Predicting Top Offensive, Defensive Stat Leaders for the New Orleans Saints
Since the offseason has finally and mercifully hit a bit of a quiet period (though not nearly to the point any Saints fan would hope), it seems a good time to predict what kind of production the Saints will get out of their roster.
And for any fantasy-obsessed fans, this is my not-so-professional early fantasy preview for the New Orleans Saints.
All Passing Statistics: Drew Brees
I know, I know, Drew Brees still hasn't re-signed with the New Orleans Saints. Don't worry; he will.
And as soon as he does, you can rest assured he will continue at the near epic pace he set a season ago. The only real question with Brees is, what will those statistics look like in 2012?
Here's my educated guess:
- 5,000-plus passing yards. He made that look easy a season ago. League rules were not adjusted this offseason to slow down the passing game. The only way Brees slows down is an injury, not playing for some other reason or the offense becoming a run-heavy unit.
- 35 touchdown passes. Though the Saints are unlikely to throw the ball in the end zone quite as often in 2012 it's not as if Brees is going to fall significantly from the ledger he's set in his first six seasons in black and gold when he's routinely led the league in touchdown passes.
- 105.0 QB Rating. If Aaron Rodgers can skip offseason workouts a year ago and ball out the way he did in 2011, there's no reason to think Brees cannot do the same. With an improved defense, Brees won't have to take as many chances with the ball, and the result will be fewer interceptions and an even more efficient QB.
Rushing Yards: Mark Ingram
In 2011, Mark Ingram had some nice moments. Unfortunately, he was hardly ever healthy enough to stay on the field.
When he was in the lineup, Pete Carmichael made sure to get him the ball often. The result was a happy one for Saints fans most of the time.
If the young man can get healthy and improve as expected, he figures to get the majority of regular down-and-distance carries. If that comes true, he will likely become the first Saint back to go over 1,000 yards in the Sean Payton era.
He will likely also challenge for the team lead in rushing touchdowns.
Rushing Touchdowns: Pierre Thomas
Admittedly, Pierre Thomas' inclusion on this list is an ode to the running back depth and a desire to reward that depth in my predictions.
As I just mentioned, Mark Ingram could easily take this title. But with Thomas' running style, he is a good goal-line back. And he's been known to break free from distance on occasion as well.
This race will likely be close, but I have a gut feeling Thomas will win with approximately eight rushing TDs.
Receptions: Darren Sproles
It seems the Saints are destined to use Darren Sproles as a receiver even more than they did a year ago. If Ingram takes the majority of rushing workload, as I'm predicting, it will free up Sproles to work matchups in the slot to an even greater degree than a season ago.
Though the Saints won't have the known commodity of Robert Meachem to "take the top off the defense", the Saints are going to continue to run a plethora of vertical routes to stretch the secondary and get Sproles and other check down options the football in space.
And since Brees won't have to force the ball down the field as often as he did in 2011, he will be free to take the check down and allow Darren Sproles to become the first Saints running back to lead the team in receptions since Reggie Bush in 2006 (he was second to Jimmy Graham in 2011 with 86).
Receiving Touchdowns: Tie Between Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham
While I don't expect Jimmy Graham to match his gaudy 2011 statistics (99 receptions, 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns) because defenses will stick to him tighter than glue, it's unfathomable to think he won't get in the end zone quite often.
With more attention going to Graham in the end zone, Marques Colston figures to be the benefactor. It's not as if Colston's ever had a hard time getting in the end zone, But the increased traffic in 80's direction will create openings for Colston that he has not previously known in his time as a professional.
I would look for each player to haul in nine touchdowns from No. 9.
Tackles: David Hawthorne
Though Steve Spagnuolo's defense is not a replica of the Tampa Two scheme Tony Dungy and Monty Kiffin made famous with the Bucs, it is similar enough to expect an outside linebacker to become the prominent tackler on the unit.
With Hawthorne's motor and the football regularly coming in his direction, Hawthorne ought to excel as a run defender in terms of how many tackles he makes.
Look for Hawthorne to get near 10 a game. We'll say for the season that if he remains healthy, he accumulates somewhere in the vicinity of 140.
Sacks: Martez Wilson
If Will Smith were playing a whole season, I would reason he'd lead the team in sacks. If Greg Romeus hadn't torn his ACL, he probably would have been my second choice.
But with those two missing pieces, Martez Wilson jumps into major contention for the team's sack lead. The converted linebacker will excel in Steve Spagnuolo's pass-rush friendly defense.
Don't be surprised if Wilson gets a handful of sacks from blitzing, while many of them also come the rush end spot in nickel situations.
Either way, Wilson, or whoever takes the title, figures to come in around the neighborhood of 10-12 sacks.
Interceptions: Patrick Robinson
In 2011, Patrick Robinson led the Saints in interceptions despite playing only as the nickel corner in a man-heavy coverage scheme, which did not lend itself to picking off the quarterback's passes.
In 2012, Robinson will be one of the two starting corners in a defense that is also interception-friendly.
Sure, Jabari Greer could step in and take the title because of his excellent ball skills, but it's unlikely offenses are going to target Greer often enough to make this a reality.
Expect seven to eight interceptions for Robinson and a likely Pro Bowl nod, which he will be unable to accept due to some other obligation...a Super Bowl game to play in, that is.