We put the schedule preview series on hold with training camp and preseason sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but we had to finish it eventually. We finish, fittingly enough, with the Saints.
Somehow, the Saints are the final unique opponent the Falcons will face, with both of their games against New Orleans coming in the final quarter of the season. With all the trash talking this offseason and the fact that the Saints are always tough, these will be two of the most anticipated matchups on the slate, even if New Orleans ends up well behind Atlanta in the NFC South standings.
For a closer look at our most hated rival’s offseason, here’s the fine folks at Canal Street Chronicles.
New Orleans Saints
Notable free agent additions: WR Ted Ginn Jr, RB Adrian Peterson, G Larry Warford, LB A.J. Klein, LB Manti Te’o, QB Chase Daniel
Notable free agent departures: S Jairus Byrd (released), OL Tim Lelito, DL John Jenkins, RB Tim Hightower
Trades: WR Brandin Cooks and a 2017 4th Round Pick (118th overall) to the New England Patriots for a 2017 1st Round Pick (32nd overall) and 3rd Round Pick (103rd overall).
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
CB Marshon Lattimore, Round 1 - After the Saints failed to land CB Malcolm Butler in a trade with the Patriots, all eyes will be on Lattimore who will be playing in his place.
OL Ryan Ramczyk, Round 1 - The Saints second 1st Rounder could be thrust into a larger role than originally anticipated with an injury to Terron Armstead.
S Marcus Williams, Round 2 - After the release of Jairus Byrd, Williams could see time his rookie year in three safety sets with Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell.
RB Alvin Kamara, Round 3 - Kamara has all the makings of a future premier back in the NFL, but the Saints have a crowded backfield with Adrian Peterson joining starter Mark Ingram. Even still, it’s expected that Kamara will get time playing with the offense in 2017.
LB Alex Anzalone, Round 3 - Even with AJ Klein coming in to help stabilize the middle linebacker position, the rest of the linebacking corps has plenty of openings for Anzalone to see the field this year if he can stay healthy - and that’s a big “if.”
DE Trey Hendrickson, Round 4 - The sole pass-rusher drafted by the Saints this year, Hendrickson has the chance to get starters minutes rushing the passer opposite Cam Jordan.
Biggest offseason addition:
With all of the focus on the Saints defense, 1st Round Pick Marshon Lattimore stands to be a difference-maker out of the gate. Lattimore will be under the microscope even more than a typical rookie, and will have to live up to the comparisons of Malcolm Butler’s play with Saints fans and NFL analysts thinking about what could have been. Compared to what the Saints have been running out at the Cornerback position the past two years, though, it’s almost inconceivable for Lattimore to somehow not be an improvement.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
How will the Saints find a way to replace Nick Fairley at Defensive Tackle after learning that Fairley will miss all of the 2017 season due to a heart condition? Will one of the current rostered players be able to step up, or will the Saints be forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel in free agency? Maybe Vince Wilfork needs a job somewhere still.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
With the removal of Brandin Cooks but the addition of Adrian Peterson, will the Saints slowly start playing with a more balanced attack on offense? Assuming not, how will the offense gel with second-year WR Michael Thomas now the focal point in the passing game?
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
DT Nick Fairley (heart condition - out for all of 2017), C Max Unger (foot surgery - hopefully back for Week 1), OL Terron Armstead (shoulder surgery - 4-6 months).