The Saints were better than Falcons fans wanted them to be last season. The emergence of New Orleans’ young defenders, the one-two punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram out of the backfield, and more kept the Saints competitive throughout the season. But what can we expect from the Falcons’ most hated rival this year?
We caught up with Christopher Dunnells from Canal Street Chronicles to find out.
What were the biggest additions and/or subtractions (not via the draft) to the team’s roster from last year?
The Saints lost two notable players via free agency this offseason in S Kenny Vaccaro (still a free agent) and WR Willie Snead (to the Baltimore Ravens). They have since replaced those players with S Kurt Coleman, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, and WR Cameron Meredith of the Chicago Bears. Vaccaro’s inconsistent play in coverage led the Saints to add Coleman early in free agency to shift third-year Safety Vonn Bell into a full-time role. And while there questions surrounding how Cameron Meredith’s knees will hold up, it’s not like Willie Snead set the world on fire last year. Snead was a huge disappointment in 2017, after a suspension for a DUI and an injury kept Snead out until midseason. Even after he returned, he looked like a shell of his former self and couldn’t find a way to gel back into the Saints offense.
Two areas the Saints struggled with in 2017 on defense were at the linebacker position and at slot corner. The additions of LB Demario Davis from the Jets and re-signing CB Patrick Robinson, who really grew into his own as a slot corner for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, should help both of those areas.
A change that not many people in the media are addressing is what has happened at Tight End for New Orleans. After the Saints traded Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, Benjamin Watson stepped up in a big way in 2015. That led to a big-money deal for Watson in Baltimore, and the Saints spent big themselves to add former Colts TE Coby Fleener. Fleener largely underwhelmed in his time in New Orleans, and has been straddled with concussion after concussion, leading the team to release him this offseason. This caused the Saints to make a run for former Saint Jimmy Graham. After whiffing on Graham, the Saints again looked to Ben Watson. Watson, heading into his age 37-38 season, is far from a guarantee to be productive in 2018. Now don’t get me wrong: it’s not absolutely unheard of for a Tight End to put up monster numbers at this age. Maybe you’ve heard of this Tight End named Tony Gonzalez who put up 859 yards and 8 TDs in his age 37 season in Atlanta, on his way to his final Pro Bowl? Watson is far from the player Gonzalez was, but Watson putting up 600 yards of offense for the Saints wouldn’t be shocking. At the same time, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him completely fall off a cliff this year. It’s a big unknown.
What was the biggest surprise move the team made — or didn’t make — this offseason?
Along with the aforementioned Tight End position, a back-up QB to groom for the future is another position the Saints lacked heading into 2018. Many Saints fans, myself included, were surprised to see the Saints jump up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select Marcus Davenport, effectively passing on players like Lamar Jackson, Mike Gisecki, and Dallas Goedert. The Saints went full “YOLO” and are all-in for 2018. The future will tell if it was the right call or not. I’m on the record disagreeing with the move, but a Super Bowl makes it all worth it.
What is the biggest storyline heading into Week 1?
The suspension of Mark Ingram and how his absence will effect Alvin Kamara and the Saints offense.
After the trade of Adrian Peterson after Week 4 last season, when Ingram and Kamara were both healthy, they averaged about 15 offensive touches per game. While many fantasy football experts are banking on Kamara getting that full workload, I would be shocked if Kamara’s touches went above the mid-20s. Instead, the Saints will likely lean on some combination of Terrance West, Jonathan Williams, and Boston Scott. Whoever of those three shows themselves in training camp and the preseason will likely be the primary back-up to spell Kamara through the season’s first four weeks.
What is the outlook for the team? Are the playoffs in sight?
After coming one play short of the NFC Championship Game in 2017, and after the Saints traded a 2018 first round pick to draft Marcus Davenport, anything short of a deep playoff run will be considered a disappointment to the team and the fans.The NFC, and the NFC South in particular, is going to be very tough, though, so the Saints will have to earn every step of the way.
Final answer: What’s your prediction for the team’s final record?
The Saints have a brutal schedule in 2018. In a five week span, they face the Eagles, Rams, Vikings and Falcons, all playoff teams from last year. That’s on top of the second game with the Falcons, two with the Panthers, and a late Week 15 matchup with Big Ben and the Steelers. 12-4 would be incredibly optimistic, 9-7 wouldn’t shock me, but I’m going to split the difference at 10-6 as my final guess. With the state of the division, 10-6 still might not be enough to guarantee a playoff berth, so it will all come down to which 10 they win and which 6 they lose.
Many thanks to Christopher Dunnells for filling us in about what we can expect from his team this season. You can follow him at @dunnellz on Twitter, and you can find his work at Canal Street Chronicles.