New Orleans Saints: Top 5 Performers of September
With the New Orleans Saints starting 0-4 in a season in which they had Super Bowl aspirations, it seems shallow to talk about who the five best performers have been through the first quarter of the NFL season.
The first month of the season has been awful.
It's reminded many fans of the 2007 season, when the team began the season with guarded high hopes following the team's first-ever trip to the NFC championship game.
Even with guarded hopes, no one thought that season would see the team drop its first four games, just as no one expected that in this campaign.
Still, there have been some fine moments and outstanding play from at least a few individuals which should be noted and credited.
We will look at five players here.
5. WR/ST Courtney Roby
That's right, Courtney Roby takes a spot away from even the most productive defensive players to date, Curtis Lofton and Cameron Jordan.
Sure, I may still be jaded from Sunday's pathetic pass-rushing effort from the front line and Lofton's lack of a big play for the season, but it's not as if Roby hasn't earned this spot.
Through two games, Martez Wilson and Roby made up the best duo of special teams players in the league. In the past two games, Wilson's efforts have dipped slightly, while Roby's have stayed consistent.
And Roby has actually seen some playing time at receiver this year, something once seen as a near impossibility by yours truly. In fact, he has even caught a pass for nine yards.
Make no mistake about it, though, Roby made this list primarily for his involvement in one of the most exciting plays of the season thus far—the punt block by Martez Wilson, which Roby then scooped and scored against Washington late in the second quarter.
For at least a few moments, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Saints had life and hope. Roby was a huge reason for that.
4. RB Pierre Thomas
It is true that Pierre Thomas laid a bit of an egg Sunday at Green Bay. Running against eight-man fronts with regularity doomed some of his production in the rushing game.
But it's also important to remember that numbers never tell the full story with Thomas, as I wrote last week. Instead, Thomas' game must be understood much the same way Robert Horry was for the Lakers when they were winning three consecutive championships.
Thomas may not put up huge numbers, but if you watch the games, there's no question the offense would struggle mightily without his presence.
The Saints are 0-4, but each game has been relatively close. Without Thomas, that might not be the case.
3. RB Darren Sproles
At 5'6", on stilts, Darren Sproles doesn't look like much of a football player. Yet that lack of size actually seems to help him on the football field.
He tends to get lost when he runs up the middle (admittedly, very rare this year) or in return situations. He is even more lethal when he has space.
That skill set has come in handy in the passing game this season. Through four games, he already has 23 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
Both touchdowns have come when the Saints lined up in their empty set with Sproles in the slot. With Jimmy Graham clearing out to the back pylon and occupying two defenders, Sproles is free to run a simple whip route against an unlucky linebacker.
And when the Saints have actually given him the ball on the ground, he's gained 82 yards on just 12 carries (6.8 yards per carry). How's that for dynamic?
2. TE Jimmy Graham
Jimmy Graham has a team-leading 24 receptions for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday was the first time he did not catch a touchdown pass this season.
After an incredible breakout season in 2011, few believed Graham could improve. Yet he has done just that in the first four games of the 2012 campaign. He looks more alert in terms of game situations.
He is playing with even more passion than a season ago. No area has that been more evident than in blocking.
Let's just be real: In 2011, Graham didn't want to block a soul. This season, he's taken pride in getting a guy and fighting with them.
Graham's hands have been suspect at times, and, amazingly, he may be able to still improve in a few other areas.
1. Drew Brees
Could I have gone anywhere else?
Drew Brees' first two games were among the worst of his Saints tenure, but the last two have been much closer to what we expect.
On Sunday, he tied Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas for the most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, at 47.
He has upped his QB rating to 86.1, and with his 446-yard performance at Green Bay, Brees now ranks first in the league with 1,350 yards on the season (30 ahead of New Orleans native Eli Manning).
It is almost impossible to imagine how bad this team would be without Brees. For the most part, he has handled the extreme pressure this season, earning every bit of his $100 million deal.
No QB in the game handles the pressure better. No other quarterback in the league would believe his team was still going to make the playoffs, despite starting the season 0-4.
Drew Brees does.
That's why he is the best player not only on this team, but in all of football.