Predicting Saints' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL SeasonMay 19, 2021
Predicting Saints' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season
The New Orleans Saints will not be replacing Drew Brees with another Hall of Fame quarterback.
However, the one area in which Jameis Winston could replicate what Brees brought to the franchise is in passing yards.
Winston is two years removed from a 5,109-yard passing season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that was marred by 30 interceptions that went with his 33 touchdown passes.
If Winston wins the starting position over Taysom Hill and Ian Book, he could be set up for a great statistical season, as long as Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas stay healthy.
Thomas could be poised for a career season if he forms a strong bond with Winston. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in his first four seasons and missed out on that mark due to injuries in 2020.
Thomas may see more targets early on in the season because of the inexperience behind him on the depth chart following Emmanuel Sanders' free-agency departure.
Kamara could be a beneficiary of that situation as well since he has been such a reliable asset in both facets of the offense.
Winston led the league in pass attempts, passing yards and interceptions in his final season with the Buccaneers.
New Orleans threw the ball 522 times in 2020, but that total may be lower than what Winston earns since Brees made 12 starts.
Hill's inability to achieve success in the passing game led to the Saints relying more on his legs and Kamara's versatility in Brees' absence.
Brees attempted over 600 passes in nine of his seasons in New Orleans. He had a completion percentage over 65 in all but one of those campaigns and over 4,800 passing yards in all but two.
Winston's experience of throwing at a high volume could translate to some decent returns, especially if a reliable No. 2 option develops behind Thomas.
Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris are among the players who will fight for the right to replace Sanders. None of those players reached 500 yards in Thomas' absence last season.
If a second option emerges behind Thomas and Winston is given a chance to throw between 30-40 times each game, he could at least match Brees' 4,334 yards from his last 16-game season in 2017.
If the best-case scenario comes to fruition, Winston could come close to 5,000 yards with the extra game added in 2020.
Stat Projections: 4,750 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 20 interceptions
All signs point to Thomas challenging the 1,725-yard total he put up in 2019.
Winston needs to have a security blanket to start the regular season. A fast opening few weeks could benefit Thomas as well since he was only on the field for seven games in 2020.
Thomas and Winston's chemistry could be a vital factor in deciding how competitive the Saints will be in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers and in four road games in the first six weeks.
Thomas was targeted an average of 7.85 times when he was healthy in 2020, and the Saints went 6-1 in the regular-season games he participated in.
In 2019, Thomas had a target average of 11.6, and he shattered his career best in receptions by 20 and top receiving yard total by 320.
The sixth-year wideout could be on a similar 107.8 yards per game trajectory since he is the far and away the best pass-catcher on the roster.
It would help the Saints' division title hopes if one of the young wide receivers steps up beneath Thomas, but even in that situation, it is hard to see him struggling for consecutive games due to the potentially high target rate.
Stat Predictions: 1,800 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns
Kamara finished 2020 as the Saints' leading receiver with 756 yards, which was the second-highest total in his career.
Ideally, the Saints would like to use Kamara less in the passing game as he gets older to save some of the wear on his legs, but that may not be the case early on if the aerial options are not good enough.
In each of his four seasons, Kamara hauled in 80 receptions, and he was three targets short in 2019 of having 100 targets in every campaign.
If you add those totals to the 672 carries he earned, the Saints have gotten plenty of usage out of Kamara, even with a reliable backup option in Latavius Murray on the roster.
At some point, Kamara's passing game production could drop, but as is the case with Thomas, the Saints could need him too much at the start of the season while the younger wideouts work out their roles.
The Saints still have Murray behind Kamara to spell him in certain rushing situations, but the latter is still projected to earn a ton of touches.
With that in mind, Kamara should at least match his rushing and receiving totals from 2020. The only significant drop would occur if he misses time.
Stat Predictions: 950 rushing yards, 800 receiving yards, 20 total touchdowns.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.