This part of the summer is great if you are on vacation, live near a beach, love Major League Baseball, Wimbledon coverage, or the NBA Summer League. Not so much if you’re a die hard fan of the NFL. This is the time of year for navel gazing.
If you write for a blog like Canal Street Chronicles and stories are hard to come across in this, the deadest part of the year, your editor may come out with a list of ideas for things to write about. This article is about one such story idea that got me thinking, although in a negative mindset I really didn’t want to get into with so much riding on the Saints’ 2017 Season.
The story idea is based on the question “Which Saints player will regress in 2017?”
There are several candidates and one, who for me, stood out as the most likely. Regression can come in a variety of forms. It can be injury related, age related or based on new team dynamics.
Let’s take a look at the candidates for regression.
Mark Ingram: Ingram is coming off his first 1,000+ yard rushing season for the Saints and looks to be in his prime. But factors which would likely lead to him seeing diminished results in 2017 are the additions of Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara. Any regression we’d likely see with Ingram is purely based on him having a statistical drop off due to getting fewer touches. He’ll likely still be a major contributor and will more than likely repeat or better his yards per carry numbers from 2016. So, he’s not really someone you would say is headed for a regression of the type we’re looking for here.
Michael Thomas: Thomas had the best year ever for a Saints rookie receiver. However, he was playing a part in one of the best trio of receivers in the NFL. With Brandin Cooks gone, it’s likely more defenses will be able to key on him unless Ted Ginn Jr. really fits in nicely with the team’s offensive scheme. Though it’s possible Thomas could see fewer receiving yards in 2017, it won’t be due to a regression in play.
Kenny Vaccaro: Vaccaro had a standout 2015 season, but was on par for a slightly less effective 2016 campaign before being forced to miss the final four games of the season due to a suspension for the use of Adderall. But in a contract year and with him seeming to be determined to get back to form, Vaccaro should be better in 2017, not worse.
Drew Brees: According to most media outlets not based in New Orleans, the long time Saints’ signal caller has led the list of candidates for regression for the past five or six years. It’s becoming something of a joke as each year. Breesus is predicted to fall to earth and show himself to be merely human. Yet, each year he just keeps going out there and showing everyone outside the Big Easy just how much he has left in the tank. Who knows when he’ll finally start to show some rust but it’s not now.
So, who is it?
Zach Strief: Going into last season, I was riding the get rid of Zach Strief bandwagon harder than I was for any other player on the team (yes, including Jairus Byrd). 2015 was rough for Strief. The YouTube video of him getting tossed around like a doll and called out by J.J. Watt was the stuff of a Who Dat’s nightmares. Then, all Strief did in 2016 was go out and play better than he has at any point in his career, well enough to be named one of the top tackles in the NFL, right or left, by Pro Football Focus.
The question going into 2017 is which Strief will we see? Will it be the 2015 revolving door or the 2016 Great Wall of 64? As much as I hate to say it, I think Strief will inevitably show signs of regression in 2017. Playing quarterback at 40 isn’t such a stretch. For kickers and punters, it’s even easier. But an offensive lineman in the NFL puts stress on his body that doesn’t favor play past 35, and that’s a bar Strief is closing in on. He’ll be 34 in September.
The Saints brass obviously sense a potential decline or retirement, as well as evidenced by them pulling the trigger on Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd pick in this year’s NFL Draft. With Terron Armstead being out for most, if not all, of the season and Ramczyk likely being tasked to fill the left tackle position, there is a lot of pressure this year on Strief to play at his 2016 level. But time is the ultimate victor. Regardless of desire or tenacity or will to go on, no level of physical conditioning can outlast the rigors of playing in the trenches in the NFL.
There is no one in Who Dat Nation who wants to see Zach Strief end his career on a sour note. He’s been with the team since he was drafted in the 7th round out of Northwestern in 2006, he was part of the Super Bowl team in 2009, and he’s been the heart of the offensive line for several of those years. But odds are that 2016 was the pinnacle of his exceptional NFL career, and from that height there’s nowhere to go but down.
Roy Anderson is a Canal Street Chronicles contributor, resident of Pensacola, Florida and is a lifetime Who Dat. The former host of Locked on Saints now hosts the new Bleeding Black and Gold podcast currently available at Audioboom.com.