Projected Lineups: New Orleans Saints
The Saints couldn't win back the NFC South with Sean Payton back, but Gordon McGuinness looks at the line up they will look to build to win it again.
Projected Lineups: New Orleans Saints
Rebounding from a tough year in 2012, that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the New Orleans Saints returned to the postseason in 2013. They weren’t able to win the division however, so found themselves on the road, eventually falling to the Super Bowl champion-to-be Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.
Still, they head into 2014 with a very positive outlook once again and, with a quarterback like Drew Brees, they’ll be confident of competing for the NFC South crown, and more, once again. Of course that doesn’t mean that they don’t have areas to improve, especially if they want to match up better with the Seahawks.
– Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
– Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
– Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
– Red player names suggest injury risks.
– Click on the image to enlarge.
– It all starts with quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans. Grading out in the Top 5 at the position in each of the past five years, he’s the definition of an elite player in the NFL these days.
– Mark Ingram’s play at the end of the season will give fans hope that he can kick on and have a stellar season as part of the Saints running back by committee approach. We hadn’t seen it before in his career but after grading out at -1.7 through the first 14 weeks of the season, he then had a four game stretch where he graded out at +9.3.
– The Saints wide receiver corps looks to be in good shape again, with Marques Colston consistently one of the better players at his position in the league. Kenny Stills was solid in his rookie campaign, and there will be the expectation that he can step up in 2014, while Lance Moore remains another solid weapon for Brees.
– They have a strong defensive front, where Akiem Hicks has shown the potential to grow further. Many expected Cameron Jordan to take another step forward and, while he’s not quite in that elite bracket at this point in his career, he’s still a very good player.
– One player to keep an eye on at outside linebacker is Victor Butler. Acquired as a free agent last offseason, he missed all of 2013 through injury. He had been nothing more than a role player for the Dallas Cowboys earlier in his career, but did show enough that we were looking forward to what he did in a bigger role. We’ve had to wait an extra year, but he could really surprise people in New Orleans this year.
2014 Cap Situation
With just $1.5million in cap space, only five teams are in worse shape than the Saints, they don’t have many of their own free agents that they need to re-sign for starting roles, but they’ll have some work to do to plug some holes. Signing their draft class will be an issue as well, and don’t forget about Jimmy Graham, who will eat into the cap regardless of how they keep him around, so they’ll have to find a way to create some room in a hurry.
The bad news for the Saints is that there aren’t many players that they realistically will want to cut that will free up a chunk of money. Moore would save $2.5m, but that would depend if they think they can replace him easily enough or not while the $3.5m saved by releasing Darren Sproles would also see them lose one of their best weapons on offense. Likewise for Pierre Thomas, who might save them $2.9m, but is also a key part of their running game. The Saints definitely have some tough decisions ahead of them.
Opportunities from the Roster
On the defensive line, Tyrunn Walker looked good in limited duty, both against the run and as a pass rusher. Rookie first round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro had a very solid first season, and there will be an expectation that he can kick on in 2014. One name to keep an eye on at running back, giving them the potential to make cuts and save space at the position, is Khiry Robinson. The undrafted free agent had two strong showings in the playoffs and may force himself further into the team’s plans in 2014.
Projected lineups by team:
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.