The New Orleans Saints season ended in one of the cruellest possible ways on Sunday night. A walk-off Touchdown score by Steffon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings broke Saints hearts after a valiant and pride inducing fight back by the NOLA based team, on the road, in one of the most hostile atmospheres lots of these young Saints will have faced. We all know what happened in the game and we all know how it felt, so I’m not going to focus on that but instead on the bright and promising future of this team with it mixture of youth and experience.
Firstly the youth. Multiple Saints young players had standout years for the team, not just rookies but 2nd and third year players too.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Marcus Williams (S). So he made a mistake, people make mistakes, it happens, we are only human. The amount of abuse he has gotten since that moment is disgusting. A guy with 5 INTs regular and post season in his rookie year are impressive even for a seasoned pro. Even in that game he made a game changing interception which set the Saints up on their way for the comeback. The thing with Marcus now is how he reacts to that mistake, does he let it sit over him like a hangover, always at the back of his mind, eating away at him or does he set up and show the world what he is all about. He proved throughout the season what a good player he is and I have no doubt that he will come back stronger and EVEN better than the season before. You got this Marcus.
Marshon Lattimore (CB). Boy do we have a gem on our hands here. To do what he did in his rookie year (5 INT and 1 FF) is outstanding. This was done with missing games through injury too. If he can keep learning, progressing and doing what he does best next season we could be on for something special, people just won’t target him. Defensive rookie of the year all day long.
Ryan Ramczyk (RT). A player who, in his rookie year, played EVERY offensive snap. Every single one. A high draft pick at 32 out of Wisconsin and I don’t think anyone expected him to step up that much and be an omnipresent (big word for me) figure in the Saints Offensive line. I have noticed he does have a slight tendency to hold at times but hasn’t been flagged for it often, he will continue to learn and develop and will be a key figure for this O-line for a long time to come.
Alvin Kamara (RB). What do I need to say really? AK41 has been amazing this season. How many people scoffed when we drafted a running back? I certainly did not think that it was a position we were crying out for in the offseason. However he has been a shining light in the offense, winning Rookie of the week 5 times and he could have been given it more. Not just for the run game either, for the receptions, like the catch on Sunday, WOW! And of more recent times, Special teams on kick-off returns, 106 yard score against Tampa springs to mind. I’ve run out of words to describe him. If he’s this good in year one, how good can he be in year 2 and so on.
Other young guys
Easy place to start. Michael Thomas (WR). He is a top 10 receiver. No doubt. Top 5 even. There aren’t many people I would put ahead of him. He has grown even more from his first year (92 Rec, 1,137yds and 9 TDs) to his second year (104 Rec, 1,245yds and 5 TDs) Yes less scores but he is covered more in the redzone now. He now holds the record for most receptions in the first two seasons as an NFL player. If we could find someone in the WR2 slot to match up with him, the Saints really would be marching. The only way I can see him going is up, more receptions, more yards, more Touchdowns. His route running is excellent and his moves after catches to gain more yards equally is good. Unlike someone such as Coleman he protects the ball very well and he is always hungry for more. Being put up against top corners he has shown what we can really do in games to make a difference for the team. Can’t guard Mike indeed.
Will Lutz (K). It may be a surprise to see him mentioned, as special teamers can get overlooked very easily but Lutz has been great. After a few missed field goals early in the season, he has really stood up and been counted, becoming exactly what you need in a kicker. Reliable. You can trust him with field goals of most distances, he’s definitely got the leg for it. He proved against the Vikings he can handle the pressure too, nailing the 43 yard FG with only 25 seconds remaining, a potential match winning kick, we gotta hold on to this guy.
Andrus Peat (LG). Another reason the run game improved this season with solid blocking upfront allowing the explosive duo or Kamara and Ingram to get the headlines. A shame he got injured in the wildcard round.
P.J Williams (CB). Again another good player on the defensive side. Stepping up when others got injured and doing a solid job of it without being explosive. Add Ken Crawley to that class too. When you get Lattimore on one side getting the plaudits you have to up your game as you will be getting more of the targets, he sure did.
All of these guys are young, hungry and willing to learn to further themselves in their careers. They will only get better, players like Lattimore have footballing brains too. The offseason is a great time for these guys to go relax and enjoy themselves before coming back even hungrier, fitter and smarter.
Having Experinced Players within their ranks too bodes well for future seasons.
Drew Brees (QB). There is no doubt in mine, or most Saints fans minds that he will be back for one, maybe two more seasons – if not more, why not!? Especially after another stellar year (72% cmp, 4,334 yds, 23 TDs with 8 INTs and 103.9 rating). He has unfinished business, he wants that 2nd ring, if we did make it all the way this season I could have maybe seen him hanging up his boots. We have a special guy as our Quarter Back, a future hall of famer, one of the greatest of all time, a legend. I feel privileged to have seen him live on 4 occasions. He deserves to go out on a high. At the age of 39 he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down in any way, even if he does retire in the near future, I can see him hanging around to coach or mentor a future Saints QB. Drew Brees is the Saints. Drew Brees is New Orleans. Drew Brees shares a birthday with me 🙂
Cameron Jordan (DE). Hitting the prime of his career, another standout year for the DE. He is the Brees of the defence. He makes things happen. With 14 Sacks on the year he had a career season. He is the type of guy to marshal this young defence and turn them into a force to be reckoned with. The 2017 season was a start, 2018 and beyond can be even better for this defence, looking to post top 10 stats next time around.
Max Unger (C). The veteran centre traded for Jimmy Graham a few years ago has been brilliant again. His improved blocking has been shown up more this year than any with the additional use of the run game. At the heart of a strong O-line he can continue to show why the Saints traded away a big receiving tight end for a centre.
Players returning from injury
It is well known that the Saints had plenty of injuries over the course of the season, with the last and one of the biggest being Andrus Peat in the wildcard game. With a fully healthy squad, the Saints may be able to build some more consistency within the roster, rather than the “next man up” approach. Not to say that the replacements didn’t do well, they did but players like A.J Klein (LB), Alex Analzone (LB), Coby Fleener (TE) and Kenny Vaccaro (S) to name a few would be a big miss for any team. Unfortunately I think Zach Strief’s (T) days are numbered with injuries severely hampering his recent seasons game time. Alex Okafor (DE) was one of the biggest missing factors later in the season, just as he was getting settled and ready for the stretch, the Defensive End out of Texas got injured, the Saints missed his pass rush pressure in the January games, if he was there alongside Cam Jordan, the Saints first half in the Vikings game may not have been so one sided.
For the first time in a long time the Saints have some wiggle room to work with when it comes to cap space. With the usual few in and few out over the free agency period, if it’s worked out right by the staff then we should be okay in this department.
There isn’t a question as to whether the Saints had a good 2017 draft or not. It was one of, if not, the best one. If we get it right again then it could be a special season. I don’t watch a great deal of college ball so I can’t name names but I think we will be looking in the WR department, the TE department (later in the draft) and defence as per usual. A future Quarter Back is something that needs talking about too. Should Drew, god forbid, not sign an extension that leave us with a HUGE hole to fill. Trade up opportunities will be available if we want that future starter but that’s plenty of time away yet. I will leave it to the coaching staff to decide that, they always spring a surprise or two (Alvin Kamara, looking at you).
On the other side, the strength of next seasons schedule is a factor. With tough road games at Baltimore (we all know Coach Payton’s record against this opponent), Minnesota (welp), Dallas and the usual NFC South match-ups it isn’t going to be easy. Add that to home games against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the LA Rams and on paper it looks very tough. Fortunately the NFL isn’t played on paper.
I’m not saying put all your hard earned cash on the Saints next season, I’m saying the future looks good, if not next season, then the one after, or after that and so on. We are building something real here. It takes time but with the right roster moves, the right draft and the right hunger then it could be a special year.
The future looks bright, the future looks Black and Gold.