READ: The New Orleans SAINTS WILL MAKE the PLAYOFFS

Written by Ryan Tantalo – @tantalotakes – TantaloTakes.com

            On Draft Night 2022, the Saints held two picks inside the top 20. New Orleans looked poised to add instant-impact players. In a bold move, the team traded up 5 spots, to 11. Sooner than anticipated, Roger Goodell took the stage. My heart was pounding.

            “With the 11th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Chris Olave, Wide Receiver, Ohio State.”

            YES!”

After that pick, and some big offseason moves, the Saints are in position to make the playoffs. 

            In 2021, New Orleans got off to a hot start with Jameis Winston under center. The FSU QB led his team to a 5-2 record, with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Before he tore his ACL, Winston played the most efficient football of his career. He looked like the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year. He did it all without Saints’ top receiver Michael Thomas, who sat the whole season with an injury.

            Injuries decimated New Orleans last season. Against the Miami Dolphins, over 20 Saints hit the IR. Remarkably, the Saints remained in playoff contention until the final game of the season.

            In 2022, former Offensive Player of the Year, Michael Thomas starts the season healthy. Opposite Thomas, the Saints added Olave. The pair of Ohio State products enrich the Saints receiving corps, and make Winston’s life much easier. 

            In his last full season, Thomas caught the ball an NFL-record 149 times, for 1,725 yards. At OSU, last season, Olave totaled 936 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 11 games. The addition of Olave, opposite Thomas, will give opposing secondaries nightmares.

The Saints also revamped their offensive line with the 19th pick in Thursday’s draft. After losing longtime Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead in free agency, they drafted Trevor Penning to replace him. A massive lineman, standing 6 feet, 7 inches, Penning dominated college football at the FCS level. He played well enough to earn a nomination for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best player offensive player in the NCAA.

Penning lines up opposite All-Pro Tackle Ryan Ramczyk. They stabilize an offensive line tasked with protecting Winston and allowing him to feed his new receivers. The whole unit benefits from playing alongside Running Back Alvin Kamara, who averages 5.8 yards-per-touch in his career. Kamara is a premier dual-threat player, making the Saints’ offense one of the most versatile in the league.

Kamara is awaiting a hearing in his battery case. A suspension is possible, but I believe he will play at least 10 games this season. In the meantime, New Orleans might hav to survive with a backup halfback. It hurts, but it’s not a backbreaker.

Their offense is still much stronger than last year.

While the Saints look to improve their scoring numbers, defense remains their biggest strength. Despite the dozens of injuries they suffered last season, elite defense carried them to a 9-8 record. By Week 17, Pro Football Focus ranked New Orleans’ D as the fourth best in the NFL.

The Saints’ defense allowed them to compete with every opponent they faced, even when their own offense was forced to play with backups and undrafted players. The unit stepped up when it counted, perhaps most notably in their second matchup with the defending champs, Tampa Bay. The Saints shut out Tom Brady and the Bucs, 9-0, and intercepted Brady late in the game to seal the deal.

            Defensively, the Saints can get after the passer, stuff the run, and force turnovers. They allowed less than 20 points per game last season. The team should continue that success, especially after their most recent acquisition: free agent Safety Tyrann Mathieu. They added a three-time All-Pro to an already stacked defense. The New Orleans native, and LSU standout, brings competitive fire, playoff experience, and leadership to the team.

            The Saints defensive backfield now comprises Marshon Lattimore, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, and C. J. Gardner-Johnson. It’s arguably the best secondary in the NFL.

Coaching is the Saints’ biggest question mark. They lost Super Bowl Champion Head Coach Sean Payton, and promoted Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen to fill his spot. Losing the offensive genius of Payton stings, but Allen deserved the promotion. He led the top-tier defense all last season, and commanded the team to their shutout over Tampa, when Payton missed the game due to COVID-19.

            New Orleans promoted Payton’s longtime assistant Pete Carmichael Jr. to Offensive Coordinator. Carmichael coached under Payton during Payton’s entire tenure with the Saints. According to Sports Illustrated, Carmichael ran the Saints offense in 2012. That season, they had the best passing offense in the NFL.

            Building off of a solid 2021 season, in which the team overcame injuries and setbacks, the Saints are poised to break out. They added new weapons, got healthy, and kept their leadership mostly intact.

Expect the team to add at least a couple of wins to last year’s total.

Author: TantaloTakes.com

Ryan Tantalo - University at Buffalo Student, Journalist, Hockey Announcer, Broadcaster

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