[Chart last updated 7/7/14]
• Pierre Thomas rushed for just 549 yards last year but is a high quality starter? Well, yes an that’s because of his impressive all-around work, with the versatile running back finishing 2013 with 77 receptions and forcing 43 missed tackles from 224 total touches on offense. He’ll have competition at the position in 2014, but his overall performance should see him be a key part of the Saints’ offense this year.
• Though they are set with most of their starters, there is a fair amount of uncertainty when it comes to the Saints’ depth heading into the new season, particularly on offense, where we’ve seen enough of just two players to get a true impression of their play. That’s not to say that some of these players won’t step up, just that we’ve yet to see them prove it. This only really becomes an issue if they have to deal with a few too many injuries on offense, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
• The Saints’ biggest problem defensively is at inside linebacker, where neither Curtis Lofton or David Hawthorne provide much of what you’d look for from your men in the middle. Both have had success at some point in their careers, but at this stage they are the only players on Saints’ starting defense that we have as below average or worse.
• The one player to keep an eye on in New Orleans this year is outside linebacker Victor Butler. Picked up as a free agent last year after spending four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, he missed all of 2013 through injury. Yet when you look back at his career in Dallas, there is a real possibility for him to emerge as a breakout candidate in New Orleans when fully healthy. For now we’ve been precautionary and left him as an average starter, given that he hasn’t played too many snaps over the years, but his potential is definitely higher than that.
With a team like New Orleans, a perennial contender, there aren’t likely to be too many roster battles, particularly for starting roles, but despite their talent there are still some areas to cover here.
1. Running Back
Obviously given the category we have him in, we believe that Thomas is a very good player but, even with Darren Sproles heading to Philadelphia, it’s still a crowded backfield in New Orleans. Former first round draft pick Mark Ingram looked much more like the player the Saints thought they were getting when they drafted him late last year, while Khiry Robinson flashed potential in the playoffs.
2. Outside Linebacker
As much as I like Butler, he does still need to beat out Parys Haralson to claim a starting spot in 2014, something Haralson will likely have something to say about given his solid play in 2013. He may not have been electrifying as a pass rusher, but he was stellar against the run and gave a good account of himself. Still, I like the potential of Butler too much to bet against him at this stage.
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