New Orleans Saints
HC: Sean Payton
DC: Dennis Allen
Team Needs: DE, DT, LB
Upcoming UFAs: Nick Fairley, Tony McDaniel, John Hughes, Alex Okafor, George Johnson, Kasim Edebali, Jonathan Freeny, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Sterling Moore, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush
New Orleans ranked 17th in yards allowed in 2017 and 10th in points allowed. This is an enormous improvement. From 2014 to 2016, the Saints haven’t ranked higher than 27th in either yards allowed or points allowed. In that span, they ranked dead last in points allowed and 2nd to last in points allowed or yards allowed four times. It is amazing what an excellent draft will do. New Orleans’ defensive upgrades this year weren’t solely due to Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, but they certainly helped. Assuming Cameron Jordan has another few years in him, the Saints could use 2017 as a springboard to become a steady top 10 defense given how many young defensive building blocks fill this depth chart.
Interior defensive line was supposed to be one of the biggest strengths of the 2016 draft. Five IDLs were taken in the 1st Round. Six more were selected in the 2nd Round. DeForest Buckner is apparently already a stud. Kenny Clark had a fantastic year this year while Chris Jones has had his moments. Sheldon Rankins was drafted 12th overall, behind only Buckner. He was described as a Aaron Donald-lite. Rankins played 336 snaps during his rookie season, making his 813 sophomore year snaps a significant increase. His 26 tackles and 2.0 sacks, however, were a disappointment, especially considering his 20 tackles and 4.0 sacks in Year 1. The loss of Nick Fairley to a season-ending injury before the year started undoubtedly limited Rankins upside. The question now is whether he’ll live up to his draft status and is worth holding onto for another year.
David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison split snaps with Fairley out. Fourth Round sophomore, Onyemata, played 598 snaps and ended with 38 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Interestingly, Onyemata was drafted in the 4th Round in the CFL draft in 2016 as well. Davison is a former 5th Rounder. He was on the field for 589 snaps and put together 31 tackles and 0.0 sacks. After Alex Okafor was put on IR, the Saints increased the snaps of their DTs rather than giving snaps to their 2nd string DEs.
Cameron Jordan put together a career year. Jordan played an insane 990 snaps, 2nd in the league among 4-3 DEs behind Jason Pierre-Paul. Jordan put together a career-best 13.0 sacks with 62 tackles. Jordan will turn 29 in July. He played 965 snaps in 2016 so 990 isn’t crazy and with JPP either becoming a 3-4 DE or 3-4 OLB, Jordan could easily lead the league in 4-3 snaps played next year.
Alex Okafor was a low-key signing that turned into an IDP stud who started on a lot of waiver wires. The IDP-favorite 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE transition is usually like found money. Okafor played 486 snaps over ten games and ended with 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was an incredibly reliable player while healthy. His lowest tackle total was two tackles in Week 6, but he added 1.0 sack, 2 PDs, and an FF to put up points. Okafor tore his Achilles and isn’t under contract next year. He played well enough opposite Jordan, a position New Orleans has struggled to fill for years, to earn another shot provided he can recover from his injury.
Trey Hendrickson was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season. The 3rd Rounder played 282 snaps over 12 games. He ended with 13 tackles and 2.0 sacks. But given the opportunity following Okafor’s torn Achilles, Hendrickson didn’t step up. New Orleans decided to roll out the DT depth chart rather than give Hendrickson in the three games Hendrickson played following Okafor’s IR trip.
Bear with me for a quick diversion. The 2017 NFL draft had a bit of a drought in the 3rd Round. The 3rd Round is a sneaky place to find Edge production. Justin Tuck (2005), Charles Johnson (2007), Cliff Avril (2008), Michael Johnson (2009), Justin Houston (2011), Olivier Vernon (2012), Danielle Hunter (2015) and Yannick Ngakoue (2016) were all drafted in the 3rd Round. Going back to 2005, that makes only four years that didn’t produce a 3rd Round Edge starter (Michael Johnson is admittedly a stretch, but he hit double-digit sacks in 2012). Obviously, not all those guys produced as rookies, so keep an eye on Hendrickson, Dawuane Smoot, Jordan Willis, Daeshon Hall and Derek Rivers. And going forward, 3rd Round edges make great late round rookie/early waiver wire stashes.
Redshirt sophomore Hau’oli Kikaha played 211 snaps over 12 games. The former 2nd amassed ten tackles and 4.0 sacks after transitioning from LB. I wouldn’t get too excited about Kikaha. He had a few healthy scratches as New Orleans tried to keep him healthy and trade him before the deadline. Kikaha had almost as many career ACL tears as sacks this year.
Craig Robertson played the most snaps at LB with 793. Robertson didn’t hit 30% of the snaps until Alex Anzalone got hurt. The former UDFA turned 30 in February. Robertson ended with 80 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and two picks. If Robertson is still in the Big Easy, he’ll make a great handcuff to Anzalone again.
AJ Klein was the big free agent signing for the Saints defense after his solid season in relief of Luke Kuechly. Klein was on the field for 664 defensive snaps over 12 games. Klein ended with 54 tackles and 2.0 sacks. He was on the field for 100% of snaps until he got hurt. Unfortunately, his role was limited as he played SAM in base packages. Klein turns 27 in July.
Manti Te’o was a quiet free agent signing over the offseason. Te’o played all 16 games for the first time in his career, but only played 503 snaps. Te’o only topped 40% of snaps in 1 game that Klein was healthy. Te’o played MIKE in base packages and came off the field in sub packages. He ended with 62 tackles. Can you guys make your own catfished girlfriend joke? I don’t always like the low-hanging fruit…
The story on 3rd Round rookie Alex Anzalone was that he produced when he was on the field but was injured so much that he was rarely on the field. Anzalone won the starting WILL over Robertson. Anzalone lasted for three before ending up on IR after the 4th. Anzalone played 158 snaps, 155 snaps in first three games. He ended with 16 tackles and 1.0 sack. If you’ve got Anzalone on the roster, hold him until he wins the starting spot again and start producing, then try to trade him before he makes a second trip to IR. On a personal note, Anzalone has hair that would make Fabio jealous.
Ken Crawley played 822 snaps over 13 games. The UDFA sophomore has been a gem for the Saints. Crawley ended with 54 tackles and one interception among 17 PDs.
New Orleans drafted Marshon Lattimore 11th overall. Lattimore played 754 snaps in 13 games. Lattimore’s 52 tackles and five interceptions among 18 PDs led to a Pro Bowl invitation and the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The kid is already a shutdown corner and QBs will quickly stop throwing at him.
PJ Williams was on the field for 633 snaps. It was up and down though as he had four games with a combined three snaps. Williams ended with 47 tackles and two interceptions among 9 PDs.
Delvin Breaux missed the entire season with a broken fibula, his second in 2 years. Breaux’s role when healthy will be interesting as Crawley has played very well and Lattimore isn’t coming off the field when healthy.
Marcus Williams played 960 snaps over 15 games. The 2nd Round rookie put together 73 tackles, and four picks among 7 PDs. The 2017 Safety class will likely go down as one of the best ever.
Vonn Bell was on the field for 787 snaps. The 2nd Round sophomore ended with 83 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 PDs. The depth chart is opening up next season to give Bell the opportunity to start at SS and play a ton of snaps.
Kenny Vaccaro was on the field for 692 defensive snaps over 12 games. Vaccaro ended with 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions among 7 PDs. The recently-turned 27-year old won’t be back with the Saints next year and will be looking for work.
Rafael Bush played 184 snaps over 14 games. Bush totaled three games over 40% of the snaps, all when Vaccaro was out. Bush ended with 23 tackles, 1.0 sack, and 1 PD. Bush signed a 1-year deal to return to New Orleans last offseason and turns 31 in May.
The Saints have already signed Kurt Coleman, formerly of the Panthers. The like to play a lot of Big Nickel so Coleman, Bell, and Williams will be on the field together a lot next year.
Vonn Bell – If people are scared off by the Kurt Coleman signing, pick up Bell. He’ll still be on the field a ton next year.
Alex Anzalone – Timing is everything on this sell. Wait until he’s starting and producing again but before he goes back on IR.
AJ Klein – That role just isn’t fantasy relevant. See what you can get for him.
Sheldon Rankins – I think you have to give him one more year to see if he produces.
Cameron Jordan – You may not get much for him based on his age, but he’s still an elite DE so ride him until the wheels fall off, or trade him in-season to a contender.
Deep Dynasty Stashes
Trey Hendrickson – 3rd Round Edges make great stashes.
The last few years, the Saints have been known for having a fantastic offense and a terrible defense. That changed this year as the Saints defense became reputable. With another piece or two in the draft and free agency, they’ve got the young talent to create a formidable defense for years to come.