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New Orleans Saints Offseason Preview: Linebackerby KSkiver35 on February 27, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports Demario Davis is a stud, but it takes more than one superstar to make a unit Much like the other units on the New Orleans’ Saints defense, linebacker has been a surprising strength for the Saints — Although it’s possible the surprise diminishes once you stop and consider the departure of Joe Vitt and the entrance of Mike Nolan as linebacker coach in 2017. With Nolan departing to become defensive coordinator for the Cowboys this offseason, the Saints will turn to Michael Hodges to coach up their linebacking corps. To start to understand the importance of linebackers for the Saints, you have to look at how Dennis Allen runs his defense. All-Pro Demario Davis racked up four sacks and nine hits last season for the Saints, in addition to leading the team with 111 tackles. Davis tacked six more hurries onto that number, and he was one of the Saints’ most effective blitzers last season, not to mention one of the best blitzing linebackers in the league. Allen doesn’t run what you’d call a traditional 4-3 or 3-4 defense. He brings different personnel in for different situations (as most modern coordinators do). Davis was the Saints’ “every-down” linebacker, while Allen rotated players around him. Davis’ pass-rushing numbers are so high because he excels in rushing on passing downs, something Allen used throughout the year. Around Davis, the Saints had a solid unit at linebacker, despite needing a couple of iterations throughout the season. A.J. Klein saw about 70 percent of defensive snaps for the Saints, and his pass coverage was invaluable to the Saints allowing Davis to run free. Kiko Alonso was a touch about 25 percent at 27, while Craig Robertson was around 17 percent. Manti Te’o and Alex Anzalone were good when they were on the field, but it’s abundantly clear that neither can be trusted to play a full season. With Klein about to hit restricted free agency, the Saints now have a problem. Although Alonso will be back next season and, when healthy, he’s also an excellent addition to the Saints’ linebacking unit, the Saints will ultimately have a lot of names on the front seven that are susceptible to injury. Te’o, Anzalone and Alonso are all good names on paper, but they have to be on the field. While all of the talk this offseason has been about the wide receiver position — and for good reason — the Saints really need linebacker help as well. If the Saints are going to make a splash in free agency, it should really be here. And the priority needs to be for a coverage linebacker. Free Agency Options Cory Littleton — Los Angeles Rams This is the most obvious option. The going rate for a top inside linebacker a la Bobby Wagner or C.J. Mosley is in the $17-18 million range for 2020. It would take a lot to wrest Littleton from the Rams — He’ll likely get a contract between $12-14 million a season. It would take some cap magic to ultimately make this deal work, but to get one of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers alongside LaVonte David to replace Klein’s strong off-ball play, it could be worth it. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Nigel Bradham — Philadelphia Eagles This might be a more realistic target for the Saints, albeit a far less enticing one. Bradham had his ups and downs in the 2019 season, although he still played well in coverage. At 30, Bradham would come at a far cheaper price, but the Saints would be losing something in run defense if he got a ton of snaps. While this would be a more conservative pickup for the Saints, it’s definitely a “get what you pay for” situation. 2020 Draft Prospects Keep in mind that in the NFL draft when it comes to linebackers, for every Roquan Smith or Jaylon Smith there are 12 Reuben Fosters. With that being said, it may be worth spending an early pick on a linebacker this season. Kenneth Murray — Oklahoma Arguably the top linebacker in this year’s draft, Kenneth Murray logged an insane 155 tackles in 2018 and put up another 102 last season. Murray is the kind of player who always finds himself in he middle of the play, which the Saints could really use in the running game. His speed an familiarity with zone defense could make him a perfect fit for the Saints alongside Davis. Jordyn Brooks — Texas Tech Brooks is a guy you take on Day 2 if you REALLY trust Hodges to step in and continue Nolan’s excellent work. Another linebacker with a nose for the ball, Brooks has some issues in coverage. He can move around formations if utlilized properly, but he’s definitely more of a project pick than Murray (who the Saints would possibly need to trade up for). Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports This isn’t a great year to have linebacking needs. There aren’t any transcendent draft talents and the free agent market is top-heavy, so bidding will be fierce. However, if Klein leaves in free agency the Saints have a very real hole to address. While they aren’t completely cooked, asking Alonso, Anzalone and Te’o to stay healthy is a stretch. Alonso tore his ACL against the Vikings, so it’s possibly he won’t be 100 percent heading into next season. The Boring (But Possibly Correct) Option Bringing A.J. Klein back is probably the Saints’ best choice. He won’t command Littleton money, but it will take over $10 million a year to bring him back. Klein had the best season of his career in 2019, logging 45 tackles and 2.5 sacks, not to mention in pick-six in the final game of the season against the Panthers. Klein has been solid for the Saints for the past three seasons — particularly in coverage. There’s something to be said for continuity — especially on a defensive unit as close-knit as the Saints’ — but ultimately it’s going to come down to who pays Klein the most in free agency. Scott Clause-USA TODAY Sports Oct 29, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker AJ Klein celebrates after a play agains the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory credit: Scott Clause/The Advertiser vis USA TODAY NETWORKThinking ahead, an extension for Davis is also likely in the works. 2020 will be the last year of the three-year deal that the Saints signed him to, and he’s due to make $9.9 million next season. Expect his cap number to only go up in 2021 and beyond if he and the Saints agree on a long-term deal. There’s a lot of potential in this group if it finds time to gel, but that takes reps. Davis will continue to play well for the Saints, but he needs consistent help around him. If the Saints can find it, whether it’s by retaining Klein or adding someone elsewhere, the Saints’ defense could continue to thrive in 2020.
NFL Combine position of need watchlist: Wide Receiversby Ross.Jackson on February 27, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images 3 prospects to watch at fan-voted Saints positions of need. I took to Twitter this week to ask Saints fans what the biggest three needs are for the Saints this season. You came through and to no surprise the four most popular answers were Wide Receiver, Interior Offensive Line (preferably with some versatility), Linebacker, and Cornerback. With that, I thought it would be fun to put together a series of some players to watch at each of those position, plus the addition of an author’s choice: Interior Defensive Line. In this series you will see three names to each position. A day one candidate and two day two/three candidates. The information, based on the fast-approaching NFL Combine this week, you will find will include; what we know about each prospect, what is left to learn, and my most anticipated combine moment for each player. We will start each entry into this five-part series with a quick run-down of the six major combine workouts and what the tell us. Then dive into each position’s three players to watch. I will mention positional drills and workouts like the Gaunlet, W drill, and the new Figure-8 drill when appropriate although not listed below. Let’s get it. Wide Receivers Let’s start off with the wideouts. Some major workouts to note: 40-yard dash, Vertical Leap, Broad Jump, 3-Cone, and on-field drills. Yes, I purposely did not write about Justin Jefferson but I promise you, I will do a lot of that later this offseason. Combine On-field Workout Schedule: Thursday, February 27th. 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM Central. Will workout with Tight Ends and Quarterbacks. Jalen Reagor, TCU Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Combine Measurements: 5’10” 206 pounds2019 Stats: 43 catches, 611 yards and 5 touchdowns (1 punt return TD)What to watch: Broad, Gauntlet, Positional Drills What we know about Reagor: The dude is a burner. He has breakaway speed down field but is also extremely quick coming out of breaks. Explosive off the line of scrimmage. Really showed another element to his game in his sophomore season where he was much more than just a deep threat. This is the type of play style the Saints could really use opposite Michael Thomas. A receiver that can be effective in the short/intermediate areas, packs lots of RAC potential, and can be a deep threat when those shots are ready to be taken. The former Horned Frog would be a perfect fit in New Orleans right now, but has the skills to continue to be a big time weapon after Drew Brees hangs up the cleats. What’s left to learn: Reagor’s film, as flashy as it is, does show some faults. Particularly in the hands game. The good news is that usually his drops come from his excitement of getting up the field. Concentration is definitely workable. Watching him in Gauntlet, which is now timed, and position drills should shed some light on this. Most anticipated combine moment: Reagor’s broad jump might be record breaking. The record for longest broad jump is held by DB Byron Jones who leapt 12’4”. Reagor has the chops to get close if not break the record entirely. For reference, with only a little preparation in high school, he leapt 26-feet in the long jump. 26-feet. It is not insane to think that he’ll hit just under half of that from a stationary leap. That is about three and a half Shaquille O’Neals. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Combine Measurements: 5’11 205 pounds, 80-inch wingspan2019 Stats: 65 catches, 1,192 yards, and 8 touchdowns (What to watch: Position Drills What we know about Aiyuk: Jim Nagy, Executive of the Senior Bowl mentioned Aiyuk as a first-round guy. Claiming that teams had him higher than they had N’Keal Harry last season. But he is mostly mocked into the second so I felt comfortable putting him here.Natural field stretcher with great run after catch ability. Becomes a returner with the ball in his hand. Has some good special teams acumen as well, producing well as both a kick and punt returner. Saints are set there with Deonte Harris, but cannot hurt to have another option. Unfortunately for Aiyuk, some of the things he is best at he will not be able to display at the combine. His physicality, his elusiveness, willingness as a blocker, and other competitive elements are most certainly on tape, though. What’s left to learn: His explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and hands catching are the two biggest elements I will be looking for in his position drills and gauntlet. Moreso the position drills. The Saints have dealt with too much inconsistency at the WR position when it comes to catches. What exacerbates those drops is the fact that their simultaneously being spoiled by the endless consistency of Michael Thomas’ hands. Most anticipated combine moment: Watching Aiyuk display his length. The guy is long and with huge hands for his frame. He will have a chance to put all of that on display in his drills, the 40, and his vert. how well does he manage his length, use it to his advantage, and can he maintain explosion, balance, and flexibility without being thrown off-kilter. #NFLCombine key measurements thread…30. #ArizonaState WR Brandon AiyukHeight: 5-11 5/8Weight: 205Hand: 9 6/8Arm: 33 4/8Wingspan: 80 — Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) February 24, 2020 James Proche, SMU Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Combine Measurements: 5’10 201 pounds2019 Stats: 111 catches, 1,225 yards, and 15 touchdownsWhat to watch: 3-Cone, Shuttle, 40 What we know about Proche: Hands for days. At just under 5’10” at the Senior bowl he measured better than 9.5” hands. Pretty solid for that size, and his hand size translates directly to his ability as a pass-catcher. He suffered a bit at SMU from bad QB play, but in the NFL if he gets the chance to perform that will be less of an issue. Especially if he were to end up in New Orleans. He is very much of the ilk of fellow SMU Mustang alum Trey Quinn. He can play inside and out, is reliable at the catch point, can run precise routes, and will not get you’re a ton of yards after the catch. But all of the things he does well help to make up for that. Would be an excellent over-the-middle slot weapon in New Orleans, akin to watch they once had in Willie Snead. What’s left to be learned: What does his athleticism actually look like? He is not going to be the fastest or most agile guy at the combine for sure. But does he display enough of those elements to make you feel comfortable in better on the other things he does technically well? I look forward to seeing his work out of stems in the positional drills, particularly on short and in-breaking routes. Something he needs to show polish or at least potential in before he is a real fit in New Orleans in particular. Most anticipated combine moment: His agility drills. 3-cone, short-shuttle (should he run it), and even the 40 to an extent. Getting an idea of his athleticism, mobility, and ability to change direction while managing his leverage will be telling. Check back soon for the rest of the position groups voted on by Saints fans and some names to watch at the combine.
“Buyer Beware” of Darius Slayby Andrew_Bell on February 27, 2020 at 2:00 pm
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports Trading for Darius Slay is an exciting proposition, but is it the right decision? feMuch has been made about the availability of Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay in the past couple of weeks, after Adam Schefter’s report that Detroit has been in contact with teams exploring a trade for the seven-year veteran. Lions have spoken with multiple teams about a potential trade for Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay, per sources. Any team that trades for Slay would have to compensate Detroit and Slay with a new deal. Other teams believe Slay will be traded this off-season, but Lions adamant on value.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 17, 2020 Fans and reporters for many teams have partaken in the eye emoji-posting speculation of whether or not their respective front offices would consider trading for Slay, and Saints fans are no exception. On the surface, trading for a player with a track record like Slay, at a premium position, seems like a sexy proposition. The former All-Pro corner is just two years removed from leading the league in interceptions, and has allowed under 60 percent of passes targeted his direction to be completed in all but two of his seasons in the league. He’s been a consistently good player for most of his career. Yet after digging deep into his performance in the 2019 season, I found that he may not be quite as much of a slam dunk as it appears. Slay sneakily had the worst season he’s had since his rookie year, if you look at the numbers and dive into his tape. Slay allowed 14.1 yards per reception when targeted and only recorded eight pass break-ups, which are both worsts for him since his rookie year in 2013. The 689 receiving yards he allowed is the third-highest number of his career, and was on more than 100 fewer coverage snaps than the two seasons where he allowed more yardage. His 56.9 PFF coverage grade is the worst grade he’s recorded since his rookie year, and ranked 94th among qualifying corners in 2019. He also recorded seven penalties, which is the second-highest mark of his career. This isn’t to say he’s a bad player, but just that he had a bad year. And for a guy who will turn 30 next year, while also warranting a top-flight contract, it’s concerning. One particular aspect of his down year that caught my eye was his poor performance when in press coverage. Slay lined up in press coverage more than any Saints corner in 2019, and wasn’t exactly effective in doing so. PFF’s Anthony Treash wrote in a recent article (LINK) that Slay allowed 346 yards on 162 press coverage snaps in 2019. For comparison, he allowed only 177 yards on 214 off-man coverage snaps. The Lions defensive scheme consisted of a heavy dose of single-high safety coverages, which required Slay to be left on an island to the boundary quite often. Detroit led the league in Cover 1 rate in 2019. This left Slay susceptible on Go routes toward the boundary. Notice how easily he’s allowing the receiver to stack him before making the grab in the graphic above. To be fair, these two clips are of him matched up with top-flight receivers, but the point still remains that a corner of his status and price shouldn’t be regularly allowing chunk plays like this. As he gets older, we may see that he requires a bit more safety help going forward. The Saints have, in fact, run more two-high coverage than most teams since defensive coordinator Dennis Allen took over, which could bode well for Slay if he ends up in black and gold. New Orleans has ranked in the top 10 in Cover 2 rate for the last three seasons. However, you don’t trade assets for an expensive corner who needs safety help to be most effective, especially when you consider that it’s not guaranteed the Saints have the same safety tandem they’ve had for the past three years with Vonn Bell’s free agency looming. The argument for splurging on Slay would be that the Saints are in the definition of what you’d call “win-now” mode. Slay could bring a veteran presence and a level of productivity that could supersede the Eli Apple’s of the world, assuming 2019 was an aberration of a performance for him. The Saints could hypothetically trade for Slay without immediately extending him, and see if they still want to pay him after the 2020 season. But this would require them to trade considerable assets to the Lions for potentially one year of production. If they decide to trade for him with the intention of re-signing him in 2021, it’ll make two high-priced corners that need re-signing next off-season. Slay will cost a little over $12 million for the final year of his contract in 2020, and is projected to make just under $15 million annually in 2021, according to Spotrac. They have his projected 2021 total contract at four years, $59.7 million. Marshon Lattimore’s projected market value is five years, at just over $50 million, via Spotrac. Although, I will say this seems a bit low, and if he has a good 2020 season that number will likely be topped. Could Slay be the missing piece to the Saints 2020 Super Bowl run? Yes. His career body of work would make you assume he’s due for a bounce-back year in 2020, and he plays a high-priority position that is a need for New Orleans. Is it a safe bet to assume trading important draft capital and/or young assets for Slay would be worth it for the Saints in the long run? No. His age, price and sudden decline in production towards the latter of his prime gives me a bit of cause to pause. Saints fans shouldn’t be upset if Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton do end up making a move for Slay, as I think Dennis Allen could put him in position to succeed by utilizing his ball skills in off-coverage, giving his defense another piece to build around. However, the end-result of a Slay trade being a success is far from a sure thing, so buyer beware.
Fleur-de-Links, February 27: More college players are being linked to New Orleans, a history of Sean Payton’s free agents, and further analysis of Drew Breesby Adam Dunnells on February 27, 2020 at 11:00 am
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Here are your daily New Orleans Saints links New Orleans Saints: NFL combine 2020: Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s press conference - New Orleans Saints LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s press conference at the NFL combine. Brady Quinn makes case for Tom Brady to join New Orleans Saints - 24/7 Sports NFL analyst Brady Quinn posits a situation where Drew Brees rejects a salary amount from the New Orleans Saints and suggests that Tom Brady would be a good fit for them. New Orleans Saints: Top positions to address this offseason - WBLZ Media The article draws attention to specific wide receivers, cornerbacks, linebackers, offensive guards, and quarterbacks that the Saints might want to try and sign. New Orleans Saints offseason preview: Tight End - Canal Street Chronicles A look at the New Orleans Saints tight ends heading into the 2020 offseason. UL’s Raymond Calais is out to prove he is more than a fast 40-yard dash time - The Advocate UL running back Raymond Calais has reportedly spoken informally to many teams, including the New Orleans Saints. Saints free agent signings under Sean Payton - Sports Illustrated A look at all of the free agents Sean Payton has signed since 2006, including the names like Drew Brees, Randall Gay, and Ted Ginn Jr. As he returns, Drew Brees needs to improve playoffs performances - Canal Street Chronicles A look at how Drew Brees has performed in his most recent playoff outings. .@JohnDeShazier provides an update on the NFL prospects from Louisiana at day three of the 2020 #NFLCombine in Indianapolis. pic.twitter.com/Jpkie1MARD— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) February 27, 2020 The New Orleans Saints own the No. 24 pick in the draft, and they also own a weak spot on their roster that is easy to imagine Justin Jefferson filling. https://t.co/GyybGGK9yw— SaintsNOW (@SaintsNOW) February 26, 2020 Our Orpheus Krewe: @HarryConnickJR, @BryanCranston, and the D-Line ⚜️ pic.twitter.com/TqYkVDXnEn— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) February 26, 2020
Predicting the NFC South quarterbacks for 2020by Chris Dunnells on February 26, 2020 at 5:00 pm
John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports Some new names could be entering the division. We’ve mock drafted the 2020 NFL Draft until it can’t be mocked any more. We’ve mocked the entire offseason. We’ve predicted the 2020 Saints quarterbacks. But now, let’s predict now just the starting quarterback for New Orleans, but all four teams in the NFC South. Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees This one is now confirmed. Drew Brees is returning. Who plays behind him (or splits time with him at quarterback) is to be determined, but Drew will be the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints in 2020. Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan The Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback scenario is the easiest to predict of the lot. Matt Ryan is under contract with the Falcons through 2023, and there’s no chance Matty Ice isn’t scheduled as the starting quarterback in Atlanta to start the 2020 season - barring injury, of course. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Philip Rivers Our first prediction that gets a little crazy. In this prediction, the Buccaneers opt to let Jameis Winston walk in free agency and instead choose to sign new Florida resident, Philip Rivers. Bruce Arians’s offense can be difficult grasp, so bringing in a savvy veteran like Rivers could be just the step needed to take Tampa Bay to the next step offensively with weapons like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports Carolina Panthers - Tua Tagovailoa Forget what the team has been saying recently. If the Panthers want to trade Cam Newton, they would need say he’s capable of starting in order to build up his trade value. So my last off-the-wall prediction has the Carolina Panthers trading up into the top ten of the 2020 NFL Draft to select Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Panthers, with a new head coach in Matt Rhule, decide to trade Cam Newton (maybe to the Chicago Bears?) to bring in a quarterback that fits with their new offensive scheme. Kyle Allen and Will Grier aren’t the answer longterm - so the Panthers move up to draft the former Heisman runner-up.