The New Orleans Saints have had what most people would call “a tumultuous” offseason. They have had to endure the infamous “BountyGate” scandal which cost their coaches and players a multitude of games suspended, a huge fine, loss of draft picks and a serious hit to their reputation. Their franchise player held out until just recently, and they lost a couple of key parts of their team to free agency. But, through all this, Drew Brees has come back from his holdout with a mega contract and renewed vigor to prove that this team can dust themselves off and be a Super Bowl contender once again. They have the #1 Offensive Line in the NFL and while they lost a key part in Carl Nicks, they replaced him with a stud in Ben Grubbs. This Offensive Line has been the catalyst to providing Brees ample time to throw and also to clear paths for the backfield boys. This year’s version of the O-Line on opening day should be LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Ben Grubbs, C Brian De La Puente, RG Jahri Evans and RT Zach Strief.
Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod was selected by New Orleans as a 4th round Draft pick in 2007. He achieved the pinnacle at his position last year as he was chosen to the Pro Bowl. Bushrod has decent size but can be pushed back by bull rushers if he doesn’t exit his stance quickly. He was thrust into action in 2009 due to in injury to starter Jammal Brown and finished the year as the starting LT on a Super Bowl Champion.
Left Guard Ben Grubbs was a 1st round Draft choice of the Ravens in 2007. He is consistently one of the least penalized Offensive Linemen in the NFL. Grubbs is not as physically dominant as his predecessor but he will hold his own. He only gave up 2.5 sacks last year with the Ravens and will be depended upon to protect Brees.
Center Brian De La Puente was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a undrafted free agent in 2008. He has knocked around the NFL since then, playing with the 49ers, Chiefs, Panthers and Seahawks before landing in New Orleans. He has good quickness and agility in his footwork to be a serviceable starting Center. It also helps that he is flanked by two excellent Guards who can take some of the strain.
Right Guard Jahri Evans was taken in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Saints. He is a 3 time Pro Bowl selection and is one of the absolute best in the NFL at being violent at the point of attack. He has extremely good feet and hips and can fend off the NFL’s best Defensive players with ease. He has only allowed 3 sacks in the last two years combined.
Right Tackle Zach Strief was a 7th round Draft choice by New Orleans in 2006. He is very tall with long arms to fend off oncoming rushers, but he sometimes doesn’t get his pad level low enough to avoid being pushed back. He will be in a competition with 2010 Draft choice Charles Brown, but as of now has the inside track.
Now to analyze the numbers…..
New Orleans was the 1st ranked Total Run Blocking Offensive Line in the NFL last season allowing Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory to rush for 5.02 yards per carry which was way above the NFL average of 4.31. The RB’s were stopped at/or behind the line of scrimmage only 15% of their attempts which was #1 in the NFL and well better than the 19% NFL average. The RB’s achieved first downs on 3rd/4th down runs 65% of the time which again was well above the NFL average of 62%. The Saints ran the ball 402 times last year. They had their least success running wide of RT last year as they only averaged 4.22 yards per carry which ranked 7th. They had their most success running outside of Jermon Bushrod as they averaged 5.75 yards per carry. Overall, the Saints had no Offensive Lineman who allowed less than 4.22 yards per carry which is just below the NFL average. DOMINANT!!! New Orleans employs a stable of Running Backs and they all have success due to 2 things……Offensive Line and Drew Brees. The O-Line provides the push to get the RB’s into the second level easily and effectively, and Brees has the incredible pinpoint passing to thin the defenses out. From a Fantasy perspective, Darren Sproles is one of the most valuable PPR league players as he had 87 rushes for 603 yards and added 86 catches for 710 yards with 9 total TD’s. Throw in a league format with points for Return Yardage and Sproles may perhaps be a Top 10 pick in 2012. Pierre Thomas had 160 total touches last year and had a combined yardage total of 987 yards with 6 TD’s, which also isn’t too shabby. Mark Ingram had 474 yards on the ground but only threw in 11 catches. Expect him to get more touches if he can stay healthy. Chris Ivory added 374 yards rushing to the team total but got the most carries in 5 of the last 6 games. Take Sproles in round 3 of standard scoring leagues or earlier in PPR formats. Target Thomas in deeper leagues or PPR leagues as an RB2. Ingram should be off the board in round 8 at the latest. He will provide more than he has shown so far. Ivory should be a waiver wire pickup or bye week material.
The Saints were ranked 3rd in Pass Protection allowing Drew Brees to be sacked on 4.4% of his dropbacks which was well below the NFL average of 6.7%. Brees is a master at improvisation when the heat is bearing down on him. He can do screen passes as well as anyone in the NFL as well as do quick pitches and shovel passes to avoid losing yards. All the credit can’t go to him though as the Saints brain-trust has built this impressive Offensive Line through the Draft and shrewd decision making. From a Fantasy perspective, Brees is a no brainer as a 1st round selection in any format. Marques Colston is a definite 3rd round pick at the latest and will be a decent WR1 or a strong WR2. Devery Henderson will be counted on to be the deep guy in the absence of Robert Meacham who has gone to the Chargers. However, he has never been a go to guy on a regular basis, so monitor this in training camp. Select Henderson in middle rounds as a weak WR2 or perhaps a Flex. Lance Moore has the tools to flourish and will receive more targets in 2012. I would take him after Colston but before Henderson. The Saints have this guy named Jimmy Graham who has gone from basketball player to NFL freakshow. He is supremely gifted and has not even reached his true potential, so if you don’t get him in the 2nd or early 3rd, you may be left out. He was targeted 149 times and brought in 99 balls. He would be a strong WR1 but he is a TE. Having him at Tight End is like having an extra Wide Receiver in your weekly lineup. The Saints rose up to the pinnacle of the NFL in 2009 winning the Super Bowl after having so many terrible seasons where the fans wore paper bags and called the team “The Ain’ts”. Expect them to brush aside this controversial offseason and challenge for the NFL South crown. They “Ain’t” dead yet.
Thanks to www.footballoutsiders.com for the statistics
Next team is the New York Giants