New Orleans Saints 2021 Season Preview
Coach: Sean Payton
General Manager: Mickey Loomis
2020 Regular Season Record: 12-4
2020 Result: Lost In Divisional Round
Super Bowls: 1 (2009)
Life Without Drew
A team that has had a lot of success in recent years finally heads into this season with some question marks. The staples of what made the Saints successful the past decade have been their Quarterback play and their depth, both of which took a hit for different reasons. The Saints had to maneuver the salary cap more than any other team in the NFL which saw some unfortunate losses along the way.
The big question coming out of camp is who exactly is going to see the majority of snaps under center this 2021 season. Most of the reports out of camp suggest that both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are going to see opportunities to be QB 1. It’s hard to see a situation in which Sean Payton takes Taysom out of the swiss army knife role he’s played in this offense in previous seasons, but his performances in Drew Brees’ absence gives Saints fans hope if he’s chosen to start game 1.
Next comes, what can Jameis Winston do with this Saints offense? You have to be blind to not see the talent Jameis Winston possesses in that right arm, but also the last time we saw Winston with significant playing time, he was actually blind. All jokes about Lasik surgery aside, Jameis Winston is the opposite of Drew Brees. Drew was worried about taking care of the ball at all costs as his 2.35 TD / Int ranks 9th best of all time. On the other hand, Jameis Winston is coming off the first ever 30 TD / 30 INT season. Based on the team re-signing Winston as soon as the Brees retirement news came out, and the mixed reviews on both QB’s from camp, I would guess he gets the Opening Week start.
Saints fans should still have optimism no matter who is going to be under center, as the core of this team has stayed intact. Alvin Kamara is coming off one of his best seasons of his career, Cam Jordan is still there to anchor that Defensive line, and Demario Davis is going to lead by example in that linebacker room. Pete Carmichael returns for his 13th season as offensive coordinator and Dennis Allen is back as the defensive coordinator. The core, and identity of the Saints team should not change and with solid QB play, the team should once again compete in the NFC South.
Key Changes – Offense
The obvious change is losing future Hall Of Fame QB Drew Brees. Brees led the Saints to an 142-86 record over 15 seasons, with 13 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl mixed in there. Although there was a clear decline in his production due to injuries, he was the leader of the O. Next comes the loss of top bounce back candidate Michael Thomas for the first 6 weeks. Coming off a 2019 where he had the most receptions in a season, injuries also set Thomas back in the 2020 campaign. The quotes from Mickey Loomis about the Thomas injury: “Obviously, with hindsight, we would’ve preferred that surgery to be earlier in February or March, but it wasn’t. It is what it is and hopefully he’s had a good result so far and hopefully we’ll get him back sooner rather than later.”
And Sean Payton reiterated those thoughts. “It appears we’re going to have to spend some time without him,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but we’ll work through it with the other players that are here. The surgery took place and, obviously, we would’ve liked that to have happened earlier than later and, quite honestly, it should’ve.”
The Michael Thomas injury leaves a huge whole to fill with receivers, in which Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway hope to fill early in the season.
Key Changes – Defense
One of the main issues when you’re up against the cap like the Saints were this offseason, is having to shed the contracts of players who over perform, who have a real chance to develop into something special, and that feels like what happened with Trey Hendrickson heading to the Bengals.
From PFF on Hendrickson: Hendrickson’s 2020 season with the Saints was an outlier given the prior three seasons in his career. His 77.0 pass-rushing grade last season was nearly 15 points higher than his previous career high, and his 49 quarterback pressures were 20 more than he had ever recorded previously.
One can’t simply ignore the injuries that kept him from getting out to a fast start in his career, though. There is a chance that Hendrickson continues to develop if he can stay on the field. He earned pass-rushing grades of 90.0 or higher in each of his final two seasons at FAU.
As well as losing Hendrickson, the Saints also lost Janoris Jenkins. To counter these losses, the Saints selected Edge Rusher Payton Turner in the first round, and CB Paulson Adebo in the third round. The early reports out of camp are that Turner has impressed. One of the knocks on Turner, coming out of Houston was that he was raw as a football player. Turner gets to learn from one of the best in the league in Cam Jordan, and should be able to develop into a nice piece for the Saints DL.
From our own Tyler MacKillop before the Michael Thomas Injury. “ The Saints offense is set to be dominated by Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. I’d expect to see Michael Thomas receive close to a 35% target share. While Alvin Kamara is likely to be around 20%. That still leaves a healthy amount of passing opportunity available to other weapons of the offense.
Looking back at last season, the tight end position was held down by Jared Cook, at least in the passing game. He did grade as the worst pass blocking tight end of all time last season (according to PFF) and is 34 years-old. So it makes sense that they moved on.
Enter Trautman, a 2020 third round pick out of Dayton. Who is an unbelievable NFL story, the 6-5 tight end played quarterback and cornerback in high school and had to call the University of Dayton to go play. He showed out in the FCS, setting school records and putting his elite catch radius on display. He has the size and hands to immediately dominate inside the red zone for the Saints. Jared Cook saw 17 red zone targets last year and caught just 8 of them. He still recorded 6 touchdowns!
The Saints will prove this season why they invested the third round draft capital in Trautman.“
The Michael Thomas injury should obviously open up even more targets for Adam Trautman the first few weeks of the season, look for him to skyrocket up the TE ranks the rest of the season.
Week 1 vs Packers L
Week 2 @ Panthers W
Week 3 @ Patriots W
Week 4 vs Giants W
Week 5 @ Washington L
Week 7 @ Seahawks L
Week 8 vs Buccaneers L
Week 9 vs Falcons W
Week 10 @ Titans L
Week 11 @ Eagles W
Week 12 vs Bills L
Week 13 vs Cowboys W
Week 14 @ Jets W
Week 15 @ Buccaneers L
Week 16 vs Dolphins L
Week 17 vs Panthers W
Week 18 @ Falcons W
I don’t expect for the Saints to contend like they have in previous years, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This coaching staff has a long track record of success and it is time to see if Sean Payton can pull it off again.
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