With the bulk of the offseason over, we can now reasonably estimate what the 53-man roster for the New Orleans Saints will look like come Week 1. Free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft are taken care of, which means that it’s time to start looking ahead to OTAs and the preseason (presuming that either of those things happen).
The draft answered a lot of questions for the Saints, most notably what they would do about offensive line depth, would linebacker be addressed and is GM Mickey Loomis still compulsively trading up. However, it left quite a few questions unanswered as well.
Question 1: How much progression will we see from Tre’Quan Smith?
At this point, Smith appears to exist to catch record-breaking passes from Drew Brees — and that’s it. He has 69 catches in two seasons for 661 yards. While he’s shown flashes of big play ability, he definitely hasn’t lived up to it at all times. With Emmanuel Sanders added to the roster, New Orleans addressed wide receiver No. 2 opposite Michael Thomas. However, they need more out of Smith to be effective.
The Saints are at their best in a three-receiver system. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem made careers out of being situational receivers. If the New Orleans offense is going to reach its potential, it needs to get more out of Smith moving forward.
Question 2: How committed are the Saints to still having balance on offense?
This is a huge question. For the past three seasons, New Orleans has sought balance on offense. They moved away from that last year, going up to 60 percent passing from 54 percent in 2018, and 56 percent in 2017. While part of that was undoubtedly an injury-riddled Alvin Kamara and a Latavius Murray who was still adjusting to the offense, the retirement of Zach Line may skew that number even further.
The Saints may try to use Michael Burton to lessen the load on their running backs, but Line’s production as a lead blocker will be hard to replicate. They’ll have the offensive line to continue to be successful, but New Orleans is going to have to do a lot to ensure that teams still respect the running game enough to respect play action against them.
The drafting of Cesar Ruiz shows that continuing to shore up the front five hasn’t fallen by the wayside, but in a draft that saw very few picks for the Saints, it’s definitely something to pay attention to come the regular season.
Question 3: What in the world is the Saints’ future at quarterback?
This is, without question, the hardest question to answer. Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers made a statement by drafting Jordan Love with the 26th pick, they aren’t going to let their future fall by the wayside when Aaron Rodgers hangs it up or decides to play elsewhere. With Drew Brees basically playing on a season-to-season basis, the urgency to find a quarterback of the future is higher than it has been in ages for New Orleans.
But you wouldn’t know that by looking at how they’re approaching things. Teddy Bridgewater just walked to go to Carolina, and the Saints signed Jameis Winston as an insurance policy should something happen to Brees that causes him to miss games this season. Some more avid Saints fans have changed their tune on Winston in record-time, saying that his LASIK surgery will help or that it was the play calling in Tampa Bay. With that being said, a 30-interception quarterback may or may not be the team’s future, but there’s no denying he’s an unknown quantity as of now.
Behind Door No. 2, you have Taysom Hill and Tommy Stevens, two utility players who will undoubtedly see various positions throughout the season, and two players who it would frankly be wasteful to only play under center. It’s very likely that New Orleans didn’t find its quarterback of the future this year, but the future is approaching quickly, so the question of who will try to fill Brees’ shoes will certainly be an ongoing saga as he continues to play in the twilight of his illustrious career.
Question 4: Are the Saints content with their defensive back room?
The Saints took a few luxury picks in this year’s draft. Did they NEED a first-round offensive lineman? No. Did they NEED an inside linebacker? To be determined. Did they NEED a red zone tight end? Debatable. But one question that lingered leading up to the draft is “do the Saints NEED someone else at defensive back?”
The Saints have not left this position unattended this offseason. They re-signed Janoris Jenkins and P.J. Williams, and they have C.J. Gardner-Johnson as a defensive prowler. While another body could have been nice, it wasn’t a necessity.
This doesn’t preclude the Saints from making other moves, mind you. The Saints frequently tinker with their defensive backs throughout the season, so it’s not unheard of for them to try and bring someone else in mid-season if things aren’t working (see: Jenkins). However, they’re in a challenging spot, as they have a lot of bodies in that room, and a lot of streakiness. Marshon Lattimore is a staple, but it will be interesting to see if the Saints keep this defensive grouping throughout the season or continue to shuffle things overtime.
Question 5: What will the Saints’ front five look like on opening day?
Without question the most fascinating question on this list. New Orleans drafting Ruiz is a classic example of going best player available, but what’s the plan there? Is Larry Warford going to be traded? Will Erik McCoy be slid over to guard? Will Ruiz play guard? The only players who appear to not be up in the air are Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk (and Andrus Peat to a lesser degree, given the big extension the Saints signed him to this offseason).
McCoy was outstanding for New Orleans at center last year, and the Saints’ offensive line has been a point of pride the past three years. It’s good to get some competition in the room, and good teams should always be trying to get better, it was just surprising to see the Saints bolster an already-strong unit in the first round, particularly when on paper there were other positions of need.
Ruiz will add an interesting dynamic to the Saints this year, and his presence likely means we’ll be seeing some Senio Kelemete-style sets from the Saints this year, in which they use their sixth man to show some different looks on offense (which might serve to help answer Question 2). However, the only certainty is that the competition will be fierce on the interior line.
The Saints, on paper, are outrageously talented. They’ll have battles going on at nearly every position this season. That’s a great thing to have on a team, and it will serve to make them better. Most of these questions probably have answers we don’t know yet, but the Saints’ strategy in this draft was very clear: Quality over quantity.
Make no mistake, this team is looking to win games this year. If a Super Bowl run is in the cards, then drafting for depth is a great move. Time will tell if it pays off.