Bringing back a series of pieces from the past three years, we’re going to check each position group on the New Orleans Saints and discuss how they improve the Saints’ chances of making a run in 2019. On to the part of the team that most goes under the radar, special teams!
To view previous parts, see below:
When the Saints special teams comes to mind, typically the first name that pops up in Thomas Morstead. Morstead was great when called upon (which wasn’t all too often) in 2018, leading the NFL in net punt yards with an average net of 43.2 yards per punt.
The other big name on special teams is kicker Wil Lutz, and Lutz had himself another stellar year as well. Lutz finished 2018 with the 4th-highest field goal percentage and had the 3rd-highest extra point conversion rate in the NFL (the only kicker to finish in the top 5 in both categories). In a year of kicking turmoil, Lutz was an asset for Sean Payton and the Saints offense.
On the other side of special teams, the punt and kick return games struggled. The Saints were 17th in the league in average kick return yards and were 30th in the league in average punt returns.
So here’s why they’re better in 2019:
Wil Lutz signed an extension to remain with the Saints this offseason as a restricted free agent. Morstead is still under contract for another four seasons. The kicking and punting games are set - not to mention Taysom Hill still serving as a gunner on returns and as a blocker/gadget player for punts.
The issue for the Saints, and the area where they could make the single-biggest improvement on the season, was in the punt return game. How do you improve on the a group that finished 30 out of 32 teams in average punt return yards? You sign one of the best in the NFL at returning punts.
Enter Marcus Sherels.
While the Saints averaged 5 yards per punt return (good for 30th overall as we said), Marcus Sherels averaged 12 yards per punt return himself for the Minnesota Vikings last year, which would have been good for 2nd overall in the NFL.
The addition of Sherels - and the removal of Tommy Lee-who will not be named - in the punt return game should pay immediate dividends for the Saints, and signing for one year and $1 million to come to New Orleans, he’s an absolute steal.