New Orleans begins their offseason with some key special teams moves starting off by naming Darren Rizzi as their new coordinator. The Saints former special teams coordinator and pioneer in NFL special teams play announced his retirement after assistants Bradford Banta and Kevin O’Dea were let free. Rizzi spent 10 years in the same position for the Miami Dolphins. The Saints special teams unit was one of the best last season according to both Pro Football Focus and Rick Gosselin who does a yearly Special Teams rankings list. On both of those lists the Saints ranked second but that had a ton to do with their kicking and coverage stats. New Orleans had the 4th best field goal percentage in the NFL with Wil Lutz drilling 28 of 30 field goal attempts for 93% while also placing fifth in yards per punt with Thomas Moorstead booting 46.4 yard per attempt. The Saints lead the NFL in punt coverage as well with a league-leading 43.2 net yards per punt average allowing only 60 punt return yards, least in the NFL and fewest since the Falcons only allowed 49 in 2008.
A big reason for those impressive coverage stats was also in Saints news recently. Justin Hardee, special teams ace who excels in punt return coverage has been resigned on a one-year deal. His return to New Orleans signifies positive direction for Darren Rizzi who’ll be taking over in 2019. Hardee was one of the NFL’s best last year as a special teamer and though he didn’t end up in the Pro Bowl, he certainly should have. The Saints also picked up the Tender on ERFA long-snapper Zach Wood which might sound like a boring move but with Wil Lutz expected to resign, Hardee and Wood returning, Taysom Hill still on the roster and Moorstead still asleep in the locker room after punting only 43 times in 2019, the Saints are returning one of the NFL’s best units and adding one of its best coaches as well.
They could go further by resigning Chris Banjo and Craig Robertson, but I think they’ll test free agency a bit to see who else could be added. With what the Saints inherently have in coverage and kicking capability, what I’m hoping to see Rizzi bolster in New Orleans is the return game. Particularly in punt returns where they averaged only 6.5 yards per punt return last year, 23rd in the NFL. Meanwhile, Miami sat tied at #8 with 10.5. As for kick return averages, the Saints and Dolphins weren’t far apart at 24.3 and 24.1, however Miami took far more returns out than New Orleans did at 39 as compared to the Saints 23.
It looks like New Orleans should maintain the same kicking and coverage excellence they’ve shown the last couple of years so if the addition of Darren Rizzi can bolster the return game, it would be a huge boost for New Orleans who have struggled in that area for some time.
The Saints made a couple of additional moves as well in bringing back ERFAs OL Cameron Tom and LB Vince Biegel.