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Jameis Winston the Saints biggest X-factor in 2021

The range of outcomes is super wide.

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Having a Hall of Famer at quarterback usually makes the quarterback position a “strength” for you team. Those days are gone for the New Orleans Saints. Instead, when ESPN recently ranked all 32 NFL teams (Insider required) and named the biggest strength, biggest weakness, and X-factor for each team, “quarterback” went from a strength in 2020 to an X-factor in 2021:

X factor for 2021: Jameis Winston passed for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions the last time he had a starting quarterback job. That’s about as X factor as it gets. It will be interesting to see not only how coach Sean Payton integrates both Winston and Taysom Hill into this offense but also how the passing offense evolves with Winston as the projected starter. Winston led all qualifying passers in average depth of target (10.8 yards downfield) in his five seasons with the Buccaneers. Over that same stretch, the Saints’ offense ranked 32nd in aDOT (7.5 yards).

For the Saints, their biggest strength was the unit protecting their quarterback:

Biggest strength: Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk form the league’s top returning tackle duo. Both players play an integral role in New Orleans’ rushing and passing attack. Over the past four seasons, no team in the NFL has had a higher conversion rate on runs off left or right tackle than the Saints (29.3%). Armstead and Ramczyk rank first and seventh, respectively, among all tackles in pressure rate allowed over that same time frame. It’s difficult for an offensive line to fail with that kind of play at the tackle position.

The team’s biggest weakness is the group of players who will be catching passes from their quarterback:

Biggest weakness: The receiving depth behind Michael Thomas will likely mean that he will see 2019 levels of target share. In that 2019 season, Thomas single-handedly recorded over 50% of the team’s receptions and receiving yards coming from the wide receiver and tight end positions — a statistical outlier when comparing across the remainder of the NFL. Secondary options headlined by Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Adam Trautman mean a similar performance may be necessary this season.

All in all, the Saints came in 18th in ESPN’s list, the second-best ranking in the NFC South, with Tampa Bay, the defending Super Bowl champs first. The rival Atlanta Falcons came in 25th, with the Carolina Panthers two spots back at 27th.

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