2012 was a horrible season for the New Orleans Saints. The "Bountygate" scandal is finally over and Sean Paytonis back off suspension and ready to take over the team again. He is one of the most aggressive and creative offensive minds in the NFL. He has the ability to not only scheme, but also put his personnel in a position to succeed. It was shocking how different the team was from one season to the next. They definitely have some problems that can't be tied to the bounty scandal, but they also still have a lot of talent. Only two years ago this team went 13-3, this year we can expect at least 10-6.
Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback in the league. Last year he threw for over 5,000 yards, but also accounted for 19 interceptions. That's too many for a quarterback of his caliber and the return of Payton giving him advice will definitely help improve on that number.
The Saints still have a lot of talent and playmakers on their roster and that includes the running backs. Sproles is the most dynamic player of the bunch and he can break a big play at any time. He pulled in 161 catches over the last two seasons and accounted for 17 touchdowns. The team loves to get him the ball in space where he can maximize his athletic ability. Thomas and Ingram are both more powerful runners who excel in short yardage situations.
The team has some very talented receiving options that have the ability to create huge matchup problems for defending teams. Jimmy Graham has become the go to guy for the team. He is the new prototypical tight end in the NFL and after battling wrist injuries last season he should be back at full strength. Colston is a big, strong long-armed receiver who can put up big numbers. He will account for over 1,100 yards and 8 touchdowns this season.
For a team to be really successful in this league, and not just having a few wins that are built on flash and not fire, they need to have a good offensive line. Without solid play up front from the big guys the skill position players don't have the ability to produce. In the last two years the team has lost All-Pro guard Nicks and Pro Bowl left tackle Bushrod in free agency. That's a huge hit to the unit, but that doesn't spell the end by any means. They still have perennial All Pro right guard Evans who is solid in both run and pass protection. They also picked up Grubbs to replace Nicks last year and believe he can contribute a lot.
To help the defense the first thing Payton did this offseason was get rid of Spagnuolo. The team allowed a NFL record 7.042 yards last season, completely unacceptable. In his place steps defensive guru Rob Ryan. He's going to bring an attacking 3-4 style defense to the team that will definitely be better than last year.
The defensive line has been a disappointment in recent years and the move to a 3-43 style should particularly benefit Jordan. He's not the biggest guy at 6-4, 287 lbs but he can play the position well. He knows how to stand up against the run but he is also improving as a pass rusher. He has the one quality that you can't teach, effort. He plays all the way to the whistle and hustles all over the field to make plays. Nose tackle Bunkley picked up a big contract in the offseason that makes him appear to be a fixture on the line for the time being. He is an animal against the run and knows how to eat up blockers and space, key ingredients for an NFL nose tackle.
The Saints know they needed to make a big improvement to their secondary and to improve there the team added Lewis in free agency and drafted Vaccaro in the first round. Lewis cam over from the Steelers after having a solid year and proving he can play against big receivers. Vaccaro was widely considered the best safety in the draft and he will add a punishing style against the run. However, he also has a lot of experience against the pass as he spent a lot of time as the nickel back in hi senior season. He has a real chance of being the starter on opening day.
Even though the team only went 7-9 last year, I'd think more about how they did when they went 13-3. Achieving that many wins this season is a bit of a stretch, but not that much. With the right leadership back in place this offense will just flat-out be able to outscore many teams. It's important to have an offense that powerful but the better news is, they won't have to quite as much. Ryan will bring a completely different philosophy to the defensive unit that will make an immediate improvement. This may technically be considered a rebuilding year for the team, but they won't have a traditional "rebuilding team" record at the end.