New Orleans Saints
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Saints marched into the 2009 campaign with modest expectations, but capped things with the franchise's first championship in its first ever Super Bowl appearance. Combine the team's uplifting accomplishment with Mardi Gras, which started a mere week after the team's victory, and you had the ingredients for one wild celebration. And, oh boy, does New Orleans know how to throw a party. Unfortunately, every celebration must come to an end, as the Saints will try and shake the Super Bowl hangover that has plagued so many NFL teams. New Orleans, fortunately, returns nearly every key starter from its run to the title, including all 11 starters on the squad's explosive offense.
Led by star quarterback Drew Brees, who tossed a league-high 34 touchdowns, the Saints' offense ranked No. 1 in scoring last year. Brees was fortunate to throw to a talented receiving corps, which saw 10 different players catch touchdown passes, with established weapon Marques Colston and young burner Robert Meachem snagging nine apiece. While there is no denying that coach Sean Payton's offense is geared towards passing the football, the team still ranked in the top 10 in rushing as well, deploying the three-headed monster of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell. Even with the departure of Bell this offseason, the Saints will likely utilize a similar approach in 2010, although Thomas figures to be called upon to carry a heavier load. Regardless of who touches the ball, Payton is a master of keeping opposing defenses off balance and the Saints can be expected to post top-shelf numbers once again in 2010.
The real key to the Saints turnaround from an average team to a championship caliber one was the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. Under Williams's aggressive scheme, the defense emphasized blitzing and turnovers, two elements that were sorely lacking in previous campaigns. In addition, the team added Darren Sharper at safety in the offseason. Sharper, who is recovering from offseason knee woes, seemingly discovered the fountain of youth in 2009, picking off nine passes and returning three of them for scores. Overall, the Saints forced 39 turnovers, nearly doubling their total from 2008, and led the NFL with eight defensive touchdowns, as the unit managed to transform from Achilles' heel to strength on the team's march to Miami.
The usual M.O. of the NFC South is a reshuffling of the deck on a yearly basis. However, only Atlanta seems capable of vying with New Orleans for the division crown. If the Saints, who now have a target on their backs, can stay healthy enough as a team to avoid a Super Bowl-sized let-down, New Orleans could once again be celebrating on Bourbon Street come February.
Round, Overall, Player
2. (64) Charles Brown, OT, USC-Team is stockpiling offensive tackles like they're going out of style.
4. (123) Al Woods, DT, Louisiana State-Nice talent, who could push for a starting spot but questions about consistency.
5. (158) Matt Tennant, C, Boston College-More depth on the offensive line.
Jimmy Wilkerson, DE (Buccaneers) Addition of Wilkerson and Brown could help turn DE from weakness to strength.
Charles Grant, DE (FA) Cut victim who tallied only 11 total sacks since 2007.
Scott Fujita, LB (Browns) Fan favorite who left for "greener" pastures in Cleveland.
RUNNING BACK ROULETTE
Like so many other coaches in the modern-day NFL, Sean Payton favors a running back by committee approach. Thus, despite a healthy running game, exasperated fantasy owners were left wondering which player they could count on in any given week. With the departure of Mike Bell via free agency, Pierre Thomas appears to be the obvious beneficiary. Despite posting a 5.4 yards per carry average, Payton frustrated owners by handing him the ball only 15 or more times twice all year, though Thomas did add 39 catches. While Reggie Bush has proven he's not a prototypical NFL back, he still provides great value in PPR leagues and often lines up in the backfield, the slot or even out wide. In addition to the headliners, the most heated battle in training camp may be between incumbent bruiser Lynell Hamilton and second-year pro P.J. Hill. Both will look to absorb the short-yardage and goal line carries vacated by Bell.
The Saints are stacked at the receiver position. However, only Marques Colston seems like a sure bet to produce on a weekly basis. The rest of the bunch (Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore) all have the ability to break out any given week, but good luck guessing whose turn it will be on any given Sunday, as there are only so many balls to go around. Meachem, the team's 2007 first-rounder, should be the favorite to start opposite Colston entering training camp, as he caught 37 passes and seven touchdowns in the final nine games of the season. Henderson, the veteran of the group, and Moore, finally healthy after a rash of injuries last year, will provide stiff competition and will catch their faith share of balls in the Saints' high-powered offense.
WORKIN' THE SEAMS
Saints' tight ends caught 99 passes and scored five touchdowns in 2009. While those numbers may not be eye-popping, there is good value to be had late in the late rounds of fantasy drafts. Jeremy Shockey, who chipped in 569 receiving yards and three TDs last season, is the name brand here, but his durability is always an issue and a deeper look into his numbers reveals that he didn't score after Week 6 and only topped 100 yards once. Those looking for a sleeper with upside can tab David Thomas, who emerged as a favorite target of Brees late in the season, snagging 28 passes starting in Week 10. Those in search of a supersleeper or keeper may want to consider third-round pick Jimmy Graham, a basketball-turned-football player, who could remind many of stars of a similar breed: Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
Declining: Devery Henderson, who had offseason sports hernia surgery, was second on the team in receiving last year, but only had two touchdowns and still regularly displays hands of stone.
Sleeper: Lance Moore was hurt most of last year and appeared in only seven games. How quickly people forget Moore caught 79 passes for 10 touchdowns in 2008.
Jonathan Vilma, LB Defensive captain started slowly but returned to top form by season's end.
Darren Sharper, S Nine picks, three returned for touchdowns. Age/health are obvious issues but can't argue with the production.
Roman Harper, S Tackling machine is perfect fit next to Sharper in Gregg Williams's defense.
RotoWire Rank: 15