The New Orleans Saints have had some complications here and there at the special teams standpoint. Finding a consistent kicker has been an adventure, as well as finding good field position in the return game. Luckily for New Orleans, their dominant offense has made up for the field position. Because of the Saints’ active offseason, let’s go ahead and grade the special teams unit up to this point.
Garret Hartley (a hero in New Orleans after making a field goal that punched the Saints’ first ticket to the Super Bowl in 2009) was cut in the middle of the 2013 season. Hartley executed some big kicks during his time in the Big Easy, but his consistency did not match to that of team standards. Shayne Graham was then signed on and off to a hot start, however, a couple of big misses in the playoffs led to some criticizing; bad weather conditions were a definite factor though. Graham was re-signed in 2014, and is No. 1 on the depth chart at this time. He’s a respectable kicker with a proven track record, so let’s see if bringing him back in the black and gold pays off for New Orleans.
Thomas Morstead, who serves as the punter and place kicker, is the main reason the Saints are able to pin their opponents so far back on the field so often. In fact, his booming boot earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2012. He is probably the most consistent player on special teams, and one of the top legs in the NFL. Punters are often underappreciated, but Morstead (signed a six-year extension in 2012) is a boss in New Orleans.
Return Game: D
Remember, this is a grade on the offseason up to this point, but the return game has still been a bit below average in recent years (830 kick return yards, 180 punt return yards, zero TD’s in 2013). After parting ways with WR Lance Moore and RB Darren Sproles this offseason, the Saints no longer have experienced punt and kick returners on the roster. RB Travaris Cadet seems to be the guy who will take over those roles for the time being. Cadet has shown ability as a kick returner, but New Orleans may want to look towards the draft to find a player who could create a spark in the unit. Two guys I have my eyes on are Kent State RB Dri Archer and Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas. The speed of Archer and Thomas may also be able to fill that hole that Sproles left behind in the backfield. Regardless, up to this point, the Saints’ return game looks to be headed in the wrong direction.
Punt/Kick Coverage: B-
The Saints ranked towards the top of the charts when it came to tackling efficiency on special teams. Not to mention, New Orleans only allowed 7.5 yards per punt return and 25.2 yards per kick return, which both ranked seventh in the league. The re-signings of LB Parys Haralson, LB Ramon Humber and S Rafael Bush will certainly keep the coverage unit up to par. However, a new deal with special teams captain Will Herring has yet to be announced. Herring’s presence on the field is strong and provides an extra boost at that department.
Special Teams Overall Grade: C+
Special teams is the weak point of the team, but the kicking, punting and coverage units seem to be up to par. The departure of Sproles and Moore, following an already substandard season, requires the Saints to find a fresh, explosive return man. Cadet could take over the role, but there is very little experience there. New Orleans may want to turn to free agency to bridge the gap or even snag a player in the draft to add some depth to the roster. Can the special teams unit step it up and improve in 2014?
The Saints won’t be playing in the Superdome until August but you don’t have to wait that long before heading back to the iconic venue with the Essence Music Festival scheduled to take place there July 3-6th. Click here for Essence Music Festival tickets.