It has been four years since the New Orleans Saints last made the playoffs. Prior to the current drought, the Saints had made the playoffs three of the previous four seasons, including their Super Bowl victory following the 2009 NFL season.
The Saints are usually in playoff contention because of a high-powered offense coached by Sean Payton and engineered by quarterback Drew Brees.
At 38 years old, Brees is in the fourth quarter of his playing career. For the Saints to return to glory and continue to party when Mardi Gras or the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival aren’t in session, these five players will lead the future charge.
Andrus Peat, OL
It’s always good to be versatile, but Andrus Peat is more than that. He’s good. Drafted to be the team’s cornerstone at left tackle, Peat had to cut his NFL teeth at left guard and he has proven to be more than a capable starter there. He has had to fill in at tackle at times and has shown he can do that at this level as well. For the Saints to continue to be steady on offense, the line holds the key. Peat is likely to move to tackle in the future, a strong start of a lasting foundation if he continues to improve and grow as a player.
Marshon Lattimore, CB
The NFC South is an offense-driven division. The last two league MVPs reside in the division: last year’s winner (Atlanta Falcons quarterback), Matt Ryan, and predecessor (Carolina Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton. Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown for 4,000 yards in his first two seasons and has more weapons this year. The Saints are going to need a defense to deal with these offenses. That is where cornerback Marshon Lattimore comes in.
The No. 11 overall pick out of Ohio State in the 2017 NFL Draft, Lattimore had mostly been working with the second- and third-team corners, although when he got his chance to work with the first-teamers in offseason workouts last week, he shined. He has the size, speed and skill to match up with most receivers. He will be counted on becoming that lockdown cornerback the Saints will need to compete in the division for years to come.
Michael Thomas, WR
Wide receiver Michael Thomas broke on the scene as a rookie in 2016 and became the Saints’ No. 1 receiver. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, Thomas showed he had the ability to get behind defenses and make plays. He ended the season with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. No matter who is the quarterback down the road for the Saints, Thomas will have to play a big role.
Sheldon Rankins, DT
The Saints knew if they wanted to get better on defense, they would need help up front. That is why they drafted defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but Rankins’ season didn’t get off at the snap. He suffered a broken leg in training camp.
What he showed during the nine games he did play was the potential to be an inside force for the Saints. Rankins had 26 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble during that span. If he remains healthy, big things are expected from Rankins — not only this year but for the future.
Alvin Kamara, RB
With Mark Ingram still on the roster and Adrian Peterson on board, the Saints look strong and steady in the backfield. But Ingram and Peterson are only temporary solutions. The Saints will need a running back to learn behind these veterans and be ready to take over.
Saints third-round pick Alvin Kamara is trying to be that back. He has the intangibles. First, because he is used to sharing the load in the backfield, he shouldn’t suffer from any letdown due to a lack of playing time. He has explosiveness and can catch the ball, so he has the skill set to be a three-down back. It may just take some time.
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