To make it simple and straight-forward: This is a very early attempt at predicting the starters of every position and their respective back-ups. I assume there will be a lot of rotation in Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme so a lot of the positions reflect that – denoted (Rot.). We’ll start with the best – Quarterback.
Offensive Skill Positions
Quarterback: Drew Brees
This isn’t a flashy prediction, but I assume Brees gets at least 4,500 and 35 TDs, and those stats in themselves justify an A.
RB1: Mark Ingram
I think Ingram gets around 215-250 carries, hopefully tallying over 850 yards which I'd consider a decent year. Anything more than that would be that much more impressive in a traditionally heavy-passing offense.RB2: Pierre Thomas
Grade: B +
I think Thomas gets around 125-175 carries, hopefully around 550 yards. Thomas had much better production last year but I feel Ingram is going to be used as the primary workhorse of the Saint's rush game this year.
WR1: Marques Colston
Undoubtedly the most underrated receiver in the game gets at least 1,000 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns.
WR2: Lance Moore
One of the best #2 wide outs in the game and a huge reason we have one of the best wide-receiver units in the league (in the ranks of Green Bay, Denver, and Atlanta). I predict at least 800 yards. Moore had MORE receiving yards than Mike Wallace, Anquan Bolden, Torrey Smith, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, Kenny Britt, Denarious Moore, or Dwayne Bowe. That’s our SECOND best wide-out.WR3: Joe Morgan
Solid deep threat.On the other wide-outs:
UPDATE: Toon/Stills is a toss-up, but I’ll go Stills for the sake of the 2013 draft class. Roby will be utilized on special teams.
TE: Jimmy Graham, Benjamin Watson
In the way of the Patriots, we have assembled one of the top-3 tight end cores in the league. Additionally, I think Graham is somewhere in the middle of his 2011 and 2012 campaigns with less drops than this past season.
RT: Zach Strief
I probably know less about this position than any other on the Saint’s roster, so any information would be appreciated.
RG: Jahri Evans
Grade: A+ (obvious player with an obvious grade)
C: Brain De La Peunte
LG: Ben Grubbs
Grade: A- (solid starter)
LT: Charles Brown
I’m going to go Brown as the safe pick here. I would love to see the Saint’s coaching staff find something in Jason Smith the Rams or Jets could not, but see him as a likely back-up. If it worked out my way, I'm really hoping Armstead excels in camp and takes this spot. It gets a C on uncertainty.
RDE: Cam Jordan/Greg Romeus (Rot.)
Jordan showed some of the best defensive production last year (team-high 8 sacks) and I think he improves this year. For the role he is asked to play, I think he'll be a stronger part of the defense. Don't know much about Romeus, so I put him here out of desperate confusion.
There's really no telling at this position but I'm really hoping the Georgia DT can develop into the anchor of our 3-4. I have a feeling he could come out as the starter, but at the minimum I definitely have him in the rotation with Bunkley. I'll give the position a C+ with rookie potential in Jenkins.
LDE: Akiem Hicks/ Cole Kenyon (Rot.)
Hicks is very promising with a lot of upside. Kenyon provides some 3-4 experience as a former Cowboy and is definitely in the rotation. At minimum, this is a slightly below average unit with some upside.
Butler had very impressive defensive production in a limited role behind Spencer and Ware for the Cowboys and hopefully learned from those two greats. This, tied with the 3-4 experience, will make him a stronger part of our unit and thus I can't imagine Butler not starting somewhere in this defense. UPDATE: According to Rotoworld.com, Victor and Wilson will be pushing for the strongside OLB position, pitting Butler's past defensive production against Wilson's promsing pash-rush abilities (thanks to stujo4 and cmars14 for the info.) Thomas seems like a slower linebacker which would be my best guess as to why he wasn’t drafted. He seems determined though, so I have him making the roster. There could be a potential for Rufus Johnson here, but I can only assume Johnson was drafted because he shows a great deal of promise and raw ability. I was actually really excited about the pick, being from Austin and knowing a couple of guys that go to Tarleton. I don’t, however, see him playing a lot, if any, and see him as a project for the coaching staff to turn his raw ability into decent NFL production. I give this unit a B because I think Butler was one of the best FA pick-ups and comes through at SOLB, with Martez in the rotation as a solid pass-rusher.
For the role he will be asked to play, I see Lofton along with Jordan as being another strong, fundamental piece to our defensive unit. Lofton is a top contributor, posting a team-high 123 tackles last season and it would be expected for him to keep assuming more defensive leadership as the likes of Vilma and Smith are expected to be let go.
Grade : C+
Hawthorne had incredible production while at Seattle and best case scenario: we see even a fragment of that production while manning this position. This is all speculation though. I like Reddick the most of any of our UFA and I think he will make the 53-man roster. This would get a C on uncertainty, but I like the promise of both Hawthorne and Reddick.
LOLB: Junior Gallete/Will Smith/Jonathon Vilma (Rot.)
UPDATE: According to rotoworld.com, it seems that Gallete and Smith will be competing for the weakside OLB position (thanks to stujo4 for the additional info). I see a lot of potential in Gallete as he showed some sparks of pass rush ability last season. I have Gallete starting for the time being (probably because I want to see the younger, promising 25 year-old start), but they will both surely be in rotation, because of Smith's decent pass-rush skills (averaging sic sacks a season over the last 3 seasons). Though it would typically get the C for uncertainty, I boosted it to a B- on the potential of Gallete and Smith as immediate pass rushers.
I’m hesitant to give a high grade to any of the Saint’s secondary, but Lewis has my greatest confidence looking ahead towards to season based on his production in Pittsburgh.
It’s hard to say how the secondary will look like come fall just because it’s hard to say what Rob Ryan will do with this defense. I see Vaccaro immediately starting as a nickel corner. Past that, I think our safeties could be all over the field. I definitely could see Harper being used in the blitz, but think Ryan will definitely keep Harper on a short leash considering his coverage abilities. The C is for Harper’s coverage abilities and Vaccaro’s inexperience, but I’ve added the plus for Vaccaro’s first-round ability and Harper’s pass rush skills we saw in 2011. I hope in the next couple of years this position will be steadily held by Vaccaro and maintain a strong A.
I think Jenkins will definitely have an improved year (not hard to do considering he was ranked the worst safety last year by ProFootballFocus, subscription required). I am pessimistic to how much Jenkins will improve, and only hope he lives up to a fraction of his draft stock with a solid defensive coordinator. With this position, and for much of the secondary, we can only hope for the best and rely on Rob Ryan to come through. I actually am optimistic about Abdul-Quddus though, and I would be really excited to see him overtake this position by excelling in the pre-season. C- as it stands now, however.
Not much to say here, but I think Greer will be serviceable at this position. Greer wasn’t nearly as bad as Jenkins or Harper last year on a historically dismal defense and actually posted a team-high 3 interceptions.