But once again Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have gone all-out to ensure the Saints regain their elite status. They were on a mission to really beef up on the defensive side of the ball while adding more explosiveness and continuity on offense.
The free agent acquisitions by the Saints were pure genius and put the Saints in a great position to dominate this season in all aspects. I have taken a look at the top pickups and re-signings considering what each player can contribute this season. Look for these guys to lead our Saints back to the promised land. WHO DAT?!
Aubrayo Franklin DT
2011 stats: 38 tackles and 1 pass defended
Franklin's signing by the Saints came as a huge surprise to everyone. I do not think that anyone saw the Saints as a potential landing spot for him, including Sean Payton. But he and Greg Williams have found themselves one of the top run-stuffers in the league.
Aubrayo is a stout defender that is not easily moved by offensive linemen. He specializes in plugging up holes and frankly offensive coordinators seem to direct all of their plays away from him. He has quietly been the stopping force in the 49ers defense for years under Patrick Willis.
Aubrayo steps into a Saints defense that struggled at times against the run last season. But they now have three top-tier defensive tackle mammoths in Franklin, Ellis and Shaun Rogers. I see Franklin in a rotation with Rogers, which should keep him fresh. He will be able to plug up the middle and open up the outside for the Saints defensive ends to make plays.
2012 Projected Stats: 35 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles
Darren Sproles RB
2011 Stats: 246 rushing, 59 receptions for 520 yards receiving and 2 total touchdowns
Darren Sproles is a highlight reel-type player. And that is exactly why Sean Payton and Drew Brees recruited him so heavily. I believe that the Saints had a plan all along to cut ties with Reggie Bush and then immediately replace him with Sproles.
Darren fills the void left behind by Bush in the offense, and I dare say that Sproles will be twice as effective. Drew Brees already has chemistry with this guy, as they played together in San Diego and worked out together in the offseason. He is willing to run between the tackles and can take it to the house on any given play.
Sproles is an elite receiver out of the backfield as well as an elite kick returner. The ability to return kicks is really what excites me about his role as a Saint. Although Reggie was considered a great returner, I never really saw it. All I got from it was a lot of dancing around and a sick stomach, praying he wouldn't either fumble the ball or get hurt. But Darren Sproles can step in and immediately take the special team's play to the next level.
2012 Projected Stats: 230 rushing yards, 45 receptions for 380 yards receiving and 6 total touchdowns
I also see Sproles contributing 4 kick/punt return touchdowns. Yes, that's 10 total touchdowns. Leave your disbelief in the comment section below, please.
Shaun Rogers DT
2011 Stats: 14 tackles and 2 sacks
When I heard about the Saints signing big baby Shaun Rogers before the lockout, I knew instantly the Saints were on a mission. In their Super Bowl run, the Saints pass rush was fierce and their run defense was great.
But last season the front seven was far from stellar. Don't get me wrong, they were a solid defense. But they rarely came up with the big play or stop on third down.
Enter Shaun Rogers.
He instantly gives the front line an intimidating presence. Rogers has been a run stopper in this league for some time. And for someone his size he provides a great inside pass rush.
But his full potential has been dulled by playing for lowly teams his whole career. Many consider him too old or washed up to contribute. He has also had character concerns and doubts of whether he can put in enough effort. But the Saints have shown in the past they can take in players with those descriptions and turn them back on the path of being an elite player. Look no further than Drew Brees, Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper.
Rogers' presence alone will allow Sedrick Ellis to play one-on-one inside and get after the quarterback while also taking attention from Will Smith and rookie Cam Jordan. He may not light up the stat sheet but he will for sure be a force on this defense. Look out.
2012 Projected Stats: 33 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles
Turk McBride DE
2011 Stats: 16 tackles, 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles
At first glance, this pick up made me scratch my head. But upon closer observation and research, this was a smart move. McBride is actually a pretty solid pass rusher when in a rotation. He had his best season last year for the Lions, turning in 5 sacks in limited action. For the Saints he will be a situational player coming in to give our other ends a breather.
Will Smith is facing a four-game suspension to start the year and so McBride should rotate with Cameron Jordan, Alex Brown and Junior Galette in the right end spot. In Greg Williams' aggressive scheme, Turk will provide another weapon and most importantly depth on the defensive line.
2012 Projected Stats: 16 tackles and 4 sacks
Korey Hall FB
This pick-up has really flown under the radar so far. But Hall's arrival ultimately sets up the exit of Heath Evans.
Korey Hall will play some time in the fullback position but I really see David Thomas taking over that duty. Hall is a solid and athletic player who played linebacker in college. Because of his versatility he will be a big special teams player and situational blocker. Nice grab by the Saints.
Carl Nicks G
This resigning is the best move the Saints have made this offseason by far. Nicks is the best guard in the league and really allows this offense to flow like it does. With him in the lineup, Drew rarely has to worry about defenders rushing up the middle.
Carl Nicks is a stout pass blocker that can hold his ground against anyone. But his real strength comes in the run game, where he plays a more smash-mouth type game and opens up holes for the backs.
He is one of the reasons why some undervalued running backs like Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas have thrived. This season we should see a ton of plays where rookie Mark Ingram blasts through the line behind Nicks.
David Thomas TE
2011 Stats: 30 receptions for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns
In an earlier article I said that David Thomas was the most versatile weapon on the Saints roster. Last season he took a bit of a step back in terms of on-field production, but look back to the 2009 season. Thomas was the team's primary blocking fullback on running plays and has been a top check down option for Brees the past two years.
This season, David Thomas will have an increased role as he is now the primary blocking tight end and is second to Jimmy Graham. I see him taking over the majority of his snaps as a fullback and that will open up a ton of avenues for this offense. Thomas is also a Brees favorite and great locker room leader. He should also be a great mentor for the budding star Jimmy Graham.
2012 Projected Stats: 25 receptions for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns
Lance Moore WR
2011 Stats: 66 receptions for 763 yards and 8 touchdowns
Lance Moore is the tried and true cog in this offense. A fan and Drew Brees favorite, Lance looks to build on a stellar 2010 campaign. I am willing to argue with anyone that Moore is the best slot receiver in the league right now. So signing him was a top priority for the Saint's front offense. He quietly is a dominating pass catcher over the middle and has underrated hands for a smaller guy.
This year with the running game improving I see Lance breaking through with an outstanding season. He has many hands to compete with as Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham are excellent targets. But I really see them helping Moore more than hurting him.
2012 Projected Stats: 85 receptions for 1025 yards and 8 touchdowns
Roman Harper SS
2011 Stats: 98 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception and 6 forced fumbles
Roman Harper is quietly the key to what Greg Williams does on defense. Williams has even said so himself. He is a top strong safety in the league but is often overlooked. Many "experts" were quick to say that the Saints should replace him after two bad plays in the Saints' playoff loss to the Seahawks.
Putting that aside, Harper was as solid as it gets. He constantly dropped halfbacks at the line of scrimmage and rarely gave up a big gain. He seemed to be the only Saints defender that remembered how to create turnovers like they did in '09. Look for him to produce another pro-bowl season for the Saints.
2012 Projected Stats: 90 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles