Who Wears the Crown: Who Is the Best Player for the Saints Right Now?
When you are the most disappointing team in the league at 0-3 and staring down the barrel of 0-4—heck, maybe even 0-16 (OK, probably not, but you get my drift)—the last thing on anyone's mind is who takes the crown for the best player on the team.
And yet here I am rocking the boat, trying to figure out who takes said title. And I would argue that in the case of the New Orleans Saints, the reason the team is 0-3 is because the guy who should own that crown is not currently playing as he should. But that may be too much foreshadowing.
The point is that there are multiple players on the Saints roster who could take the title.
QB Drew Brees
As the highest-paid player in the NFL, it's not unreasonable to expect Brees to be the team's best player. Over the past six years, there was little doubt that Brees was far and away the team's best player.
Yet this season, it's not so cut and dry. Three games into the 2012 season, Brees is putting up yardage nearly equivalent to that of the previous six seasons in the Crescent City. Nine hundred and four yards puts him on pace for roughly 4,800 yards, which would be his third-finest season as a professional.
And this Sunday at Green Bay, he has a chance to tie Johnny Unitas for the most consecutive games throwing at least one touchdown. But his interception total (five) is much too high for an elite quarterback. His QB rating (77.0) and completion percentages are significantly below his career averages.
In short, his decision-making has been shoddy and accuracy all over the place. This is not the same Drew Brees we've seen the past six years leading Sean Payton's offense.
RB Pierre Thomas
Overlook the numbers in Pierre Thomas' case. This guy is the best player in the game that no one talks about. He is undoubtedly the most valuable player on the Saints offense.
He is a physical runner, which no one ever seems to give him any credit for. He has unbelievable balance. He is the best screen back in the game. He uses uncanny vision to read blocks and where defenders are going to be. He uses great balance and agility to get around those blocks and make exciting plays for the Saints.
Though the Saints rarely use him in such a way, he is a great short-yardage back because of his amazing pad level, balance and leg drive. He seems to run and play with a chip on his shoulder similar to Maurice Jones-Drew, who famously chose to wear No. 32 because he felt slighted that every team passed on him in the NFL draft.
Thomas was passed on by every team for the entire draft in 2007. The Saints were wise to bring him as an undrafted free agent that year, and the pick paid immediate dividends in the team's Week 5 win in Seattle in that 2007 season.
Since then, Thomas has continued to make big play after big play. But more than that, Thomas is the consummate professional and Mr. Reliable at the running back spot. His blitz pickup Sunday, one play after Mark Ingram failed to protect Drew Brees, was textbook. Thomas came all the way across the formation to get the rusher before he could get to Brees. In the process, he knocked the guy out.
I could gush for hours about Pierre Thomas, but I'll stop for now. Just know Thomas is a great NFL running back.
TE Jimmy Graham
Jimmy Graham has three touchdowns in the season's first three games. In fact, Graham has basically picked up right where he left off in last season's playoff loss to San Francisco, where he did everything but decapitate 49ers defenders on his way to the end zone.
Graham has answered a few key questions from last season, such as "Can he play more physically?" and "Can he block?"
The answer to both is affirmative. Graham has shown he can hold his own in the running game as a blocker and actually has a clue what he's doing on the few occasions the team asks him to protect Brees instead of going out for a pass.
And the scary thing is that Graham can still get better.
DE Cameron Jordan
Though the second-year defensive end only has recorded one sack in the season's first three games, Cameron Jordan has found himself constantly around the opposing team's quarterback in 2012.
And though the rush defense has been awful for the Saints, Jordan has done his job on the majority of run plays he has seen. He regularly holds the point of attack and forces ball-carriers back inside where linebackers should be waiting to make the tackle.
It's sad that Jordan's efforts have mostly been wasted due to the poor play around him (especially at defensive tackle). Jordan has been the hands-down best defensive player on the team and could earn a Pro Bowl nod this season for his play.
Who is the Saints best player?
The interesting thing about this particular list is that three of these four guys will probably find themselves in the Pro Bowl. Yet it's the one who likely will not make the Pro Bowl that actually lays claim to best player on the team.
That player is Pierre Thomas. Maybe my ranting and raving about him clued you into that selection.
Don't look at Thomas' numbers. (I've intentionally left them out of my argument.) Instead, watch each Saints game and tell me Thomas isn't the most influential player at any moment. If you can do that with a straight face, maybe I'll give you a cookie.
Finally, I must reiterate that at 0-3, this entire topic is kind of pointless. The Saints have been bad. But Thomas and, as we've seen, a few other guys have stood out through three Saints games in 2012.
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