By Andrew Schuster @ShootsMcGavin on May 16, 2014
The New Orleans Saints had a monstrous turnaround in 2013, finishing with the No. 4 overall defense. The offense was at it's best again and they look to continue their success in hopes of bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to the Big Easy. The Black and Gold made a splash this offseason and in the NFL draft, so let's take a look at their potential starters for 2014.
It's a no-brainer here. There's really no need for explanation. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He holds the Saints record in just about every passing category (at least all of the good ones). It will be exciting to watch him light it up again in 2014.
Thomas will likely begin the season No. 1 on the depth chart. He's been a solid back since signing with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2007. I assume Ingram will split carries down the middle with Thomas. He has yet to show his potential in New Orleans, but a strong finish last year raises hopes. Look out for Khiry Robinson as well. With the departure of Darren Sproles, he will likely see a much bigger workload. Robinson is a beast.
The Saints tend to run three-receiver sets quite a bit. Colston is a lock and after a strong rookie performance, Stills has earned the No. 2 spot with Lance Moore gone, and Brandin Cooks comes in as a rookie and will likely be thrown into the mix from day one. He has the ability to make an immediate impact on the Saints' high-powered offense. New Orleans didn't move up seven spots in the draft for nothing.
Obviously Jimmy is the number one tight end on the depth chart. He's the best of the best. However, since he does lineup at the receiver spot quite a bit (let's not go there) and the Saints do run with two tight ends often, Watson should also be considered a starter. He is on the field a majority of the time and is a solid target for Brees.
After signing Zach Strief to a new five-year, .5 million contract, he is a lock at right tackle. Armstead emerged towards the end of last season after Sean Payton got fed up with Charles Brown (now with the New York Giants) and sat him for the rest of the year. If the season were to kick off today, Armstead would be the Saints' starting left tackle.
The two 2013 Pro-Bowl selections have the guard positions on lock. That will not be changing any time soon. They are the two strongest men on the offensive line and serve as excellent protection for Drew Brees. Evans is obviously the better guard, but Grubbs isn't far behind. If he can learn to plant his feet better and keep his balance, he'd be right up there.
This is a bold prediction, but since the Saints failed to address their obvious need for center in the draft, I see them signing on Goodwin. He served as the Saints' center before leaving for San Francisco in 2011. He was even selected to the Pro Bowl the year New Orleans brought home the Lombardi Trophy. He met with the Saints before the draft, so I am assuming Sean Payton has plans for Goodwin to rejoin his former team.
Cam Jordan is a lock after recording 12.5 sacks in 2013 and being elected to his first of probably many Pro Bowls. Akiem Hicks had a strong performance as well. With a little more hard work and getting into shape, he may also become a double-digit sack machine. Look for the Saints defensive ends to have another giant year.
People like to hate on Bunkley because of his giant contract. I am not too fond of it either, but he did take a pay cut back in April. Bunkley serves as a nice plug up the middle on the Saints defensive line. He does his job by narrowing the holes for ball carriers, but he could definitely step it up this season. As for now, he will be number one on the depth chart with John Jenkins (second year man from Georgia) serving as his relief.
Galette arguably had a Pro-Bowl campaign in 2013 after finishing with 12 sacks. He was a dominant part of the Saints' pass rush. Rob Ryan brought in Victor Butler from Dallas for some added pressure, but he went down with a knee injury before the season even started. Butler missed all of last year, but was cleared to play in the playoff game against Seattle. I see a healthy Butler starting opposite Galette with a little mix of Parys Haralson.
Curtis Lofton has led the team in tackles ever since signing with New Orleans in 2012. David Hawthorne was second on the team last season right behind him. As of right now, both guys should be expecting starting roles on the Saints defense. The tackling machine, Lofton is a lock, but some of the younger guys may be fighting with Hawthorne for some extra time. A Pro Bowl appearance by Lofton one of these days would be no surprise.
Keenan Lewis emerged as one of the leagues top shutdown corners in 2013. A Pro Bowl appearance could be in the near future. Signing on Champ Bailey was one of the big moves made by the Saints this offseason. He may have lost a step or two, but if healthy, I fully expect Bailey to start opposite Lewis. If rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste emerges like some are hoping, Bailey may be in danger of losing his starting role and convert to the nickel.
The Saints went all in by signing on the elite ball hawk this offseason. With the amount of pressure the Saints put on quarterbacks, Byrd should have a huge year picking off hurried passes. Since entering the league in 2009, he has appeared in three Pro Bowls and leads the league in interceptions at his position.
Vaccaro started 14 games as a rookie last season, totaling 79 tackles, one sack and an interception. He played like a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and we should expect the strong performance to continue. He is strong, quick, versatile and has the ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline. Kenny Vaccaro is a lock at strong safety.
The Saints decided to extend Shayne Graham's contract, so he looks to be the guy kicking the field goals heading into the new season. As for Thomas Morstead, he is a lock at punter and place kicker. You can hear his boot pound into the ball from the nosebleeds. The strong leg of Morstead is locked in after reaching a six-year extension in 2012. He was a Pro-Bowl selection and Second-team All-Pro in 2012. Maybe it happens again in 2014.
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