Every season, there are players who come out of nowhere and surprise fans, contributing to their team’s success more so than previously expected, based on past performance. Likewise, there are players who under-perform compared to assumed expectations.
Hence, the balance of season-to-season positive and negative regression. It’s what makes up rosters in the NFL every season. You can count on regression, in either form, like you can count on the sun to come down every evening.
The only hard part is figuring out beforehand which players are due for which type of regression. Last year, Demario Davis went from a solid player to a superstar linebacker. The year before that, Ken Crawley went from an up-and-coming corner to looking like the undrafted free agent he really was.
We spoke about the candidates for regression last month, but now let’s look on the bright side.
Who are some of the players on the Saints roster poised for breakout seasons in 2020?
This is an easy one. If Alex Anzalone can stay healthy, he might be the missing piece to the Saints defense, as I wrote about back in March.
A sure tackler and a shifty player in coverage, Anzalone is what a Mike linebacker next to Demario Davis should look like.
He presents the athleticism and play-recognition to play in the deep middle of the field in Cover 2 zone, a coverage the Saints deploy more often than most teams. He displays the closing speed to effectively man underneath zones and minimize gains on short routes.
He also possesses the speed and agility to chase guys down sideline-to-sideline on outside runs.
Due to a few shoulder injuries, the closest thing to a full season the former Florida Gator has displayed was in 2018, where he played well in his 487 regular season snaps. On those snaps, he posted an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 70.5 and only allowed 8.1 yards per reception on passes thrown to his coverage zone.
It may be a relatively small sample size, but that’s all we’ve got at this point. And what we’ve got is encouraging.
Obviously, the wild card here will be his health, but I’m willing to take a risk on the talent. If Anzalone can stay off injured reserve, look for a breakout year from him in 2020.
For some, this may be a bit confusing. Marshon Lattimore had a breakout year in 2017, and he’s already been established as a true no. 1 corner. Is he going to breakout again?
In short, yes.
Lattimore hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations he set for himself in his dominant rookie season, where he allowed career-lows in yards per catch allowed, catch rate allowed, yards allowed, catches allowed, and, of course, touchdowns allowed (0).
This isn’t to say he’s been bad in the past couple of seasons. There are teams out there who would commit highway robbery for the production Latt has churned out in 2018 and 2019, breaking up 16 passes and hauling in five picks.
He just hasn’t been a top-tier corner in those seasons. He’s been a top half-of-the-league corner, which is fine, but I think it’s safe to say he expects more out of himself. As do saints fans.
In 2019, Lattimore picked off one pass and allowed three touchdowns, after picking off nine passes next to two TDs allowed in the previous two seasons combined. His PFF coverage grade went from 87.9 his rookie year, to 75.8 in 2018 and 65.7 last year.
He simply has been getting beaten more often, as time goes on in his career.
Some of this can be attributed to a somewhat lackadaisical nature in some instances.
And part of it is because he has faced a continuous onslaught of very tough competition.
However, we all know what this man can do. It’s just a matter of getting the high-level play out of him consistently.
Lattimore is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and I’d expect him to be at the top of his game in 2020 if he wants a big payday. He’s more than capable of elite play, and I wouldn’t want to be the one who bets against him this upcoming year.
Okay, let’s just get it out there: I am not the biggest Andrus Peat fan. So this was tough for me to admit, but it just made too much sense. Hear me out.
The last two years for Peat have been pretty bad. I’m not even going to bring up the PFF grades, because we all know they’re atrocious and near the bottom of the league. But he’s allowed a lot of pressures, had a poor base in pass protection and has just ended up on the ground far too quickly, far too many times.
Given, he’s played through multiple injuries in that timespan, playing with a broken arm and a broken hand. Although, that’s been part of the problem: his health. With that being said, I didn’t think he showcased enough to earn the 5-year $57.5 million contract he agreed to in March.
BUT, with all of this on the table, I do think he is a candidate for some positive regression in 2020.
Part of this reasoning is simply that he can’t get much worse than what he put on tape in 2018 and 2019. There just weren’t enough positives to combat his vast array of negative plays.
He didn’t push people consistently enough in the run game and got bullied in pass pro too much. Whether this was due entirely to his injuries or just poor play in general, he needs to be better.
The good news is he has been better in the past. Peat’s first three years in the league were completely different than the past two.
While his PFF grades in ‘18 and ‘19 are horrid, they actually were at or above average from 2015-2017, posting in the 68-72 range in all three years. He wasn’t dominant, but he did his job in pass pro and moved well in the run game, as well as on screen passes.
This level of play you can live with from Peat.
Also, the timeline of his injury history seems to line up with his performance drop-off.
saw some chatter earlier calling Andrus Peat soft, which couldn't be further from the truth. dude has managed:— John Sigler (@john_siglerr) November 14, 2019
quad muscle injury
just terrible injury luck, which =/= being soft
Peat is a bit different than some in that his “breakout” year, to me, would be returning to average, because that’s all the Saints need from him. Yet that would require him to stay relatively healthy.
Similar to Alex Anzalone, assuming Peat will stay healthy in 2020 may not be the safest bet. But with the contract the Saints just dished out to him, they better hope he can. It’s possible they’ve gotten positive signals from their medical staff, encouraging them enough to go ahead and sign him when they did.
If this is the case, then Peat is as good a candidate as anyone to embark on a breakout tenure in 2020.
Which Saints do you think are due for breakout years? Be sure and let us know what you think in the comments! Also make sure to follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter @SaintsCSC, like us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. And of course, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.