The New Orleans Saints have done a lot of things right to start the first half of their season at 6-2. It didn’t start off that way, as the team’s 0-2 start certainly put fear in fans of another doom and gloom season, but this Sean Payton team is totally different in so many ways. A little bit of everything has helped the Saints win six straight, but arguably the defense has been the biggest reason. Here’s some of my awards for the black and goal at the midpoint of their 2017 season.
Offensive MVP: Alvin Kamara
The Saints offense is 2nd overall in the league behind the Patriots with 392.5 yards per game, while boasting the league’s 7th-highest rushing attack at 122.8 yards per game and 3rd-best passing attack at 269.8 yards/game. Their 6.14 yards per carry is ranked 3rd in the league behind the Chiefs and Falcons. While Mark Ingram (123 attempts, 541 yards, 4.4 average, 4 TDs) deserves a lot of credit and is well on pace for another 1,000-yard season (as well as Michael Thomas in the receiving department), it’s Alvin Kamara that has been the most impressive offensive weapon thus far this season.
Kamara’s 311 rushing yards and 6.0 yard average with 3 touchdowns on the ground is only equaled by his 341 receiving yards on 37 catches (9.2 average) and 2 touchdowns in the passing attack. Factoring in the 3,140 total yards of offense for Sean Payton and company, Kamara accounts for 21 percent at 658 yards.
When New Orleans traded a 2018 2nd Rounder to acquire Kamara, it was met with a good bit of mixed reactions. However, Kamara impressed from Day One, and ultimately his emergence in the offense made it easy for the Saints to offload Adrian Peterson. The team truly has a dual-threat in their backfield, which makes for an interesting thing to watch if the black and gold can get into the playoffs.
Honorable Mentions: Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram
Defensive MVP: Marshon Lattimore
Who would have thought the Saints would end up having a secondary to be feared? That’s what rookie Marshon Lattimore has helped provide for Dennis Allen’s defense. Currently, they’ve allowed just 210.5 passing yards/game (12th) through the first half of their season, which is leaps and bounds improvement over their bottom of the barrel rankings from the past three years.
Lattimore isn’t just good in coverage, he’s stellar. He’s earned Pro Football Focus’ top rookie honors with a 94.5 overall grade. Quite simply put, the Saints haven’t had that type of shut down presence for a long time, and it’s a huge reason they’re 6-2. It’s not solely because of Lattimore, but he has a huge hand in turning the defense around.
Honorable Mention: Cam Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro, A.J. Klein
Under Valued: Ryan Ramczyk
Given that virtually no one was in favor of taking the Wisconsin product to close out the first round of the draft, Ryan Ramczyk has certainly been a vital piece to the Saints puzzle. Ramczyk has filled in at left tackle and right tackle this season, but has assumed a more permanent spot taking over for Zach Strief. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramczyk has graded out as a top 10 tackle since then. If and when Strief returns to this season, it’s hard to envision the Saints taking Ramczyk out of the mix.
Honorable Mention: Dennis Allen, Ryan Nielsen, Mike Nolan, Thomas Morstead
Most Impressive: Alex Okafor
It’s tempting to go for another rookie here, but with the defensive turnaround it’s hard to ignore the work that’s gone into it. However, one of the things that Saints fans preached on was going out to get a defensive end that could compliment Cam Jordan, and free agency brought us Alex Okafor. The Saints could have used some of their high draft picks to land a Derek Barnett or Carl Lawson, but instead stood firm with what they had and gave Okafor the opportunity.
Through eight games, Okafor is second on the team in sacks (3.5), fourth in combined tackles (33), tied for third in tackles for loss (3), second in QB hits (6), and tied for first in forced fumbles (2). He’s consistently graded out as a top run defender, and is starting to be more threatening as a pass rusher.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Vaccaro, Ken Crawley
Most Disappointing: Willie Snead
The expectations for Snead heading into 2017 was to be a top wide receiver alongside Michael Thomas, and seemingly be a legit No. 2 threat. Unfortunately, it’s been anything but that. Snead was suspended the first three games for an offseason DUI in June, and then had to battle a hamstring injury. In three appearances this season, Snead had just one catch for 11 yards. Perhaps he’ll be a bigger part of the team’s offensive attack in the back half of the season, but it would appear Snead will miss out on a big pay day in 2018.
Dishonorable Mention: Stephone Anthony, Adrian Peterson (both were traded, obviously), Delvin Breaux