The Saints have done a wonderful job acquiring new talent to bolster the offense, defense, and special teams. General manager Mickey Loomis has been forced to be creative with limited cap space.
The Saints have an explosive offense that features Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, and Jeremy Shockey among others. The defense has new pieces on all three levels. After two years of getting torched repeatedly for long gains, the secondary may now be a position of strength for the Black and Gold.
There is a lot of optimism among the fleur-de-lis faithful, and for good reason: New Orleans may actually have a good defense to complement one of the league's best offenses.
Obviously, all of this optimism goes out the window if Drew Brees misses significant time. He is far and away the most important player on the roster. If he goes down, no one is expecting Joey Harrington to turn into Matt Cassel.
The Saints are going to need more than just Drew Brees, however, to make a serious run at a division title and the Super Bowl.
Here are five players who I think are the most vital to success for the Saints:
5) Will Smith and Charles Grant
Okay, so I cheated on the first one and put two players. Smith and Grant are first-round talents who have not produced first round numbers lately. Despite the lack of production, they are the most talented defensive ends on the roster.
While the secondary has gotten their fair share the blame for the Saints' defensive short comings, New Orleans has produced very little pass rush the pass two seasons. The Saints were 12th in the league in sacks in 2006 but fell to the bottom half of the league in both 2007 and 2008.
If Smith and Grant can both put consistent pressure on the quarterback, then the defense can be a force with which to be reckoned.
4) Marques Colston
On a team littered with offensive weapons, Colston is the team's only true No. 1 receiver. He is Brees' favorite receiver on third downs because of his size, route running, and dependable hands.
The Saints went 2-3 in the games that he missed last season as the rest of the receiving corps got acclimated to their new roles. Colston didn't truly get back into the swing of things until Week 10 at Atlanta.
He was sorely missed against Minnesota on Monday Night Football. In that game, the Saints receivers let down Brees with key drops and incorrect routes. Robert Meachem dropped a key third-down pass in the red zone that would have normally been thrown to Colston.
Instead of a possible touchdown drive, the Saints settled for a field goal attempt which was blocked and returned for six points.
3) Darren Sharper
The 13-year veteran brings a lot to the table for Gregg Williams' defense. He gives the Saints a safety who knows how to play the ball in the air and rarely allows himself to get beat deep in coverage.
Sharper is also a borderline Hall-of-Famer. He has 54 career interceptions and eight touchdowns. The only thing left for Sharper to do is win a Super Bowl ring.
As a free safety, he will be in position to see the entire offense and defense. It is always helpful to have a smart veteran in place to reposition inexperienced defenders if they line up incorrectly.
Even if Sharper does not emerge as a full-time starter, his experience will prove to be invaluable as he mentors the Saints' young secondary.
2) Jonathan Vilma
If the offseason was any indicator, the Saints feel that Vilma is the most important piece to their defense. Vilma lasted only a few hours on the free agent market before the Saints re-signed him to a long term deal.
Vilma is the leader of the defense. He relays all the team's defensive plays that are called from the sidelines to the rest of the team and barks out any necessary audibles.
He was far and away the team's leader in tackles, and literally never took a play off. Vilma will see himself back in the Pro Bowl if he can duplicate last year's performance.
1) Jammal Brown
Brown is a two-time Pro-bowler and plays the most important position on the offensive line. Brown is given the task of protecting Brees' blind side.
Despite the accolades, I think Brown is better suited as a right tackle. He struggled mightily against John Abraham and Julius Peppers, and generally does not handle speed rushers very well.
In the Saints' Week 10 loss to Atlanta, Abraham got a sack, a tipped pass, and numerous hurries on Brees.
Peppers produced two sacks and two tipped passes in two games against the Saints.
As much as the Saints pass, it is imperative that Brown keeps Brees' jersey clean and his limbs intact.
I believe that if Brown did a better job in pass protection last year, the Saints would have two more games and make the playoffs as a wild card.
The NFC South's schedule is tough this year, so every game is crucial, especially those within the division. A 4-2 division record instead of a 2-4 mark could be the difference between a division title and not making the playoffs.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!