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Which New Orleans Saints players were X-Factors in 2015?

Prior to the preseason of 2015, I reviewed the Saints roster and picked out some players who I felt would be X-Factors during the season. Today I'll share what I thought they'd contribute during the season. Let's review my hits and misses!

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What's up Who Dats?! I'm comin' atcha today with a review of some New Orleans Saints players who I felt would bring a special element to the team that could decide games or impact the season in general. I consider certain players to be X-Factors, a player who can impact the outcome of a game with either the performance or presence. These players are usually more well-known members of a team and are seen as leaders, but the X-Factor role is not reserved for veterans.

I ran this series on my Google+ page using images of 6 players who appeared to be poised to impact games in 2015. Back in the summer I chose 3 offensive players and 3 defensive players. I'll present a review of what I considered to be their X-Factor and also how their seasons turned out. Since I hit (mostly) on all three offensive guys, let's start on that side of the ball!

Mark Ingram - Intensity/Fire

Here's what I thought:

"To many Saints fans, Ingram still has a lot to prove. I am not one of those fans. Up to this point, Mark has won a Heisman, contributed to a CFB national title, and aided in the Saints first ever road playoff win. In roughly 12 games in 2014, Ingram nearly accrued 1,000 rushing yards, all while becoming a better blocker and a part of the passing game. He's done quite a bit already. The biggest knock on Ingram has been his inability to avoid injury, but truth be told, he's been as durable as Pierre Thomas was as a Saint. Now, PT seemed to switch it on every day that he was in pads and Ingram needed to be fired up to get it in. Late in 2013, Mark turned on the intensity and ran like a madman."

"Looking into the near future, I foresee Ingram as a three-down running-back, with Khiry Robinson as a spell-back and Spiller as a change of pace/utility back. No longer looking over his shoulder, Ingram will run with confidence and intensity while bearing the load of the carries in 2015."

Here's what really happened:

Ingram finished his 2015 season on injured-reserve after only 12 appearances. His stat-line was pedestrian with 769 yards on 166 carries with 6 TDs and only one game over 100 yards rushing. Some of the downturn in production can be linked to the Saints struggling in games and playing catch-up often or being locked in shootouts. Surprisingly, Ingram contributed heavily to the passing game early in the season by nearly tripling his career high output with 405 yards on 50 catches. Mark showed versatility not seen from him since he joined the Saints. It doesn't go unnoticed that Ingram ran with intensity again and hopefully he'll last all of 2016.

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Brandin Cooks - Big Play Ability/Explosiveness

What I thought:

"Cooks makes the X-Factor list because he is an uncommon talent, as well as polished. The former Biletnikoff winner has proven his ability to make sensational catches and run picture perfect routes, but his speed allows him to be very creative in the open field. A sure-handed receiver with speedy feet is very dangerous in the hands of an offensive guru like Sean Payton and gadget plays aside, Cooks will be put in the best position to succeed. Unlike 2014, when Cooks was the only explosive player, 2015 brings the addition of running-back C.J. Spiller. This combination will prove deadly to opponents and lead to quite a few scores of 50+ yards."

"A testament to Cooks value is the fact that Brees actually locked on him in a few games (think week 1 Atlanta), when he should've looked elsewhere. This says Cooks has had his trust since training camp and Brees wanted to get him involved early. One thing we should not expect or desire from Cooks is an impact in the return game. His value as a WR is far greater than that as return man. Running back kicks is not simply about speed and moves, it requires a certain type of vision. Don't get me wrong, Cooks has all three, but the risk isn't worth the reward when other players can contribute instead, Jalen Saunders and Spiller come to mind. So, whether taking a slant 65 yards, a fly sweep 30+ yards, or going deep down the sideline, expect Cooks to tally 80+ catches and over 1000 yards. 10 touchdowns is also not out of the question."

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What really happened:

Cooks finished the season with 84 catches, 1,138 yards, and 9 TDs. After a slow start to the season, Cooks had 4-100+ yard receiving games and 2 multi-TD games as well. It is no coincidence that after Willie Snead established himself as a viable threat in the passing game, Cooks seemed to find a groove. At the start of 2015, Cooks was the only known threat for teams to focus on - Marques Colston wasn't as reliable, Brandon Coleman was learning, and Snead was unknown. Then in week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Cooks got going with 105 yards and a TD. Brandin has shown value in his ability and he is a play-maker, so I believe the X-Factor is a deserving tag for this dynamic player.

Drew Brees - Clutch/Tenacity

What I thought:

"The near-6 foot wonder plays much bigger than his stature week after week and is highly respected. The qualities that frustrate fans at times are the same ones that thrill the masses. Brees is so intense on GameDay, his facial expression and body language is undeniable. He is clearly a guy who hates to lose more than he loves winning. This also leads to his most brilliant plays - converting key first downs, throwing a dot and pinning the rock to a receiver for a TD, or leading a late game TD drive for the win. Dude gets it done!"

"You ever look at Drew's face on GameDay? His expression always makes me feel like 'damn, I'm glad that dude is leading my team!' Need a comparison? Look at Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, or Eli Manning during pregame - definitely not reassuring demeanors. Now think of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, very similar to Brees, intense competitors and consistent winners... Which leads to his other trait...

Clutch, he's pulled out some doozies in his time as a Saint. Two memorable games that come to mind are the game in 2009 against Miami that defined the season (in my opinion) and 2013 game against Tampa Bay. What you saw in each was Brees rally from behind and take over the game with pinpoint accuracy and leadership. There are many more, but the TB game was a reflection of the good and bad of Brees' best qualities. Drew had never been able to pull out a game after he'd thrown a pick-six, but on this day he wouldn't be denied. After stymying the Saints offense for much of the game, including intercepting Brees with one resulting in 6 points, the TB defense had no answer for The Cool Brees."

What really happened:

No doubt, Drew lived up to his X-Factor trait, again! In 15 games this past season, Brees passed for 4,870 yards, 32 TDs, and only 11 ints. I believe that its safe to say that if he hadn't sat out the game versus the Carolina Panthers, Brees would've topped 5,000 yards and added a couple more TDs. Brees' clutch ability was on full display against the New York Giants in week 8 when he answered every Giants score with one of his own. Brees finished the day 39/50 (78%) with 505 and 7 TDs and 2 Ints. Just a few weeks earlier, Brees went 33/41 (80.5%) and 2 TDs, the most important coming on an 80 yard strike to C.J. Spiller in OT to seal the victory. A testament to Drew's desire to be the best is the fact that after he was injured, he only took a week off and battled a plantar fascia ailment for the rest of the season. This is a guy you want leading the squad - a warrior! All signs point to a team-friendly extension being reached to keep Brees on the team and make cap room to get him some help on the roster.

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Stay tuned for the defensive X-Factor! As always, thanks for reading and Be Cool Who Dats!