Thursday is the big day for the New Orleans Saints, as they take the field to start their training camp that’ll carry us for the next several weeks. Without question, when fans finally get to see their team in action, the familiar faces like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Cam Jordan, Mark Ingram, Kenny Vaccaro, and Adrian Peterson will get a lot of attention. However, who else should be on the radar?
For this year’s training camp, there are 10 Saints players I’d encourage you to pay attention to more than some of the others. Keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily about popularity or skill level, and you’re likely going to disagree on some, but here’s my picks:
The buzz is there surrounding Adrian Peterson, but fans may be more interested in seeing what their third-round, 67th overall pick brings to the table. Alvin Kamara is an explosive specimen, and looks to live up to the hype as a Darren Sproles-esque player. Kamara will be used as a pass-catching back and in the return game. Just getting the ball in his hands is a win, and that’s where he’ll prove to be most dangerous.
Without Nick Fairley, the Saints will need to find their defensive tackle answers from a mixture of second-year’s David Onyemata, third-year’s Tyeler Davison, and veteran Tony McDaniel. Onyemata’s rookie season had some flashes and struggles at times, and progressed more as the season went on. He’ll have every opportunity to shine at training camp, and could have some huge upside under new defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
In my mailbag from several days ago, I mentioned Warford as the player that came to mind when asked about the ‘off the radar’ player heading into this season.
On offense, I don’t believe Larry Warford is getting enough attention. He isn’t just some guard brought in off the street. He had big success with the Lions in both pass and run blocking, and I believe he’s very underrated. I’ve said he’s the younger version of Jahri Evans, which is a generous comparison. You couple that with him pairing up with Zach Strief on the right side, and that could be a real scary tandem. Plus, there’s also some potential nuggets for him to pickup with former Lions like Rafael Bush, Corey Fuller, and quarterback coach Joe Lombardi.
I’m intrigued to see how Warford impacts the running game, and I just have this vision of Kamara taking a screen pass with Warford and Zach Strief out in front. Even without that, the Saints will have a full compliment of running backs going into training camp, and Warford should open a good bit of holes to run through.
The undrafted rookie free agent turned plenty of heads at minicamp with his coverage skills, and is certainly someone fans will learn more about over the next several weeks. Maulet was strong in college at Memphis, and is definitely one of those UDFAs that could crack the roster if he keeps putting together some good tape. The good news for Maulet is that the secondary competition is wide open.
Ted Ginn Jr.
It goes without saying, Ted Ginn Jr. should have a huge role in the Saints offense in 2017. Whether or not he delivers on the lofty expectations is on him. A lot of emphasis is made on the dropped catches from Ginn over the years, and rightfully so. In the past two years, Sporting Charts credits the former Ohio State product with 15 total drops. Ginn’s five in 2016 ranked him 25th (5.3% drop rate), while his 10 were tied for second-most in 2015 (10.4% drop rate). I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before it happens, with Brees, but maybe Curtis Johnson has some good pointers for the veteran.
While I listed Anthony as a player that’s on the roster bubble entering training camp, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t turn things around. With Mike Nolan’s direction and support, the hope is that Anthony could evolve into a quality linebacker for the Saints. Nolan worked well with the Chargers linebackers in his lone season there, helping Manti Te’o turn in the best season of his career. So, maybe lightning can strike twice? With as many whiffs the team has had on draft picks over the past five years, here’s to hoping Anthony isn’t chalked up as another bust.
Coby Fleener’s first season in the Big Easy was mostly memorable for all the wrong reasons. Statistically speaking (50-631-3TD), it wasn’t bad. However, Fleener wasn’t a frequent target of Drew Brees, and the two weren’t always on the same page, as evident by the 50 receptions on 82 targets. For some perspective, the year before Brees and Benjamin Watson connected for 74 receptions on 109 targets. So, while the amount of misses were relative, the targets weren’t. Fleener’s had a season under his belt to hopefully learn more of the offense, and looks to have career bests this season.
There’s no secret that the Saints need an answer for a second pass rusher, and they didn’t elect to go land a pricey option on the free agent market. Instead, they went with Alex Okafor, and the decision not to nab a defensive end with any of their top picks inside the Top 50 further put the belief in him. He enters camp as ‘the guy’ opposite of Cameron Jordan, and we’re absolutely looking forward to seeing how he performs against Zach Strief.
Without Terron Armstead, there’s an open audition for protecting Drew Brees’ blind side. Ryan Ramczyk is an early favorite who’s expected to be in heavy contention for the spot. Him getting on the field and engaging in contact will be a big thing to watch, and if the rookie was looking for any sympathy - he won’t get any. First team reps at left tackle have to face off against Cam Jordan, which is probably the best way to learn. If Ramczyk can hold his own there, then the loss of Armstead will be easier to cope with.
The spotlight and buzz likely falls more on rookie Marshon Lattimore, but the pressure is arguably the most on Delvin Breaux. Breaux’s first season with the Saints (2015) was pretty stellar for a secondary that was wretched, but last year was rough. After being injured in the team’s home opener, Breaux made a comeback of sorts but still had lingering leg issues. He just didn’t look the same, and a shoulder injury eventually shut him down for the final part of the season. Fast forward through recovery, recuperation, and becoming a new father, and Breaux’s has said his confidence is at an all-time high and that he’s 200 percent. The Saints need their cornerbacks to just be mediocre to decent, so if Breaux plays at the level at which he’s claiming, then watch out.