New Orleans Saints
2016 Record: 7-9, Third Place in the NFC South
The Saints moved on from wide receiver Brandin Cooks and landed yet another first-round pick in the process.
But the 49ers managed to engineer ahead of the No. 32 overall pick and grab linebacker Reuben Foster, who would have been a perfect fit in New Orleans’ underachieving defense.
Instead, the Saints drafted offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk — a decent pickup but perhaps not the best use of resources here. At least New Orleans tried to solve some of its secondary worries by taking cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the No. 11 overall pick. That was a good move. And safety Marcus Williams, taken in Round 3, should be able to contribute right away as well.
But the focus will continue to be on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Drew Brees and Co. will look to replicate the kind of production that netted the Saints the No. 1 yardage offense in the league in 2016 (6,816).
Running back Mark Ingram doesn’t look to be on the move, and he’ll be helped by rookie draftee Alvin Kamara.
Yet the focus will remain on the defensive side of the ball. This unit was putrid last season, and it cost the Saints a chance at a .500 record.
Brees is another elite-level quarterback. And even without Cooks in the picture, one can figure the Saints won’t have much trouble putting up lofty passing numbers over the course of the season.
And the two-headed monster of Ingram and Kamara should be plenty of fun to watch.
If the offense can stay healthy, there should be little reason to assume this group will be back in the top five again this season.
While Lattimore’s addition helps, the Saints still lack a good enough pass rush. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is the only player to watch here, and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be the only way to limit exposure to a young and developing secondary.
No team gave up more passing yards than New Orleans last year, so this will be paramount.
The first half of the Saints’ 2017 schedule is brutal. Things don’t get easy until a Week 8 matchup against the Bears. And closing out the last four games of the season with two games against the Falcons won’t help matters either.
Everything hinges on the Saints defense’s ability to make notable improvements this year. Anything less, and New Orleans will be looking at yet another losing record.