). Their growth in rushing TDs (23) was the demise of Drew Brees in passing in TDs (23). The Saints gained 4.7 yards per rush with 17 runs over 20 yards and five carries over 40 yards. New Orleans averaged 27.8 rushes per game.
New Orleans ranked 5th in the NFL in passing yards (4,189) with 23 TDs and eight Ints. They led the NFL with 72 completions over 20 yards and yards per pass attempt (8.1). The Saints averaged only 33.5 passes per game, which was well below their previous success (42.1 passes per game in 2016). Their offensive line allowed 20 sacks and 58 QB hits.
LT Terron Armstead was one of the best players at his position in 2015, but he missed nine games in 2016 due to knee and quad injuries. In June, Terron suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder putting on a path to miss four to six months. Over the nine full games, Armstead was only a league average player. With a full season to get healthy, Terron should regain his previous form.
LG Andrus Peat still hasn’t developed into the player New Orleans thought he would after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. Andrus improved in his second year, but he struggled in all areas last year. If Peat gets out of the gate slowly, he could lose playing to Jermon Bushrod.
C Max Under has a long resume of success, but he lost practice reps over the summer due to a foot injury. Despite playing 16 games, Max fell short of expectations in all areas.
RG Larry Warford played his best ball in his rookie season with the Lions after getting drafted in the third round in 2013. His best value will come in run blocking, but he did show growth in his pass protection skill last year.
RT Ryan Ramczyk played all 16 games in his rookie season with success in both run and pass blocking. Ryan is very skilled in the techniques needed to have success at his position while adding athletic ability.
This offensive line should get a ton of credit after the success in 2017. Their line helped the Saints’ RBs gain 4.7 yards per rush while projecting Brees enough to allow only 20 sacks. Two of their starters played last year after coming off injuries leading a step back in performance. Both players should be better in 2018. New Orleans has a top line helped by great QB play and improved talent at the RB position.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
New Orleans has four tough games (MIN, PHI, and CAR X 2) for their rushing offense, but the second game against the Panthers falls in Week 17. Their best value running the ball should come against the Redskins and Cincinnati. Overall, the Saints have a below-par run schedule.
Their schedule for their passing offense looks about neutral with three favorable matchups (TB X 2 and NYG). New Orleans only has one poor game (MIN) for their passing attack.
The Saints continue to get it done offensively, but an improved defense led to a new game plan in 2017. New Orleans became a feared rushing offense helping Drew Brees become a high profile game manager. This year New Orleans may need to throw the ball 600+ times, and they do have questions in their depth at WR and the receiving talent at TE.
QB Drew Brees – It was interesting to see Brees attempted his lower number of passes (536) since 2005, but he still led the NFL in completions (386) for the second straight year. He set a career high in completion rate (72.0) helped by massive number catches (144) and attempts (180) to the RB position. Drew finished with 4,334 passing yards and 23 TDs, which was well below his expected value and results from the previous six years (5,141 passing yards and 38 passing TDs per year). Brees passed for over 300 yards in three games with only one game with three TDs. Over his last 13 games of the year, Drew had 17 passing TDs. The bottom line here is that Brees had a 20 percent drop in opportunity due to growth in the run game especially in TDs (23). This season Drew will pass both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre in career passing yards while hoping to hold off Tom Brady in his career to be the top passing QB in NFL history. He enters 2018 in a dead heat with Brady in career TDs (488) with the top spot being 51 TDs away. The structure of the offensive in New Orleans changed in a big way last year with the emergence of Alvin Kamara and the new found defense. His previous resume suggests a rebound in passing chances while expecting to push his passing TDs back to the 30 range. I expect Brees to be a value in 2018 after a step back in stats last year. His new floor should be about 4,700 yards with 30+ TDs while understanding his resume points to more production.
Other Options: Tom Savage, Taysom Hill, J.T. Barrett
RB Alvin Kamara – Hands down Kamara was the best back in the NFL in 2017. He gained 7.7 yards per touch with 14 TDs. His season started as the third wheel in the Saints’ RB rotation with Adrian Peterson on the roster for the first three games. In the end, New Orleans gave him 201 touches for 1,554 combined yards. Alvin only had one game with over 100 yards rushing (106) plus another game with over 100 yards receiving (101). He runs with power with high upside as a pass receiver. Overall, he averaged 1.59 Fantasy points per touch, which would have worked out to 545 Fantasy points in PPR league if he had the same touches (343) as Todd Gurley. The Saints will use two backs again in 2018 even with Mark Ingram suspended for four games. Last year New Orleans’ RB gained 3,114 combined yards with 28 TDs and 144 catches or 39.0 Fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. Buy the talent and upside while understanding Alvin is one injury away from being the top RB in the league. I expect him to post 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season in his future career with an excellent chance at reaching over 100+ catches at least once in his career. This year he’ll have the early jump as being the RB1 in new Orleans leading to 250+ touches for 1,900+ yards with 15 TDs and 90+ catches. When making your RB1 decision in round one, base it on opportunity, talent, and overall team production. The Saints should lead the NFL in RB Fantasy points again in 2018 and Kamara is the guy wearing the blue ribbon standing at the finish line.
Update: 7/27/18 > It would be tough for me to upgrade my early projections on Alvin Kamara even with a huge jump in playing time over the first four games of the year with Mark Ingram suspended. His increased opportunity makes Kamara a slam dunk to be drafted over the first six picks in almost all high-stakes drafts in PPR leagues. Let’s just say, he now has a brighter shade of green.
RB Mark Ingram – Over the last two years, Ingram played his best ball of his career leading to over 1,000 rushing in each year (1,043 and 1,124) with 2,902 combined yards with 22 TDs and 104 catches. Over this span, Mark averaged 5.0 yards per rush less explosiveness in the passing game (7.1 yards per catch). Last year Ingram averaged 18.0 touches per game. He finished with four games with over 100 yards rushing and two other games with over 100 combined yards. Over the first four games of the year, he averaged just over 14 touches per game with Adrian Peterson on the roster. This year Mark will miss four games due to a failed drug test. Any missed time will lead to a huge opening for Alvin Kamara to shine. I’m going to lower his touches to 15 per game, which comes to 180 over 12 games. I expect 1,000 combined yards with about 40 catches and six to eight TDs. Ingram is still a viable RB2 in PPR leagues especially if he’s missed priced in drafts.
RB Terrance West – In 2016, West showed early down value for the Ravens when he gained 1,010 combined yards with six TDs and 34 catches on 227 combined touches. Last year Terrance lost his opportunity in Baltimore after a poor start to the year and a calf injury. Low upside player, but he may see 12 to 15 touches over the first four games of the season with Mark Ingram out of action. Player to follow over the summer if a Fantasy owner is cheating the RB2 position and they need a bridge player to cover an injury or maybe a four-game suspension.
RB Jonathan Williams – Over three seasons with Arkansas, Williams gained 2,321 yards rushing with 16 rushing TDs. He caught 26 balls for 345 yards and six more TDs. His best season came in his junior year when Jon had 1,255 combined yards with 11 catches and 14 TDs. He missed his senior season due to a left foot injury that required surgery. Williams has a nice combination of power and quickness. His game will be exciting when he breaks free in the second level of the defense. Jon runs hard with solid open field ability and vision. His ball security issues in college won’t be tolerated in the NFL. Last Jonathan failed to make the Broncos or the Saints leading to him ending the year on the practice squad for New Orleans. Williams will compete for the RB3 job in 2018 on the Saints.
Other Options: Trey Edmunds, Boston Scott
WR Michael Thomas – Thomas had growth in his second year in the league (104/1245/5) even with Drew Brees attempting the lowest total of passes (536) in his career with the Saints. In 2016, New Orleans threw the ball 673 times with Michael catching 92 balls for 1,137 yards and nine TDs. In the end, Thomas had growth in his target opportunity (149 chances – 27.8 percent of the total pass thrown by New Orleans) compared to 2016 (121 targets – 18.0 percent of 673 passes). The change in style by the Saints’ offense due to a much-improved run game and better defense led to a shorter total in TDs (5). Thomas is a high volume WR with a chance at double-digit TDs. The growth in scoring ability on the ground by the Saints’ back does remove his upside in TDs. Buy the 100-catch season while expecting some return in TD production. If New Orleans regains some of their passing attempts, Michael may push his catch total to 120 with 1,500+ yards and double-digit TDs.
WR Cameron Meredith – A torn left ACL cost Meredith all of the 2017 season. He’ll have a full season to recover, which puts him on a winning path in the Saints’ passing game this year. Over two two-game stretches in 2016 with the Bears (Week 5 – 9/130/1 and Week 6 – 11/113 plus Week 15 – 9/104 and Week 16 – 9/135/1), Meredith offered impact value while being the best WR on the field for Chicago. In those four games, Cam had double-digit targets in each game (12, 15, 13, and 12). Unfortunately for Fantasy owners, he disappeared in six straight games (1/12, 1/24, 1/50/1, 4/49, and 2/19) starting in Week 7. Over his last 12 games of the season, Meredith had 60 catches for 836 yards and four TDs on 89 targets. His presence gives the Saints a second WR of value, but he needs Drew Brees to gain his pass-happy ways. His starting point should be 60+ catches for 800+ yards with five to seven TDs. Last year New Orleans completed 198 passes to the WR position for 2,608 yards and 14 TDs on 286 targets. A weak TE option helps Cameron in the target department.
Update: 8/11/2018 > Meredith continues to make slow progress in his recovery knee injury. He’s yet to face contact in practice with no timetable for game action in the preseason.
Update: 8/14/2018 > I don’t like the direction of the injury news for Meredith. He’s missed multiple practices in August, and I get the sense that he’s going to be a wasted draft pick in 2018. If a Fantasy owner remains interested, I would pay close attention to his progress over the second half of August. I’m putting on my avoid list no matter how far he falls in drafts.
WR Ted Ginn – Last year Ginn finished as the 34th highest scoring WR in PPR leagues despite only receiving 70 targets. Ted gained over 700 yards for the third straight season with 53 catches and four TDs. His catch rate (75.7) was a career best by a wide margin, which just shows the value of a quality QB with accuracy. Ginn had 15 catches for 20 yards or longer with five of those gaining at least 40 yards. Better player than he gets credit for, but he needs a bump in targets to become more valuable in the Fantasy market. Possible 40+ catches for 600+ yards with a handful of TDs with the Saints having a stronger WR2 in 2018.
Update: 8/11/2018 > The Saints released Brandon Coleman in early August while having an underlying injury, and Meredith is banged up with no clear timetable to return. I’m giving Ginn a bump in the next update in the Saints’ projections.
Tre’Quan Smith (WR) – Early in August, Smith has been gaining some attention in the high-stakes market in PPR leagues as a possible upside flier at wide receiver. He comes to the NFL with a nice combination of size (6’2” and 203 lbs.) and speed (4.50 forty), but he does need to get stronger. Tre’Quan will struggle to beat press coverage with concerns with his ability to separate over the short areas of the field. His best value for the Saints will come as a deep threat where his long arm and jumping ability will create some winning opportunities. His hands under fire will be a question for sure at the next level. Over three season at the University of Central Florida, Smith caught 168 passes for 2,748 yards and 22 TDs highlighted by his junior season in 2017 (59/1171/13).
Update: 8/14/2018 > In the first preseason game, Smith caught four passes for 48 yards to help put his name more on Fantasy owner’s radar. He projects more as a backup for Ted Ginn as WR4 in the Saints’ offense. His early season playing time will hinge in the health of Cameron Meredith, which doesn’t look good. Player to follow in August, but don’t overpay for preseason stats as his learning curve in the NFL will lead to many short games.
WR Brandon Coleman – The Saints gave Coleman three seasons to prove his value as possible starting WR. His best season came in 2015 (30/454/2 on 49 targets) only to see his catch total fall to 23 last year with 364 yards and three TDs on 37 targets. Brandon has size (6’6” and 225 lbs.) while showing the ability to make big plays, but he’ll start 2018 as the WR4 for the Saints.
Update: 8/11/2018 > The Saints released Coleman in early August while having an underlying injury.
Other Options: Tre’quan Smith, Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold, Paul Turner
TE Ben Watson – The Saints decided to bring back Watson to start at TE after missing 2016 and catching 61 passes for 522 yards and four TDs on 79 targets for the Ravens last year. Ben will start the year at age 37 while posting the best season of his career in 2015 (74/825/6 on 110 targets) with New Orleans. Last year the TEs on the Saints caught 45 passes for 476 yards and five TDs on 61 targets. Watson won’t be an edge at TE, but he will have value in games when defenses overlook him. At best, 45/450/5 while having no real threats on the roster to steal snaps or targets.
Other Options: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, Garrett Griffin, Deon Yelder
K Wil Lutz – In his first two seasons in the NFL, Lutz made 59 of 70 field goals (84.3 percent) plus 96 of his 100 extra points. New Orleans gave him 12 chances from 50 yards or longer leading to seven made kicks. He ranked ninth in kicker scoring in 2016 and eighth in 2017, so Wil should be considered a top 12 scoring option. New Orleans should give over 80 scoring chances a year, but the ability to score rushing TDs in the red zone does lead to many games with just extra points.
The Saints start the year with a favorable run schedule over the first six games, but they will be challenged on the ground in six (MIN, LAR, PHI, DAL, and CAR X 2) of their last ten games. Their best success late in the year defending the run will come against the Bengals and the Bucs.
Overall, New Orleans has a neutral schedule for this passing defense. They have three tough games (PIT and TB X 2) plus two mid-tier games vs. the Falcons. They have six matchups (CLE, BAL, CIN, DAL, and CAR X 2) against teams that struggled to pass the ball in 2017.
New Orleans ranked 16th in rushing yards allowed (1,787) with 11 TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.4 yards per rush with opponents attempting 25.4 rushers per game.
The Saints finished 18th in passing yards allowed (3,597) with 22 TDs and 20 Ints. QBs gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt with 57 completion over 20 yards. Their defense picked up 42 sacks.
DE Cameron Jordan set a career high in sacks (13) while adding 62 tackles, 11 defended passes, one Int, and one TD. Jordan was the best player at his position last year with his all-around play while adding a third straight year of impact success. Cameron is excellent against the run the as well. DE Alex Okafor had his best season in the NFL leading to career highs in tackles (43) and defended passes (4) with 4.5 sacks despite missing six games with an Achilles injury.
DT Tyeler Davison worked well as an early-down run defender, but he has no value in sacks. DT David Onyemata showed growth in his second year in the NFL. In a rotation role, Onyemata had 38 tackles and two sacks with strength against the run. DT Sheldon Rankins has the highest upside on the interior line after getting drafted in the first round in 2016. Last season he had 26 tackles and two sacks with some risk in the run game.
LB Demario Davis set a career high in tackles (135) and sacks (5) in 2017 with the Jets. It was his best season in the NFL by far. Davis was an edge in run support. LB Craig Robertson is a veteran player who adds value in coverage with plenty of tackles in most seasons. Overall, Robertson is a liability against the run with minimal upside in the pass rush. LB A.J. Klein isn’t a great player, and he doesn’t belong in the starting lineup in the NFL. Klein has risk in all areas. LB Manti Te’o has limited upside on early downs, but he did have 62 tackles in his first season with the Saints.
CB Marshon Lattimore was one of the best players at his position in his rookie season. Marshon posted 52 tackles, 18 defended passes, five Ints, and one TD. Lattimore has the makings of being an elite coverage corner with some value in run support. He has elite speed (4.36) with a smooth transition in coverage. CB Ken Crawley did a nice job in his second year in the NFL. He had 54 tackles, 17 defended passes, and one Int after failing to get drafted in 2016. CB Patrick Robinson found his rhythm in coverage after six mediocre years in the NFL after being drafted in the first round in 2010. Robinson played well in coverage for the Eagles in 2017 as the CB3.
S Marcus Williams proved to be well worth his second-round draft value in 2017. He added 73 tackles, seven defended passes, and four Ints in his rookie season while grading highly against the run. He brings quickness and athletic ability to the defense. Williams is a playmaker, which is something the Saints lack in the secondary. S Vonn Bell has 170 tackles over his first two years in the NFL with 5.5 sacks and six defended passes. Last year he did have failure at times against the run. The Saints drafted Vonn in the second round in 2016.
The best part of this defense is Cameron Jordan who can do it all. The Saints’ secondary is young and full of developing players. New Orleans brought in a high-value tackler at middle linebacker, but his resume suggests his 2017 success may not be repeatable. The rest of defense players fall short of being difference maker in any area. Looking back at 2017, maybe the success of the run game made a bigger impact on the Saints’ defense than the defense. The ability to run the ball and move the chain kept the offense on the field. Fantasy owner will draft New Orleans as top 10 Fantasy defense based on last year, but it could be a mistake.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks