New Orleans Saints' 6 Most Underrated Offensive Options

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IJuly 23, 2012

New Orleans Saints' 6 Most Underrated Offensive Options

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    When you play a skill position for the New Orleans Saints, it's nearly incomprehensible to think you could be underrated. 

    After all, the team is the NFL's most explosive offense. It is an offense responsible for a Super Bowl victory in 2009. And in 2011 it set about 8,000 team and leaguewide records. 

    For six years running it has been the NFL's best and most explosive offense. Yet somehow, there are six players who still don't get the credit they deserve nationally, and in some circumstances even in New Orleans. 

    With the over-consumption of blog sites and football experts, you'd think someone would have figured out by now the Saints offense isn't only a result of Sean Payton or Drew Brees. There is some really good talent around No. 9. 

    Here are six of the players who simply don't get the credit they deserve in the New Orleans Saints offense. 

6. RB Mark Ingram

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    For a full evaluation of Mark Ingram's rookie season in New Orleans and a look ahead to his future, click here

    In one season, Mark Ingram went from overrated as a first-round draft pick to underrated and considered a "bust," Of course his 3.9 yards per carry average was worse than paltry. Plus he didn't prove to be the complete back he was supposed to be coming out of Alabama. 

    But in 10 games he managed five touchdowns and provided a number of explosive runs that New Orleans hadn't gotten often in Sean Payton's previous five seasons as head coach. 

    If healthy, there is little reason to believe Ingram does not improve upon his 3.9 ypc average and 474 net rushing yards. In fact, it is likely he will lead the team in rushing and become just the second 1,000-yard rusher in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. 

5. TE Michael Higgins

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    Michael Higgins only had one catch for four yards in the 2011 regular season, but he managed two catches for 10 yards in the postseason in an expanded role. 

    He likely won't ever be Jimmy Graham-lite. He may not even become David Thomas-lite. But Higgins is capable of producing in a manner similar to former Saints tight end Billy Miller, who almost single-handedly made the Saints' tight end back-shoulder seam route legendary. 

    If the Nebraska-Omaha product (not Nebraska at Lincoln, Nebraska-Omaha, a school that no longer fields a football team) can equal Billy Miller's production in New Orleans, the Saints offense will continue to dominate the NFL as it has for six years. 

    Plus Higgins would become a coveted player for some franchise other than New Orleans. That would be a good problem to have for Mickey Loomis and Co. 

4. WR Devery Henderson

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    Interestingly enough recently highlighted Devery Henderson as a potential Saints' cap casualty during training camp. 

    The logic makes sense. The Saints have enough capable receivers on their roster. And of those making more than $1 million, Henderson clearly produces the least. 

    That said, after losing Robert Meachem to the San Diego Chargers in free agency, Devery Henderson's value is now as high as it's been in New Orleans. 

    He is the only veteran receiver on the roster with the speed and route-running ability to "take the top off the defense." It is possible that second-year receiver Joseph Morgan could develop into that; but even if he does, we have seen in the previous five seasons the Saints prefer to have multiple guys like that among their receiving corps. 

    It is a role Henderson has filled admirably throughout his years in New Orleans. After all, he is good for at least two 60-plus yard touchdowns a season. That kind of production is not easily replaced. 

3. FB Jed Collins

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    Guess who the eighth (out of 13) most productive receiver on the Saints' roster was a year ago? That's right, the fullback Jed Collins. In most NFL offenses, the fullback is extinct or virtually nonexistent. 

    But in the west coast (or shall we say Gulf Coast) offense the Saints run, the fullback is still an integral piece to the overall effectiveness of the unit. Let's not get carried away though, Collins only caught 11 passes on the year. 

    Two of those passes, though, went for Saints touchdowns. He also managed to run two other balls into the end zone. Off the top of my head two of those touchdowns took place in consecutive weeks—Week 4 against Jacksonville (a 23-10 victory) and Week 5 against Carolina (a close 30-27 victory).

    Without a touchdown in either of those games, it is unclear if the Saints would have won each one. 

    Add to those impressive numbers Collins' proficiency in opening up running holes and cross wedge pass-blocking skills, and you have an invaluable member of the Saints offense. 

    Look for more road-clearing, pass-catching and awkward touchdown dances in 2012 from big No. 45 Jedidiah Collins. 

2. TE/FB David Thomas

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    Okay, so David Thomas finished 2011 with just five catches and 16 yards. Not exactly dazzling for a six-year vet. No one would disagree with such a statement. 

    That said, he was hurt much of the season. 

    In 2009 and 2010, Thomas was perhaps the Saints' most valuable offensive player after Drew Brees. Noted for his versatility and flexibility to switch between tight end and fullback from one play to the next, Thomas provides tremendous blocking acumen to the Saints' multi-layered offensive attack. 

    But it should also be noted that Thomas is a more than adequate receiving target. He runs good routes and catches nearly everything thrown his way. 

    No, he isn't used in the passing game anywhere near as often as Jimmy Graham. But that isn't his role. In this offense, his job is to keep Drew Brees upright and open holes for running backs. 

    But don't let that alter your view of his abilities as a pass-catcher. When Drew Brees throws him the ball, it's about as automatic as any player on the roster. 

1. RB Pierre Thomas

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    Of the running backs on the Saints' roster, none elicits the supreme confidence on the goal line, and in other short-yardage situations, as Pierre Thomas. 

    Maybe it's the fact he went undrafted. Maybe it's due to being surrounded by more splashy names and headline makers, but ever since entering the NFL in 2007, Pierre Thomas has been the ultimate pro and hardest working back the New Orleans Saints have had on their roster. 

    He is also the most physical runner on the team—the guy who will lower his head and take on a defender at the risk of his own personal health. 

    And he runs with a natural body lean that is rare for a running back. His thick frame makes him a tough player to tackle and his power and low center of gravity make him ideal for short-yardage work. 

    And we haven't even talked about his incredible work in the screen game. People much smarter and more diligent than I, could tell you where he stands in terms of screen-pass production. A good guess would be that he's at the top or very near over the course of his five years in the league. 

    Taking into consideration the Saints' scheme and running back-by-committee approach, no back is more valuable to his team's offensive production in the NFC South than Pierre Thomas. Venturing outside the NFC South, he is probably top five in that category league wide. 

    All of that makes Thomas the most underrated of the Saints' offensive weapons heading into the 2012 campaign.