Saints Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 26, 2021

Saints Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    When the New Orleans Saints drafted Marcus Davenport in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, they expected him to be a cornerstone of the defense for quite some time. 

    As he enters his fourth season, Davenport still has to prove that he was worth the high selection. He has 12 sacks in 37 career games. 

    With a new first-round pick on the defensive line in Payton Turner and Tanoh Kpassagnon added in free agency, Davenport's snap count could come under pressure if he does not perform and the new additions thrive in the New Orleans system. 

    On the opposite side of the ball, New Orleans' young wide outs have plenty to prove following the offseason departure of Emmanuel Sanders. 

    Michael Thomas is entrenched as the No. 1 wide receiver on the depth chart, but there is little proven depth behind him at the moment. 

    With a new starting quarterback coming in, the Saints could be in a bit of trouble if none of the young wide receivers thrive while taking a step up in production. 

Marcus Davenport

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Davenport has 12 sacks in his three-year NFL career and he has not played a full 16-game campaign. 

    Those totals are disappointing given his stature as a first-round pick, especially one who cost the Saints a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to move up to select. 

    The UTSA product has not come anywhere close to matching Cameron Jordan's production on the other edge, and his roster spot could come under pressure in 2021. 

    New Orleans should face some pressure to get 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner on the field and Tapoh Kpassagnon could be given a shot if Davenport fails to reach the quarterback on a consistent basis. 

    The Saints can't cut ties with Davenport if he struggles this season, but they can opt to not extend his rookie deal. 

    Davenport's contract runs up after the 2022 season, when he is scheduled to make $9.5 million, per Over the Cap.

    If he does turn around his production in 2021, he could be quite the expensive miss on the roster going into 2022.

Tre'Quan Smith

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    To ease the transition from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston, the Saints need to have a reliable collection of wide receivers underneath Thomas on the depth chart. 

    Two of the team's top three receivers from 2020, Sanders and Jared Cook, are no longer on the roster. Alvin Kamara is the only returner that had more than 500 yards in a season in which Thomas dealt with injury issues. 

    Tre'Quan Smith was fourth on the roster with 448 receiving yards, but he only had four touchdowns and a 68 percent catch rate over 14 games. 

    For Smith to be the effective No. 2 receiver the Saints need him to be, he has to be over 70 percent on his catch rate and provide more as either a deep threat, or a force around the end zone to ease some pressure off Kamara and Thomas. 

    Smith will not be the only young wide out tasked with an increase in production, but he will be called on more because his numbers from previous seasons are higher than those from Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey. 

Jameis Winston

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Winston lost a starting gig in 2020 and now has a chance to reclaim one with Brees retired. 

    The New Orleans quarterback will be under immense pressure as he tries to make the transition as seamless as it can be. 

    Winston has plenty to prove in his presumed first year as the Saints' starter because of the rocky 2019 he experienced with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Winston threw for career bests of 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns, but those stats were bogged down by a league high 30 interceptions.

    If the Saints want to compete with Winston's former team in the NFC South this season, Winston simply can't be that much of a liability in the pocket.

    The Saints can deal with some mistakes here and there, but if Winston is a turnover machine again, they may have to re-evaluate their talent at the position.

    If Winston cuts down on the picks and develops a strong chemistry with Thomas, Kamara and others, he could find success inside a division where the Saints should be the No. 2 team. 

    Tampa Bay will enter the season as the NFC South favorite. Atlanta has some defensive issues to fix in Arthur Smith's first season in charge, while Carolina should be a work in progress with Sam Darnold at quarterback in Matt Rhule's second year as head coach.


    Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.