Despite the home invasion that the New Orleans Saints suffered at the hands of the NFL in the NFC championship game when "losing" to the Los Angeles Rams 26-23 in overtime, the 2018 season was one to remember for Saints fans. Over the next couple weeks, we will recap the memorable campaign by grading the performance of the Saints position groups. We'll start with the man who has created a novel full of memories for fans and followers of this franchise.
During a week five Monday night home game against the Washington Redskins, quarterback Drew Brees etched his name at the top of yet another of many NFL records he owns. Late in the second quarter of the game in front of a national audience, Brees dropped back to pass and completed a perfectly placed strike to Tre'Quan Smith down the right sideline for a 62 yard touchdown and a 26-6 lead in an important conference matchup. The pass moved him ahead of Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yardage, one of the most hallowed marks in all of sports. Brees, who is also the league's all-time leader in career completions and completion percentage, is now just 20 touchdown passes away from passing Manning for the NFL career record in that category. Even though he is achieving these well-deserved marks due to sustained success over his 18-yr. career, the now 40 year old Brees showed in 2018 that he can still play at an elite level. He threw for 3,992 yards this season, snapping his NFL record of twelve straight years with over 4,000 passing yards, but threw for 32 touchdowns and a career low 5 interceptions. He riddled opposing defenses, completing a league best 74.4% of his passes, eclipsing his own NFL record.
Brees threw for over 300 yards six times this season, but only twice through the last nine games, including playoffs. Part of the reason for the drop in production was that he was surrounded with an effectively balanced attack. His 509 passing attempts were his fewest in his thirteen years with the Saints. Brees struggled a bit with his deep ball late in the season however, perhaps due to some pass protection issues or a series of nagging injuries, but the shortcoming was clear. Still, the future Hall of Famer retains the ability to skillfully complete most throws, and continues to process defenses as well as anyone that's ever played. Brees remains one of the most feared quarterbacks in the game.
New Orleans traded a 3rd round draft pick to the New York Jets late in the summer for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The 26-yr. old Bridgewater saw mop-up duty in a few games and started the regular season finale, where he completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent this spring, but the Saints may attempt to re-sign him at a reasonable price, in hopes that he could be the eventual replacement for Brees. He has two seasons of starting experience, good mobility, solid arm strength, and the team's coaching staff seemed impressed at Bridgwater's ability to pick up the playbook.
Taysom Hill is listed as a quarterback, but he is in fact the swiss army knife in the New Orleans offense. He attempted just 7 passes during the regular season, completing three, for 64 yards and an interception. Hill was often used as a runner from the wildcat formation, although later in the year also used as an H-back. He ran for 196 yards and two scores during the regular season, and caught a touchdown pass during the NFC championship game. Hill is even more valuable to the team as a special teams player. His athleticism shines on kick coverage, he has had some success as a kick returner, and has provided a number of momentum changing plays during the season. Hill blocked a punt during the Saints week 14 victory at Tampa to fuel a comeback, and a fake punt execution by Hill on a key gamble in the divisional playoffs allowed the Saints to turn the game around on route to a postseason win against Philadelphia. Make no mistake; Taysom Hill's future is not at the quarterback position, but he is a key gadget in the Saints offensive and special teams arsenal.
Brees has already announced that he will return for at least the final year of his contract. Brees has proven that he is still a championship caliber quarterback, and he is still the heart and soul of his franchise. This was especially evident when Brees willed his team to a stirring week 3 road comeback against division rival Atlanta. The question of how long before a steep decline in his play remains however, which coincides with the championship window for these New Orleans Saints.
QUARTERBACK GRADE = B+
How would you grade the Saints quarterback position in 2018?
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