Due to time constraints (or a lack of time management, whatever you prefer to call it) I have decided to group some the final 14 rankings together to more quickly reach the end of my top 25 New Orleans Saints' players of 2013.
No. 14, Mark Ingram:
After averaging 3.9 yards per carry in his first two season, 2013 is clearly a make or break season for the third year RB out of Alabama. While much of the Who Dat Nation is quick to share their pessimism of Ingram, he has had an odd first two seasons in the league. In 2011 he was a rookie during the lockout which caused an unusual off-season. Losing his head coach in 2012 would seem to be detrimental to the season in which a player usually progresses the most. Sean Payton has been adamant about reestablishing the run game, and you have to figure Ingram fits into a substantial portion of that plan.
There are some interesting discrepancies, though, in Ingram's performances in his first two years. In 2011, the blocking of the offensive line was superior to that of 2012. in 2011 the Saints still had Payton on the sideline, the mammoth that is Carl Nicks in the lineup, not to mention Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief playing at a much higher level than they did in 2012. All things considered, Ingram forced just 11 missed tackles on 122 attempts ( a broken tackle on 9% of attempts). In 2012, despite the absence of Payton and Nicks, and the 2011 forms of the aforementioned offensive tackles, Ingram forced 23 missed tackles on 156 attempts (14.7%). I'm not saying the stars are aligned and he will average six YPC, but I do think he is in a much better situation this season than the past two and deserves a good portion of carries. If he underperforms for the first few games, however, I expect Pierre Thomas to take over the bulk of the load.
No. 13, Keenan Lewis:
After leading the league in passes defended in 2012, Keenan Lewis was the Saints' prized catch of the off-season. The Saints' secondary obviously struggled mightily in 2012, so Lewis's abilities in coverage will receive a warm welcome in New Orleans.
Although I know it is not, if the pre-season was something to completely base your expectations of off, every Saints' fan would be VERY worried about Lewis heading into the regular season. Regardless, Lewis led the league in pass breakups last year and surrendered just a 52,7% completion percentage when thrown at. If he can come close to that level of production his presence will be conducive to the success of the defense.
No. 12, Akiem Hicks:
Viewed as a "pure potential" pick, many draft analysts felt that the Saints drafted Hicks far too early. While I liked his athletic ability and potential, I'll admit I did not expect Hicks to play much at all in his first year. Not only did he play, but he shattered most peoples' expectations. Hicks was effective as both a run and pass defender, grading positively with Pro Football Focus in both areas en route to a +5.1 overall grade in limited time - very impressive. Although he didn't record a sack he still provided pressure on the QB often. Aside from Cam Jordan Hicks could very well be the most well rounded player on the Saints defensive line. He should be a force this year.
No. 11, Curtis Lofton:
When Curtis Lofton left the dark side and came to the New Orleans, he provided the Saints with something they had been missing for a while - a big, physical middle linebacker who could take on blocks and get to ball carriers. After a bit of a slow start Lofton picked things up as the season progressed and finished 2012 with 102 solo tackles. Lofton will need to continue to play the run well if the Saints defense wants to improve to being even just mediocre. He has the frame to be a successful 3-4 ILB, and although he often struggles in coverage he makes up for it by closing on run plays very quickly. It's not at all unrealistic for us to expect Lofton to top 100 solo tackles again.