The New Orleans Saints, coming off a strong 49-24 win at home over the New York Giants in Week 12, sit atop the NFC South at 8-3. The team is best known for its high-powered offense, led by quarterback Drew Brees, but the Saints have players on both sides of the ball who have contributed to the team's success.
Here, we will explore the top seven most indispensable players to the New Orleans Saints. As the season wears on, look for these players to shine and, in turn, the Saints to continue their strong play.
Quietly, Roman Harper has become one of the true unsung heroes for this Saints team. Already this season, Harper leads the Saints with 6.5 sacks and 73 tackles, coming from the strong safety position.
Harper has grown into one of the best safeties in the league against the run and has become a threat to blitz on every play. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has moved Harper around on many different blitz packages and has thrived, finding the ball carrier more than any other player on his team.
After getting burned by tightend John Carlson twice last year in the Saints’ infamous playoff upset to the 7-9 Seahawks, Harper has come back even hungrier this year, and his play has not gone unnoticed. The Saints have to be pleased with the investment they made in the offseason in re-signing Harper.
Marques Colston, the former seventh-round pick out of Hofstra University, has been Drew Brees’ most consistent and reliable receiver since becoming a member of the Saints. Colston has been bit by the injury bug a few times throughout his short career thus far; but each time he is out of the lineup, it shows.
So far in each of the four seasons that Colston has played in at least 14 games, he has amassed at least 70 catches and 1,000 yards receiving. However, since Colston is such a quiet and humble man, his stats rarely ever get the credit and attention that they deserve.
One thing is for sure though, Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton love having this guy around, and we should see him play a huge role in the Saints' offense for a long time to come.
It’s unusual that we see a player join a new team and make as big of an impact as Darren Sproles has had on this Saints offense. Sproles can truly do it all; he’s been asked to run the ball, catch it and return kicks and punts—and he has excelled in all areas.
Sproles leads the NFL in all-purpose yards this season with 1,748, and is second on the Saints (fifth in the NFL) with 62 catches already this season as a running back.
Sean Payton was left with a hole to fill after losing the dynamic Reggie Bush in the offseason. However, he wasted no time in signing Sproles, a move that Payton undoubtedly has not regretted for a second.
When it seemed like Bush was the player who could do everything, Sproles has stepped in and shown that he can do even more. Sproles has done everything Bush did for the Saints, and more. He has run between the tackles, adding another element to his game for defenders to have to try to contend. When many NFL fans thought the Saints offense would be missing a key player in Bush, Sproles has stepped in and made all Saints fans say, “Reggie who?”
Jonathan Vilma has become the unquestioned leader of the defense. As middle linebacker and the defensive captain, Vilma has been relegated the play-calling duties for the defense. Vilma has been rewarded with Pro Bowl nods in each of the last two seasons and has become the most highly regarded member of the defense by his teammates.
Rarely do we see a player play with such fire and tenacity than what we see from Vilma. Even in the four games he’s missed so far this season with a knee injury, Vilma can be seen on the sidelines in his visor yelling to his teammates and relaying any observations he has made throughout the game.
Vilma clearly believes that his captain duties are never over and is just as tuned in on the sidelines as he is in the middle of the defense on the field. It really is no mistake that he unanimously viewed as the Saints’ defensive leader; anyone who watches even a single Saints game can see that Vilma brings the entire defense together.
Not enough can be said of Jimmy Graham’s breakout 2011 season. Graham, who only played one season of football throughout his entire career at the University of Miami, leads all NFL tight ends in receptions (67) and receiving yards (957), and is second to only New England’s Rob Gronkowski in receiving TDs (eight) in only his second season in the NFL.
Graham has clearly become the top target of quarterback Drew Brees in his first full season as the team’s starting tight end. He’s been targeted by Brees a remarkable 102 times already this season and has drawn the most looks inside the red zone. Brees and Sean Payton have not been able to stop praising the job Graham has done. Payton even went to far as to say that he sees Graham as a future Hall of Famer.
Payton and the rest of the Saints organization truly got a steal when they selected Graham in the third round of the NFL Draft, a decision that will pay dividends for years to come.
Drew Brees and the Saints offense would not enjoy nearly as much success if it weren’t for the two big boys in the middle, guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. The duo is a big reason why Brees is once again on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season mark of 5,084 passing yards.
Both Evans and Nicks made the Pro Bowl in 2010, and Evans also received a selection in 2009. Evans, a fourth-round pick in 2006, and Nicks, a fifth-round selection in 2008, are clearly just beginning to tap into their potential, as they are still relatively young players in this league. It is no wonder why these two are often viewed as the best pair of guards in the entire NFL.
Payton and Brees know what these two mean to the success of the team, so expect to see these two in a Saints uniform for a long time and to continue to see Brees and the offense thrive.
Since coming to New Orleans in 2006, Drew Brees has given the city of New Orleans and Saints fans all over a reason to believe in this team once again. For a team with a history of quarterback instability, having started 28 QBs in their 39-year history prior to Brees’ arrival, he has been the team’s rock. Brees has become not only a perennial Pro Bowler and the leader of the offense but a true star in the NFL, an unquestioned member of the league's elite.
So far in his tenure as Saints QB, Brees has led New Orleans to two NFC Championship games, one NFC Championship, and even the team’s first Super Bowl victory in its first-ever appearance. Brees is once again on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 passing yards, a feat that he came within 16 yards of doing in 2008.
Brees arguably means more to this team than any other player does to his team in the entire National Football League. As long as Brees is at the helm, the Saints will be a powerhouse in the NFL year in and year out.