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What I Learned – 2020 New Orleans Saints Team Outlook: Overcoming Bad Beats For Another Playoff-Bound Season
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Coaching StaffOver the last 14 seasons with Sean Payton as the head coach (suspended in 2012) and Drew Brees at quarterback, the New Orleans Saints finished first or second in the NFL in offense yards nine times. Payton has a career 131-77 record with one Super Bowl title (2009) and eight playoff appearances (8-7).New Orleans scored 458 points (third) in 2019, 46 points fewer than 2018 (504). The Saints ranking ninth in offensive yards gained., extending their streak of top top-ten finishes in this area to 14 seasons.Pete Carmichael returns for his 11th season as the offensive coordinator. New Orleans added him to their system in 2006 when Payton took running the team.The Saints finished just above the league average on the defensive side of the ball for the past three years. In 2019, they finished 11th in offensive yards allowed and 13th in points allowed (341). Only twice in the Payton era has their defense ranked in the top ten in points allowed (2010 and 2013).Dennis Allen gets his sixth chance to rebuild the Saints’ defense. He 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 find success (8-28). Allen has 17 years of NFL coaching experience.Free AgencyIn the offseason, New Orleans added WR Emmanuel Sanders to their receiving core. He’ll start the year at age 33 while being a viable WR2 for an NFL team over the past six seasons.Their offense lost QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Ted Ginn, and FB Zach Line. Bridgewater takes over as the starting quarterback for the Panthers. Michael Burton will compete for playing time at fullback.On defense, the Saints moved on from LB Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple, CB Johnson Bademosi, LB Stephone Anthony, LB Manti Te’o, LB A.J. Klein, and DE Josh Martin.Bell played well vs. the run. He also adds value in the pass rush when given the green light to blitz. Bell does need some improvement in his game in the pass coverage. His best value comes when attacking the middle of the field and moving forward.Apple continues to fall short of expectations in coverage after getting drafted in the first round in 2010. His downside comes from a high number of big plays allowed with a poor TD to Int ratio. DraftNew Orleans only had four picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. In the first round, they invested in C Cesar Ruiz. The Saints expect him to upgrade their run game thanks to plus stretch and ability to win quickly after the snap. Ruiz uses his hands well, but his range may be limited. His challenge will come vs. power in the pass rush.Their next two picks came in the third round – LB Zack Baun and TE Adam Trautman.Baun has the look of a three-down player that brings plenty of strength and quickness to the linebacking core. His foundation skills set projects well in run support with a chance to develop more upside in the pass rush. Baun should shine in coverage. His only negative is his size (6’2” and 238 lbs.), which lower his explosiveness when facing the big bodies on the offensive line. He does also need to add some patience to his attack.Trautman comes to the NFL with a pass-catching skill set. He does some things well in his route running, while also having questions with his release. His blocking isn’t where it needs to be. New Orleans has enough assets in the passing game, where Trautman should see plenty of easy targets in his rookie season.The future insurance policy at quarterback came via Tommy Stevens in the seventh round. His passing ability needs plenty of work while owning explosiveness as a runner. He plays with power and speed, and the Saints expect him to be on a similar trajectory as Taysom Hill.Offensive LineThe Saints fell to 16th rushing yards (1,738). New Orleans scored 49 rushing TDs in 2017 (23) and 2018 (26), but their struggles on the ground last year led to only 12 touchdowns. The Saints gained (4.3 yards per rush with 11 runs over 20 yards and one carry over 40 yards. New Orleans averaged 29.4 rushes per game in 2018 while slipping to 25.3 carries per contest last year.New Orleans finished 7th in the NFL in passing yards (4,431) with 36 TDs and six Ints. They had 54 completions over 20 yards while gaining yards per pass attempt (7.6). The Saints averaged only 36.3 passes per game. Their offensive line allowed 25 sacks and 58 QB hits.LT Terron Armstead Armstead was one of the best players at his position since 2015 while playing at an elite level last year again in pass protection. He tends to miss some time each year while showing some fade in run blocking in tow of his previous three seasons.LG Andrus Peat Peat still hasn’t developed into the player New Orleans thought he would after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. He struggled in all areas in back-to-back seasons. Peat missed six games last year with a forearm injury. C Erik McCoy In his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round, McCoy made 16 starts with impressive success in both run and pass blocking. His game is built on power and strength, allowing McCoy to handle bull rushers. His range is limited, but he does protect his space quickly after the snap. His challenge will come when asked to defend a more significant piece of the field in pass protection.RG Cesar RuizThe Saints will move Ruiz to right guard in his rookie season after playing at center in his college career. His run blocking should hit the ground running, but the change of position may lead to a learning curve in pass blocking.RT Ryan Ramczyk Ramczyk played well in his first two years in the NFL after the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2017. In 2019, his play moved to an elite level in all areas. Ramczyk is very skilled in the techniques needed to have success at his position while adding athletic ability. Offensive Line OutlookNew Orleans has a top offensive line, which is also helped by the quick release of Dew Brees. The rushing should be much improved this year. The Saints have a top-five offensive line in the NFL.Offensive ScheduleThe 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 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. 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. 2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 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.Other than two tough matchups against Tampa Bay, the Saints have a neutral schedule for their rushing offense. They have two favorable contests vs. the Panthers plus a mid-tier game against Kansas City. New Orleans will be tested in three other matchups (LV, CHI, and PHI).The Saints have four winnable games (DET, GB, and TB X 2) for their passing offense. San Francisco’s pass defense presents the most significant issue, followed by two other below-par contests (CHI and KC).OffenseNew Orleans would love to regain their edge running the ball, which would downgrade Drew Brees to a productive game manager. The Saints tried to improve their receiving depth and offensive line, pointing to another push up the offensive standing in 2020.Here’s a look at the early projections for New Orleans, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:QuarterbacksDrew BreesAfter consistently ranking at the top of the league in completions and passing attempts, Brees worked as an upside game manager in 2018 (32.6 passes per game) and 2019 (34.3). Last year he missed five games with a thumb issue while seeing a bump in passing attempts (36.9) in his ten full contests.Over his last 26 starts, he averaged almost 2.5 TDs per game with only nine Ints. Brees led the NFL in completion rate (72.0, 74.4, and 74.3) over his previous three seasons. Last year he passed for over 300 yards in six games while delivering three TDs or more in seven different weeks. His best play came at home (2,205 yards and 19 TDs over seven outings.New Orleans has the best WR in the game in Michael Thomas while always ranking high in RB production in the receiving game. WR Emmanuel Sanders may be the missing link for the Saints to regain their passing prowess in 2020. In the early draft season, Brees is the 11th quarterback off the table with an ADP of 88.Jameis WinstonIn the fantasy world, buying low on a player’s value is often the key to winning a fantasy title.Last year Winston led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) with plenty of TDs (33) and attempts (626), but his incredibly high number of Ints (30 – seventh-highest all-time) has teams scared away. His career completion rate (61.3) is well below the top QBs in the game, but an active receiver doesn’t pad his stats in this area in the passing game at running back. The Saints signed him to a one-year deal with the hopes that he offers upside as a possible replacement to Brees down the road.Other options: Taysom Hill, Tommy StevensRunning BacksSince Drew Brees took over at quarterback, the Saints have ranked highly in most seasons in running backs catches, receiver yards, and targets. Over the past two years, their RB chances have declined while remaining productive. In 2017, their backs gained 3,214 combined yards with 28 TDs and 144 catches, which was well above their 2019 total (2,389 combined yards with 11 TDs and 124 catches. There is a top-five fantasy running back opportunity that tends to be split between two running backs.Alvin KamaraKamara lost some of his elite luster in 2019 after a significant setback in TD production (six in 14 games), which came after scoring 31 touchdowns over his first 31 games. He held value in catches (81 in each season in the NFL), but he lost his explosiveness (6.6 YPC) in the passing game. Kamara continues to run hard while breaking tackles in the open field, but the Saints struggled to get him in space in 2019. He missed two games midseason while dealing with ankle and knee injuries. Kamara only had two impact games (161 combined yards with two TDs and ten catches and 110 combined yards with two TDs and six catches). Overall, he averaged 18.0 touches per game, which was well below the top RBs in the league. The Saints had him on the field for about 67 percent of their plays in his 14 games of action. I set his initial bar at 1,554 combined yards with 11 TDs and 83 catches. Kamara has an ADP of five in the high-stakes market. Latavius MurrayMurray ended up being a good fit for the Saints while working behind RB Alvin Kamara. New Orleans gave him two starts with Kamara injured, and he responded with two RB1 games (150 combined yards with two TDs and two catches and 157 combined yards with two TDs and nine catches).Over his other 14 games, he averaged 40 yards per game with two TDs and 20 catches or 6.25 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. Even with the 28th ranking at RB (157.2 fantasy points) in 2019, Murray was unplayable in nine of his 16 weeks. More of a handcuff with upside if given a starting opportunity than a target as a third running back for a fantasy team.Other options: Ty Montgomery, Dwayne Washington, Tony JonesWide ReceiversNew Orleans gained about 60 percent of their receiving yards from the wide receiver position over each of the last three seasons. Their WR catches improved in two straight years, but their yards per catches faded over this span. Michael Thomas requires a considerable workload, which limits the opportunity for the Saints’ secondary wide receivers.Michael ThomasThomas is just a beast at the wide receiver position with an exceptional catch rate in 2018 (85.0) and 2019 (80.5). Last year he set the NFL record in catches (149) while scoring almost 100 more fantasy points (375.5) than the 2nd ranked WR (Chris Godwin – 276.1) in PPR leagues. Thomas had ten catches or more in nine games while receiving double-digit targets in 12 contests. Over his last 32 games, he averaged 8.6 catches for 98 yards and 0.56 TDs per game or 21.8 fantasy points per week. A tremendous player with a great opportunity – look for another 125+ catches for 1,500+ yards and a career-high in TDs. A massive edge while being drafted in the first five picks in just about every fantasy draft in 2020.Emmanuel SandersOver the last three seasons, Sanders played for two teams that struggled to pass the ball. He settled into a 65 to 70 catch player in 2018 (71/868/4) and 2019 (66/502/3), while seeing his opportunity drop by over 40 percent from his glory days with Denver. His best value last year came in five games (5/86/1, 11/98/1, 5/104, 7/112/1, and 7/157/1), but Sanders lost his way down the stretch (13/166 on 22 targets over six games, which included the playoffs). The move to the Saints gives him a chance at regaining some of his targets. His early projections came to 59 catches for 824 yards and five TDs, earning him an ADP of 120 as the 45th wide receiver drafted.Tre’Quan SmithIn his rookie season, Smith caught 28 of his 44 targets for 427 yards and five TDs. He showed explosiveness in two games (3/111/2 and 10/157/1) with both games coming at home. The Saints gave him seven starts, but he caught one pass or fewer in four contests. In his second year in the league, Smith failed to gain momentum after a reasonable start to his career in 2019. Over 26 games in the NFL, he scored a TD on 21.7 percent of his catches (46). Smith missed five games over six weeks due to a pair of ankle injuries. He scored a TD in four of his final six games while receiving minimal chances (12/146/4 on 17 targets). With WR Emmanuel Sanders added to the mix at wide receiver and QB Taysom Hill becoming more active in the passing game, Smith looks to be a low-level dart with a slim chance of sticking on the board without an injury. His route running and strength limit his value early in his career. 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. He won’t beat top physical corners off the line in press coverage. In his junior season at American, Smith caught 59 balls for 1,171 yards and 13 TDs, which led to New Orleans drafting him in the third round in 2018.Option options: Deonte Harris, Krishawn Hogan, Austin Carr, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Maurice HarrisTight EndsNew Orleans had growth in their tight end production in back-to-back years, which would have been higher if Jared Cook didn’t miss some time. They improved in all areas, highlighted by the bump in TDs (11) and the growth in yards per catch (13.7).Jared CookCook proved to be an excellent fit for the Saints’ passing game in 2019. He set a career-high in TDs (9) and YPC (16.4). Over the first half of the year, he missed two games while underperforming his expected value (15/168/2). His targets (4.8) remained short over the final nine games, but Cook made plenty of big plays while adding two TD games (2/64/2 and 3/84/3). Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara require a good portion of the passing targets, and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders should push Cook to the fourth option in New Orleans’ passing game. Cook is on a path for 55 catches for 750 yards and six TDs as the tenth tight end drafted with an ADP of 113.Adam TrautmanOver four seasons in Dayton, Trautman caught 178 passes for 2,295 yards and 31 TDs. His play improved in 2018 (41/604/9) and 2019 (70/916/14). The Saints will get him on the field in his rookie season, but Trautman takes a back seat to Jared Cook. Upside passer catcher who has questions in his route running and blocking.Taysom HillIn almost all leagues, Hill will be listed at quarterback while improving over his final 11 games in the receiving game (14/200/4). Over this span, he also had 15 rushes for 75 yards and a TD with minimal chances in the passing game (3-for-5 for 37 yards). A playmaker, while lacking a playable opportunity due to his position tag.Other options: Josh Hill, Garrett Griffin, Jason Vander Laan, Cole WickKickerWill Lutz, NOOver the last four seasons with Lutz as the kicker for the Saints, New Orleans averaged 50.5 extra-point tries while creating 136 field goal chances (34 per year). His leg plays well from 40-to-49 yards (45/51) while being more than serviceable from long range (12/20 in FGs over 50 yards). Over the last three years, Lutz ranked 8th, 4th, and 2nd in kicker scoring. An excellent, consistent option also ranks well in field goal percentage (87.5 – 3rd).Defensive ScheduleThe Saints defense has nine matchups (DET, CHI, LAC, DEN, KC, ATL X 2, and TB X 2) against teams that ran the ball poorly in 2019. Their two challenging games for the run defense come vs. the 49ers and the Vikings.New Orleans has a tough schedule for their pass defense. They have six games (LAC, KC, ATL X 2, and TB X 2) against offenses that ranked high in passing yards in 2019. Their pass defense has three games (CHI, DEN, and MIN) that look favorable based on last year’s stats. Each of these offenses should be improved in 2020.DefenseNew Orleans dipped to 4th in rushing yards allowed (1,461) with 12 TDs and nine runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.2 yards per rush with opponents attempting 21.6 rushers per game.The Saints finished 20th in passing yards allowed (3,868) with 27 TDs and 13 Ints. QBs gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt with 54 completion over 20 yards and 13 catches over 40 yards. Their defense picked up 51 sacks.DE Cameron JordanJordan has been a top player at his position for four straight seasons. His value vs. the run remains high while delivering 40.5 sacks over his last 48 games. Over this period, he knocked down 20 passes with one Int and TD. The Saints drafted Jordan in the first round in 2011.DE Marcus DavenportDavenport picked 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks over his first two years in the NFL with success defending the run while playing in 26 games. His best skill should be rushing the QB, where he flashes upside in power, speed, and quickness. Davenport offers an edge in run support when attacking the line of scrimmage, but his change of direction speed and vision leads to mistakes and missed tackles. He needs to develop his hands in heavy traffic zones to create more space to make plays. New Orleans drafted him in the first round in 2018.DT Malcom BrownBrown lost his way in his fourth season with the Patriots in 2018 with only a slight rebound last year. He now ranks as a league-average player in run support with minimal value rushing the QB. The Saints need Brown to improve his tackling while expecting him to work as a rotational player.DT Sheldon RankinsRankins set career highs in tackles (40) and sacks (8) in 2018, but he struggled to make plays last year while battling an ankle injury and an Achilles issue. New Orleans drafted him in the first round in 2016.LB Alex AnzaloneAnzalone struggled vs. the run with no real upside in sacks (four in his career over 22 games). In 2018, he finished with 59 tackles, two sacks, one Int, and two defended passes. Last year he only played in two games after having shoulder surgery in September.LB Demario DavisDavis has over 100 tackles in five of his eight years in the NFL while never missing a game in his career. Over the previous three seasons, he had the most success of his career vs. the run while delivering 14 combined sacks. His play improved significantly in pass coverage in 2019 (12 defended passes with one Int).LB Kiko AlonsoAfter starting all 48 games for Miami, Alonzo struggled to get starting snaps in 2019 for the Saints. He missed time in December with a quad issue, followed by a torn ACL in his right knee. At best, a neutral run defender with no upside in the pass rush. His playing time will be limited early in the year.CB Marshon LattimoreAfter struggling in two of their first three games, Lattimore played at a high-level in coverage over his next 13 starts. When he makes mistakes, receivers can make big plays. Lattimore has stud upside, but he still has plenty of work to do.CB Janoris JenkinsJenkins will give up some touchdowns and big plays. Last year he made 61 tackles with five Ints and 16 defended passes. In his career, Jenkins helps in run support while ranking as a league-average player in pass coverage. His risk in most season comes from a high number of missed tackles.S Marcus WilliamsOver three seasons in the NFL, Williams has 187 tackles, 23 defended passes, and ten defended passes. He ranked highly in both run support and coverage in 2019. Williams hasn’t missed a game in his three years after getting drafted in the second round in 2017.S Chauncey Gardner-JohnsonIn his rookie season, Gardner-Johnson made eight starts. He handled himself well vs. the run while holding his own in pass coverage. Gardner-Johnson has multiple tools that grade well, which gives him a chance to be a value in the 2019 NFL Draft. He brings size (5’11” and 210 lbs.), speed (4.48 forth), and strength to the NFL. Gardner-Johnson is athletic with upside vs. the run and in coverage. He’ll struggle with quick WRs with strength in their route running. He lacks instincts on his first read while doing a decent job reading the QB in the deep zone. His quickness isn’t ideal for his overall skill set.Team Defense OutlookThe Saints’ defense should rank in the top-ten in the fantasy games in 2020. They have talent on the defensive line and at the cornerback position. The direction of their safeties grades well while lacking an impact stud at middle linebacker. New Orleans plays well vs. the run, and they will deliver sacks. Their next step is creating more turnovers.