With the 2018 minicamp starting up next week, we’re very close to closing out off season programing and moving into training camp at the end of July. Anticipation is high and the Saints are set to have a great year in 2018. As a fan, here are my top five most anticipated moments of the 2018 Saints season.
5. Mark Ingram’s Return
Last month, Mark Ingram was suspended for the first four games of the season due to alleged PED usage in violation of the leagues substance-abuse policy.Despite claiming that the substances used were actually allowed by the league’s policy, Ingram’s appeal was denied. As a consequence, Ingram will miss the first four games of the season against the Bucs, Browns, Falcons, and Giants. Far from the end of the world with that competition (outside of facing Atlanta at home.)
When Ingram returns in week five, the Saints will be taking on Washington at home. You’ll remember that last year’s home game versus Washington was incredible and included a 15-point comeback that began with only 5:58 left in the fourth quarter. You’ll also remember that Ingram runs his best when he’s angry. Which I”m willing to bet will be more his attitude upon returning than rusty and underwhelming. I expect that Mark Ingram will return to a big game at home before the team rests the following week ahead of traveling to Baltimore to take a, what I hope is still Joe Flacco-led, Baltimore Ravens team. Look for Ingram to, despite missing four games, have a great season ending around 800 yards rushing barring injury.
4. Alvin Kamara’s Sophomore Year
Kamara was one of the leagues most electrifying players last season when he burst on the scene in London during the week four matchup against the Miami Dolphins. During that game he caught all ten of his targets for 71 yards and a touchdown. The following game, a wacky home game against the Lion, he ran for 75. He then followed both of those performances up by running for 57 yards and catching five passes for 50 against the Packers in Green Bay. Kamara quickly established himself as a mismatch nightmare for defenses who could do anything. What was even more of an issue for opposing teams was that Sean Payton happened to be the mastermind behind getting Kamara the ball.
Alvin went on to win the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award and the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, the partner award going to teammate Marshon Lattimore. Kamara had an incredible 6.1 yards per carry last season while he and Mark Ingram became the first tandem of running backs to compile over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a single season. They were also the first pair of teammates to amass 1,300 yards and more than 10 touchdowns the same season as well. It’s hard to believe that Kamara can top his 1,901 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns (including a 106-yard kick return touchdown in week 17), but I’m not sure the he has to top it. If he can produce much the same or even slightly less, he’d continue to be a phenomenal asset for this team. What will be most interesting to watch play out though, will be the aforementioned first four games of the season while Mark Ingram is suspended. I personally think it’s a little crazy to force a full workload onto Kamara when part of his specialty is that of a change-of-pace back and being on the field at the same time as another rushing threat. But hey, he’s surprised us before. Even those of us that weren’t mad at trading away a 2018 second-round pick for him.
3. Michael Thomas Continuing to Michael Thomas
Former Ohio State wideout Michael Thomas was selected with the second-round pick of the Saints’ 2016 draft. When Thomas pulled in 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, he quickly helped show former potential #1 receiver and deep threat Brandin Cooks out the door to New England. Since then, Cooks has found himself traded to the Los Angeles Rams and Can’t Guard Mike is in comfortably in New Orleans making defense’s lives absolutely miserable.
Despite only catch 5 touchdowns in the 2017 regular season, Thomas broke the record for most receptions by a receiver in his first two years with 196, last year he became the Saints’ first ever 100-reception player, and he also went off in the playoffs average 108 receiving yards per game in the two postseason contests. Michael Thomas truly can’t be guarded sometimes. Even with defenders draped all over him, he can find a way to come down with the ball. He’s Drew Brees’ most trustworthy receiver since Marques Colston with a drop rate of only 1.89 according to PFF. Reports are saying that Thomas is focussing on becoming even better in 2018 and there’s reason to believe that he can’t. He had a stellar second year, but had a decline in touchdown catches by nearly half. If Thomas can throw together another year in the neighborhood of 100 receptions, 1,200 yard, and double-digit touchdowns, there’s no denying his place among the current NFL’s best.
2. Getting Defensive
The Saints defense took major strides forward last year leaping from #27 in yards allowed in 2016 to the #17 spot. That came with the rookie additions of Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams as well as the offseason additions of Alex Okafor, A.J. Klein, and Manti Te’o. This year the Saints have added first-round pick Marcus Davenport to the defensive line, #1 rated free agent Linbacker Demario Davis tot he second level, and slot technician Patrick Robinson to the secondary. With those major additions, it’s safe to expect another positive jump for the defense in 2018. Which should only add to the team’s success as the offense is still one of the most powerful in the league.
The addition of Marcus Davenport and the expected recovery of Alex Okafor will be key to the unit’s continued evolution. Davenport and Okafor are both explosive edge rushers that have been paired opposite Cam Jordan- who is one of the league’s best. If they can find success opposite Cam and they will also open up more opportunities for him and third-year DT Sheldon Rankins. With an increasingly improving secondary and linebacking corps, a next-level ascension from the defensive line can put the Saints over the top.
1. Winning a Super Bowl in Atlanta, GA
Now, I’m getting ahead of myself here. But to say that this isn’t a highly anticipated possibility would just be plain foolish. This year, Super Bowl LIII will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. It would be the largest possible “F—- you” to the Atlanta to take home our second Lombardi trophy since 2009 from their very own stadium. More on that, the Falcons happen to be one of the NFC’s best teams, which mean we might also have the chance to compete with them in the post-season on the way to raising that sweet Lombardi. The last time I can remember a team winning the Super Bowl in a division rival’s stadium, by the way? St. Louis winning at the Georgia Dome in 2000. Though their rivalry wasn’t as heated as ours or the Broncos-Chargers rivalry when Denver won Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego.I can’t think of a better way to cap off the 2018 season and potentially Drew Brees’ career than with a Super Bowl win in the Falcons’ home.
Honorable Mention: Drew Brees Breaks Records
In 2018 Drew Brees is set to break Payton Manning’s career passing yards mark. Not just pass it, destroy it if he so chooses. Brees is only 1,495 yards behind the number one mark. if Brees were to average a mere 250 yards per game at the top of the season, he’ll pass the record by the week eight matchup against Minnesota.