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X-Factor Review: New Orleans Saints Defense

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In the preseason of 2015, I previewed the offensive and defensive players on the New Orleans Saints roster who I felt would be X-Factors. I released my picks on offense recently, now we get to the dirty picks on defense!

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

What's up Who Dats! Comin' atcha today with the second half of the X-Factor series. Here, we take a look at the defensive players who I previewed and how those forecast actually played out in 2015. Unfortunately, this was far more 'miss' than 'hit' as only one player even came close to what was expected. In fact, I'd even say the one 'hit' exceeded expectations. So without further delay, I'm going to find a few recipes for crow on Pinterest while you all have a read...

Brandon Browner - Cornerback

Here's what I Thought Would Happen:

Now a member of the New Orleans Saints, Browner is a part of a movement in the crescent city that is expected to represent a return to dominance. As evidenced by his resume, Browner is aggressive and can sometimes walk the line of legality in terms of NFL rules. After the 2014 season, which saw the previously 2nd ranked pass defense plummet to the bottom of the league, Browner is a welcome addition to a soft unit. In spite of an uptick in penalties, Brandon's physical presence will force opposing quarterbacks to actually make a decision about where to throw in 2015. With a healthy Keenan Lewis playing opposite the new enforcer, QBs may hold the ball a little longer and the sack numbers should climb. It's a simple formula, Lewis and Browner in press, with Delvin Breaux in the slot and Hau'oli Kikaha or Anthony Spencer coming of the edge - sounds like a Jairus Byrd INT or Cameron Jordan sack. Just as the absence of Jabari Greer created a hole in the secondary, Browner can be a plug, in addition to a vocal leader who will hold guys accountable. As a member of the two most recent SB champs, Browner will have this young defense's attention right away. Expect the 'No Fly Zone' to return to the N.O., led by Browner and Kenny Vaccaro.

Here's What Actually Happened:

Brandon Browner lived up to his physical reputation. In fact, he was so physical, he set the single season record for penalties on an individual player. So many things went wrong for Browner in 2015, but the most important thing was father time coming to collect. Browner had lucked up for a few seasons and benefited from a combination of better personnel around him and being in a scheme that fit his style and masked his deficiencies. In a Saints uniform, Browner was further exposed as a big, slow CB who was out-maneuvered and outplayed by younger, faster WRs week after week. The penalties are a direct product of Browner losing one-on-one match-ups and resorting to grabbing guys as they blew by him. We all know that he won't be asked back for another season in N.O., so it's safe to chalk his signing up as a failure. The only item with Browner that I hit on was physicality, however, it wasn't hard tackles and intimidation, it was hand-checking and jersey pulling. Boy, was I wrong about this guy...

Jairus Byrd - Free Safety

Here's What I Thought Would Happen:
Playing behind poor coverage linebackers and suspect cornerbacks possibly contributed to Byrd not living up to his ball-hawk potential last season. The addition of Brandon Browner and some young and hungry linebackers will most definitely allow Byrd to roam the depths of the secondary and make big plays. While I can only speculate as to the scheme that will be necessary to unleash Byrd's best ability, I am certain that as a single high safety, he will create turnovers. Byrd has a similar range to that of Seattle's Earl Thomas and covers ground like a bandit. Rob Ryan has scaled his playbook back to alleviate the snafus that plagued the secondary in 2014. This is now the perfect opportunity, aided by a full off-season and clean bill of health, for Byrd to fly freely! An enhanced pass rush and a simple scheme will lead to deep pass breakups and easy INTs for the Byrd-Man!

Here's What Actually Happened:

Byrd's 2015 participation tripled his 2014 campaign in New Orleans. After only appearing in 4 games the previous season, Byrd suited up for 13 games, starting 12 in 2015. Unfortunately, the hopes of high level success for the 56 million dollar man were dashed with sub-par performances in nearly every outing. As a Saint, Byrd has contributed 5 pass defended, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble. The biggest obstacle for Byrd is health, compounded by the struggle to live up to the hefty contract that he signed in 2014. It's possible that poor performance of the front seven has hurt Byrd's ability to freely roam the deep part of the secondary and make plays, might even say the scheme hurts him as well. But there will be no excuses, even covering Browner's ass is not an excuse. The Byrd-man has failed to soar in the Crescent City and the future does not look bright for the appearance of the Buffalo Bills version of Byrd. It seems that he only packed his bag of ailments when he flew south.

Stephone Anthony - Middle Linebacker

Here's What I Thought Would Happen:

Today's X-Factor player will probably be met with debate as he hasn't played a single professional snap. With that said, I believe Stephone Anthony will be a key contributor to the New Orleans Saints simplified defense in 2015. Now keep in mind, this spot was set for Junior Galette before he got injured and his Beach Brawl came to light. The only other Saints defensive player who I believe has an x-factor quality is Hao'uli Kikaha, who has a knack for getting sacks. However, his injury history has me a bit leery of him sustaining success. Don't get me wrong, Keenan Lewis, Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, and Kenny Vaccaro are very talented players, but none have that element that sets them apart from their peers. Anthony has that quality and at a young age.

Obviously with Galette out as an x-factor, I had to leave no stone un-turned and looked deeply at the roster to select a player. Vaccaro, Hicks, and Jordan have run hot and cold and don't necessarily do anything that screams 'watch this guy'. Lewis is so blue-collar, you can't put him in a group with Browner and Byrd, but Anthony belongs there. I've seen comparisons to Seattle's Bobby Wagner, a stellar compliment for Anthony for sure. Stephone is intelligent and instinctive at the same time, a special combination for a middle linebacker who is essentially the quarterback of most defenses. Anthony is also an aggressive athlete who doesn't mind throwing his weight around when attacking the ball. In 2014, despite having a capable leader in Curtis Lofton, the Saints D lacked heart. Now, the addition of Dannell Ellerbe and incumbent David Hawthorne stand in the way of Anthony becoming the leader he is destined to be. I personally anticipate him taking possession of the starting MLB role in preseason, but no later than week 4.

Here's What Actually Happened:

Well, I got one right! In 16 starts in his rookie season, Anthony posted 112 total tackles, 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. Anthony is also responsible for the first defensive score on a missed PAT in the same game in which he stripped a ball-carrier and returned the fumble for a touchdown. The best thing about Anthony is that he's young and can get better. Personally, I believe that he is good enough to overcome the poor coaching of LB Coach Joe Vitt. Based on his outstanding effort in 2015, Anthony could prove to be the centerpiece of a defense looking to improve in every aspect. While he's flawed in coverage, he does have high-grade ability and a strong football IQ. If he trust his instincts more going forward, his play has the potential to catapult him into the upper-class of MLBs. I definitely saw potential in this young man and confirmed my thoughts!

Well, you see what I thought, let me know how you felt about these players before the season and be honest! As always, Thanks for reading and Be Cool Who Dats!