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Saints vs. Vikings: Five Players to Watch

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The term "Revenge Game" has been thrown around to describe this match up. And no, we're not talking about former Saints and current Vikings kicker Kai Forbath.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints will finally play a game that counts in the standings when they travel north to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. There are multiple matchups that will determine the winner of this important season opener, which we will cover more closely over the weekend. Today, Canal Street Chronicles will look at a few individual Saints players that some extra spotlight will be on as they take the field for their 2017 opener.

Michael Thomas, WR

Thomas became the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver in the eyes of most when Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots this offseason. The truth is, by the end of 2016 Thomas was already the top target in Drew Brees' arsenal of weapons. His 92 receptions, 120 targets, and 9 receiving touchdowns last season were the best on the team, and he ranked 2nd with 1,137 yards. All marks were franchise records for a rookie, and earned Thomas a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team. He seems on the verge of putting his name among the elite receivers in the league, and will certainly be the top target in this year's New Orleans passing attack.

The Vikings possess a very solid secondary, with veteran Terrance Newman and former high draft picks Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackensie Alexander at cornerback and Pro Bowler Harrison Smith at safety. This week's news that wideout Willie Snead will be suspended for the season's first three games puts an even larger bullseye on Thomas. Many have suggested that increased defensive attention will result in a drop in his production from a year ago. If Thomas is to put his name alongside the likes of Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, etc. of elite receivers, then we should still see an increased production from him in 2017.

NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Williams, CB

Focus will be on the entire young Saints secondary all season long, but Williams is the top rated returning starter among the Saints cornerbacks. Despite his intriguing set of skills, we have seen Williams in just 6 quarters of action during his two years in the league. With starter Delvin Breaux shelved until at least mid-season due to leg surgery, and rookie No. 1 draft pick Marshon Lattimore still working his way up the depth chart, the initial top cornerback spot falls to Williams.

The Vikings don't have a spectacular receiving corps, but speedster Stefon Diggs can break a game open with big plays, Adam Thielen is a proven and reliable option, and Minnesota expects 2016 1st round pick Laquon Treadwell to be a factor in the offense this season. Viking quarterback Sam Bradford isn't exactly considered among the top echelon of quarterbacks in the league, but it will be up to Williams, Lattimore, and this young secondary to contain a pedestrian Minnesota passing attack. Hopefully creating a few game-changing turnovers in the process.

Ryan Ramczyk, LT

Ramczyk will be getting his 1st official NFL start. This spring's 32nd overall selection had a solid training camp, and looks like he has the tools to be a very good lineman. But he saw very little game action this preseason, and rookie tackles tend to struggle early in their career. Ramczyk held his own against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram when the Saints played the Chargers last month, certainly a good sign considering the rugged defensive line he will be facing in Minnesota, led by end Everson Griffin.

New Orleans reaffirmed some good news this week, by not putting star tackle Terron Armstead on the PUP or injured reserve to begin the year. Although that indicates that Armstead is well ahead of schedule to return from offseason shoulder surgery. Still, Armstead is expected to miss at least the team's first 4 games, leaving the rookie Ramczyk to protect the all important blindside of 38-year-old quarterback Drew Brees.

A.J. Klein, LB

The Saints defensive front 7 appeared to be the most improved area of the team this preseason. There are multiple players to keep an eye on during this game, and all season. Reliable veterans Cam Jordan and Craig Robertson, 2nd year defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, newcomer free agents Alex Okafor and Manti Te'o, and rookies Alex Anzalone and Al-Quadin Muhammad will all be vital to improving a defense that has been a glaring weak spot over the last few years.

Free agent signee A.J. Klein may provide the biggest impact of anyone within the New Orleans front seven. A backup to Luke Kuechly in Carolina for the last four seasons, the Saints expectations for Klein are to be an every down linebacker. He has the underrated athletic ability to make plays all over the field, and will shoulder part of the responsibility of covering Minnesota all star tight end Kyle Rudolph. Klein will spearhead a revamped New Orleans and athletic linebacking corps that has been arguably the team's biggest weakness in recent years.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson, RB

Everyone is anxious to see how much this future Hall of Fame running back has left. Peterson was a workhorse for 8 out of his 10 years in Minnesota, missing most of two years with injury or suspension. Many of those seasons Peterson was the only offense the Vikings had, resulting in a lot of hard mileage on the legs of a 32-year-old running back that has also had two major knee injuries in recent seasons.

We saw very little game action from him over the preseason, but it was definitely noteworthy how much attention he garnered from the Houston defense when he was on the field against the Texans two weeks ago. If Peterson is still able to show that he can threaten a defense, that will open things up even more for the other weapons on the Saints offense. The split between Peterson and the Vikings was mostly a mutual decision, according to both parties. Still, expect Peterson to be especially hyped up for this contest, and that tends to be infectious to an entire team. While it's doubtful that Peterson will be the main focal point for the 2017 Saints offense, he could see a large amount of touches in this contest.

The lights of a nationally televised season opener will shine brightly on both the Vikings and Saints. Which of these players are you most anxious to see perform on this season opener?

Poll

Which Saints player will you be watching the closest on Monday night?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Michael Thomas
    (123 votes)
  • 13%
    P.J. Williams
    (87 votes)
  • 12%
    Ryan Ramczyk
    (80 votes)
  • 14%
    A.J. Klein
    (97 votes)
  • 40%
    Adrian Peterson
    (262 votes)
649 votes total Vote Now