In most seasons over the past 15 or so years, you could pretty much pencil in the quarterback position group to be at or near the top of the totem pole when comes to ranking the nine positions on the New Orleans Saints.
However, with Drew Brees long gone and a chunk of veterans now gone from last year’s squad, things have changed quite a bit in that area. So with this piece, we’ll be ranking the non-special teams position groups from first to last based on talent and depth to figure out what the biggest strengths of this football team are.
1st - Offensive Line
Given this is the only position group on the team with two proven, elite players in it (Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk), this was a rather easy decision to put them first. Throw in Erik McCoy, who’s been a stud in his first few seasons, and that makes it even easier.
While both guard spots aren’t quite the sure things the other three starter spots are, Andrus Peat looked closer to average last year than in year’s past, and Cesar Ruiz should be expected to improve in his second season, given that he’s only 21 years of age.
Backup swing tackle and occasional guard James Hurst was also very good when he played last year. He was effective as the 6th O lineman in Jumbo packages, and he held his own at left tackle when Armstead got hurt, posting an 85.5 PFF pass block grade in 2020.
Will Clapp, Derrick Kelly and Ethan Greenidge are all young guys with something to prove, and Landon Young will be in that same boat soon.
The Saints offensive line is the anchor of the team right now, and should be for the foreseeable future.
2nd - Safety
Marcus Williams is a top five free safety in the NFL, with top-notch coverage ability and improved tackling. Malcom Jenkins is a solid, reliable veteran who can be trusted with any role from the strong safety position. And those two spots alone make this the second-best position group on the team, despite a lack of depth an the roster.
However, that lack of depth doesn’t even look as bad when you consider that slot corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson can step in to play safety in case of emergency. P.J. Williams has had his struggles, and we don’t really know about J.T. Gray when it comes to anything besides special teams.
This is a top-heavy group, but the top is good enough to carry it to a high rank.
3rd - Running Back
You could honestly make an argument for running back to be second just because of how special Alvin Kamara is. An MVP candidate and probably the best player on this team, he carries this group.
Latavius Murray is a solid backup who is secure with the ball, but isn’t going to get much more than what the line blocks for him most of the time. Ty Montgomery presents a versatile back and former receiver who is good insurance for Kamara, while Dwayne Washington is a special teams guy.
This position group is sound with an elite guy at the top.
4th - Defensive Line
When healthy last year, the case could’ve been made for this group to be higher. But with the departure of Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, as well as the health concerns of Marcus Davenport, it’s harder to justify at the moment.
Cameron Jordan also wasn’t quite the dominant pass rusher in 2020 that he’s been in previous years, with his lowest pressure total in a season since 2014 — even though he’s still very good Not saying he won’t bounce back in 2021, but with the sudden dip in pass rush productivity, it’s fair to take that into account here.
Nonetheless, he and David Onyemata’s presence as quality defenders keep them on the higher half of the list, despite a hole at nose tackle.
Rookie Payton Turner looks like he may have a bright future, and Shy Tuttle and Carl Granderson are solid contributors. Hopefully, Malcolm Roach can step up and improve in his second year to bolster the line, as well.
5th - Wide Receiver
Michael Thomas, and that’s about it. And don’t get me wrong, I love Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris. They’re both talented young guys who can hopefully develop into long-term starters. But I’ll have to see more before I consider them proven difference-makers.
Tre’Quan Smith has been about as average as it gets through three seasons, and he hasn’t stayed healthy for a full season yet.
And after those four names, there’s just not much there other than hoping Kawaan Baker makes a difference.
Michael Thomas is just elite when healthy, and that’s what keeps this group over the corners.
6th - Cornerback
Marshon Lattimore and C.J. Gardner-Johnson are above-average, but not elite, players who can make a positive difference on a defense. We all know what Lattimore is capable of when he locks in, but he’s just been too inconsistent over the past few years to be considered elite enough to carry this group over Mike Thomas and the receivers.
Patrick Robinson is an experienced and solid depth piece, and Paulson Adebo is a talented young playmaker who needs development.
Maybe a signing before the season starts bolsters this group a bit.
7th - Linebacker
Demario Davis is quite literally the only thing carrying this group from not being last. He’s not only the only linebacker who’s not a question mark in this group, but he’s just a flat-out elite player.
Other than him, though... It’s rough. Hopefully, Pete Werner can come in and be respectable at the weakside linebacker spot, or Zack Baun can take a big step in his development.
Past that, Kaden Elliss is really the only guy who’s gotten any playing time.
8th - Quarterback
I thought about putting this group last, but the fact that there are two QBs who have at least started multiple games and shown some things kept them from tanking all the way down.
Jameis Winston is pretty experienced, and has pretty much shown a large sample of good and a large sample of bad in his five years as a starter in Tampa Bay. He’s just a wild card.
Taysom Hill played okay during a pretty easy four-game stretch last year, and has obviously shown some flashes at various moments through the past few seasons. But to think he’s going to morph into a consistently-good QB any time soon seems a bit far-fetched.
And who knows about rookie Ian Book.
This entire group is a question mark. We’ll know more after the 2021 season.
9th - Tight End
Look, I like Adam Trautman as much as anybody. I think he has a chance to become a good player for this team with more playing time. But he can’t be the best player at his position quite yet without it being considered a below-average group.
With the losses of Jared Cook and Josh Hill, the only other guy who’s had legit starting snaps in his career is Nick Vannett. And he’s almost purely a blocker. Same with Garrett Griffin, except at a lower level.
This group needs a boost. Let’s hope Trautman lives up to the hype in 2021.
How would you rank these position groups? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.