NFL Nation: Sean Payton
Matthew Berry ranks the 200 best fantasy football picks for 2013. The best fantasy player in the NFC South?
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesTampa Bay running back Doug Martin could be ready to deliver a monster fantasy season.
People tend to forget that Martin played his entire rookie season without guard Davin Joseph and about half of it without guard Carl Nicks. Put those two back in the middle of the line and it’s not hard to imagine Martin putting up numbers even better than he did in his first season.
Fantasy football tends to put a lot of value on running backs and Atlanta’s Steven Jackson also comes in with a high ranking. Berry put Jackson at No. 12.
Now, let’s leave it up to Berry to bring back up the spirits of those Saints fans that took a hit earlier when Pro Football Focus ranked Drew Brees No. 79 on its list of the NFL’s top 100 players. Berry has Brees at No. 15 overall and second among quarterbacks (behind only Aaron Rodgers).
Brees is always a good fantasy pick, but I think he could be better than usual this year. Coach Sean Payton had a full season off to come up with new wrinkles for his offense, and that can only help Brees’ numbers.
Berry also scored some points with New Orleans fans by rating Jimmy Graham as the league’s top tight end (No. 20 overall).
Some other NFC South players on Berry’s list:
- No. 25 Atlanta receiver Julio Jones
- No. 28 Atlanta receiver Roddy White
- No. 31 Carolina quarterback Cam Newton
- No. 33 Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson
- No. 45 New Orleans receiver Marques Colston
- No. 56 New Orleans running back Darren Sproles
- No. 57 Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez
- No. 59 Carolina receiver Steve Smith
- No. 64 Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan
- No. 76 New Orleans receiver Lance Moore
- No. 86 Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams
- No. 103 New Orleans running back Mark Ingram
- No. 104 Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart
- No. 110 Carolina tight end Greg Olsen
- No. 118 Atlanta running back Jacquizz Rodgers
- No. 141 Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman
- No. 144 New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas
- No. 164 Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams
- No. 174 Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell
- No. 191 Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant
Our voters mostly shrugged when asked to update their ballots.
No team moved more than three spots higher (Cardinals) or three spots lower (Cleveland Browns) in the rankings when John Clayton, Dan Graziano, Jamison Hensley and Ashley Fox joined me in casting ballots.
Teams made larger moves up and down individual ballots.
Clayton and I moved up the Cardinals at least seven spots to reflect the change from Ryan Lindley and John Skelton to Palmer, plus continued improvements to the offensive line. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets fell several spots on some ballots.
Overall, however, there wasn't a great deal of movement. We did have our disagreements. None stood out more to me than a couple involving Graziano, our blogging brother from the NFC East. He had the Saints significantly lower and the Vikings significantly higher than our other voters ranked those teams.
Dan isn't exactly buying playoff tickets in New Orleans simply because Sean Payton is returning to the Saints' sideline.
"The Saints gave up the most yards in league history in 2012," he explained. "I just think it's a much longer way back for that defense than people give it credit for. Not sure how Payton's return turns them from one of the worst defenses in the history of the sport into a playoff-caliber one in one offseason."
Fair enough. But what about that No. 8 ranking for the Christian Ponder-led Vikings? Everyone else ranked them 17th.
"I don't understand the rush to drop a 2012 playoff team that replaced Percy Harvin with Greg Jennings and just crushed the draft," Graziano said. "Why won't they be good again?"
Harvin would be the more dynamic receiver of the two, in my view. The Vikings arguably gave up too much for the 29th pick in the draft, acquired from New England. And it's debatable, at least in my mind, whether Adrian Peterson can carry the team every week the way he did down the stretch last season.
All things to discuss as the offseason continues. First, we take a closer look at the rankings with May fast approaching:
Falling (10): Cleveland Browns (-3), Buffalo Bills (-2), Chicago Bears (-2), Dallas Cowboys (-2), Detroit Lions (-2), New Orleans Saints (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1), Indianapolis Colts (-1), New England Patriots (-1), New York Jets (-1).
Rising (11): Arizona Cardinals (+3), Kansas City Chiefs (+2), New York Giants (+2), Tampa Bay Bucs (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Green Bay Packers (+1), Jacksonville Jaguars (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), Philadelphia Eagles (+1).
Unchanged (11): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans.
Deadlocked: We broke one tie. The Bears prevailed over the Saints at No. 13 based on previous ranking.
Like minds: One spot separated the highest and lowest votes for the Texans. Two votes separated highest and lowest votes for the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Titans, Browns and Jets.
Agree to disagree: Ten spots separated highest and lowest votes for the Saints, the largest gap for any team. At least seven spots separated highest and lowest votes for five other teams. A look at the teams generating the largest high-low disparities:
- Saints (10): Fox ranked the Saints 10th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Graziano ranked them 20th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
- Cardinals (9): Sando and Clayton 20th, Fox 29th.
- Vikings (9): Graziano eighth, every other voter 17th.
- Steelers (8): Clayton 10th, Fox 18th.
- Panthers (7): Hensley 18th, Clayton 25th.
- Cowboys 7: Graziano 17th, Hensley 24th.
Ranking the divisions: The NFC West remained the highest-ranked division with an 11.0 average ranking for its teams, up from 12.3 last time. Teams from the NFC North were second at 14.2, followed by the NFC South (14.6), AFC North (15.3), NFC East (17.8), AFC South (18.7), AFC West (19.4) and AFC East (21.3).
A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last season:
- Sando: Panthers (-6), Cowboys (-6), Browns (-6), Cardinals (+8).
- Clayton: Browns (-6), Cowboys (-6), Chiefs (+5), Cardinals (+7).
- Graziano: Bills (-9), Panthers (-6), Jets (-6), Eagles (+6), Chiefs (+8).
- Hensley: Vikings (+5), Ravens (+6).
- Fox: Jets (-5).
But I’m not so sure that’s the case. I think the Saints might be able to find prominent roles for all three safeties. Coach Sean Payton made it sound like Vaccaro could play several roles.
“He has versatility,’’ Payton said. “I think when you watch him play and you study game tape, he plays a lot of nickel because of the amount of spread offenses they saw in their league last year. There were a lot of snaps where he is down in the paint with two safeties behind him, covering down on the No. 2. One of the things that is attractive about this player is that he can do that and he’s got that versatility to play not only safety, but to play down over the slot. You saw a lot of evidence of that. In fact, we had to go back and get more snaps of true safety film on him, rather than nickel film. I think he’s versatile enough to play either one of the safety positions and certainly a guy that can handle some of the nickel.”
I know a lot of Saints fans are down on Harper and would like to see Vaccaro simply replace him. But I don’t think the Saints are ready to just let Harper go. If they wanted to get rid of him, they would have done it by the third day of the league year when $2.6 million of his base salary became guaranteed. If the Saints released Harper now, it would end up costing them cap space.
And I don’t think the Saints are ready to give up on Jenkins. He hasn’t blossomed into a star, but he still has upside. Vaccaro could get some safety work, but move to the nickel against slot receivers. The Saints can't be too confident in Patrick Robinson as their nickel back after he struggled last year.
I think the Saints still are trying to figure out how they’ll use Vaccaro. I think they also are still figuring out what his arrival means for Harper and Jenkins. There may be room for all three to have roles.
“We say the same thing every year: we’re going to create competition with everyone in our camps,’’ Payton said. “We felt like if he was available, we were getting an awfully good defensive football player to help our team. Now it will be up to him and us as coaches to get him up to speed along with everyone else. That kind of stuff will sort itself out.’’
“It’s changed, there is no question, because we are looking for different things and we are still trying to understand completely what [new defensive coordinator] Rob [Ryan] is looking for in a defensive player,’’ Loomis said. “It’s really the front seven that we are talking about here, but I think we have a really good handle on the type of player that he is looking for. We brought in a couple of guys from his team in Dallas in free agency and we have spent a lot of time talking to him about each of these college players that are draft eligible and how they would fit into our system.”
Loomis and coach Sean Payton have a history of drafting the best available player and that doesn’t always coincide with needs. But I think this draft could be different.
Even with their free-agent signings the Saints still need more players to fit Ryan’s scheme as he tries to overhaul a defense that ranked last in the NFL last season.
“We could line up and play today if we had to play, with a few practices,’’ Loomis said. “We’re just trying to add to that and improve. This draft is part of that process and, obviously, free agency was part of that process too, bringing in Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman and Keenan Lewis. We’ve got some elements. We have some expectations of some guys that we drafted last year, Akiem Hicks in particular, and then we are looking for good seasons from some of our veteran guys.”
There’s no question the Saints already have put some parts in place. But this defense is far from a finished product and this draft will be crucial. Even if there’s an offensive player the Saints really like at No. 15, I think they need to pass and get a defensive player who has a chance to be a difference maker.
Breakdown: After coming up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons will enter the 2013 season as a media darling. They’ll have five nationally televised games, including Sunday night games with the Patriots (Week 4) and at Green Bay (Week 14), Monday night games with the New York Jets (Week 5) and at San Francisco (Week 16), and a Thursday night game with New Orleans (Week 12). The Falcons will be under the microscope from the start, and that’s partly because they’ll open their season against the rival Saints in New Orleans in a game that will mark the official return of coach Sean Payton from a suspension. The Falcons are generally known as a dome team, and that’s a good thing. They will play 11 games indoors but could run into weather issues in late-season road games at Green Bay and San Francisco.
Complaint department: Team president Rich McKay chairs the NFL’s competition committee, but he apparently doesn’t have much influence with the schedule-makers. This will mark the fourth straight year the Falcons have opened their season on the road. The Falcons also have another quirk in their schedule. They play only one NFC South opponent after Thanksgiving, and that’s Carolina at the Georgia Dome in the regular-season finale.
Going international: The Falcons will make franchise history Dec. 1 when they play the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Falcons have made preseason appearances in Tokyo, but this will be the first time they’ve played outside the United States during the regular season.
Welcome to the NFL: The Cardinals and Bills both have first-time NFL head coaches. In his five seasons in Atlanta, Mike Smith is 11-0 against first-time head coaches.
Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Miami, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 7, N.Y. Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, New Orleans, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 23, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Saints may be coming off a losing season, but they still are going to get plenty of national attention. They’ll play four games in prime time, including two at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ schedule is tied for the second-hardest slate in the NFL (a .539 winning percentage by opponents in 2012). But the best news might be that coach Sean Payton will make his official return to the sideline following a one-year suspension in the opener against Atlanta at home. The Saints and Falcons are one of the league’s hottest rivalries (the Saints have won 11 of 14 meetings since 2006) and Payton’s return only adds another storyline. The key to New Orleans’ season might be the four-week stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. In that span, the Saints will host Dallas and San Francisco and then travel to Atlanta and Seattle.
Complaint department: Saints fans might call it a conspiracy by the NFL and they might be right. But the schedule makers have set up an Oct. 13 game at New England that could be historic. Tom Brady currently has a streak of 48 games with at least one touchdown pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees set the record (54). As long as Brady can keep the streak going, he’ll have a chance to tie Brees’ record against the Saints. That could give new coordinator Rob Ryan some material to motivate his defense for Brady.
Road warriors: The Saints are used to hitting the road. They’ve had to get out of New Orleans due to weather and Payton often has had his team practice elsewhere in the preseason. That experience might come in handy. The Saints have three separate times when they will have to play back-to-back games on the road. But the bright side is the Saints will play three of their first four games at home and they also will be home with Tampa Bay in the final week of the regular season.
Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 21, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
My thinking hasn’t changed at all. The Saints need a strong pass-rusher as they switch to the 3-4 scheme and Mingo and Jones each fit that profile.
But, as I get ready to make New Orleans’ first-round pick in next week’s blog network mock draft, I’m trying to prepare for all scenarios. And one scenario could be that Jones and Mingo both are off the board.
Georgia’s Alec Ogletree also has been tied to the Saints in some mock drafts. He’s an inside linebacker and a good one. The Saints have Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma at inside linebacker. However, Vilma might be nearing the end of his career and it might be time to look to the future.
If Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is available at No. 15, I’d have to consider him. The Saints already have Brodrick Bunkley, but they need all the help they can get for a run defense that was hideous last year.
There’s another spot on the defense that I’d also consider. That’s cornerback. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant would have to be considerations. I’m not sure the Saints can afford to count on Patrick Robinson as the third cornerback after Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer.
As much as the Saints need help on defense, I’m not completely ruling out a surprise. Sean Payton is an offensive coach. The Saints are a little thin at wide receiver beyond Marques Colston and Lance Moore. I’m not completely ruling out West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin.
Those are my thoughts on the Saints’ scenarios. Let’s hear what you have to say in the comments section below. And I’m more than open to alternative scenarios that I didn’t mention.
It all stems from the alleged Vicodin scandal in 2009 in which a former Saints security director claimed two high-ranking members of the coaching staff were helping themselves to the team’s supply of the painkiller. A settlement was reached between the team and the security director.
But the Post reports that the investigation still is open.
The Post also cites sources close to the situation that say federal authorities still are weighing the possibility of a large fine against the Saints for violating laws pertaining to the proper storage, control and dispensing of prescription drugs.
All this comes at a time when it appeared the Saints finally were putting last year's bounty scandal behind them. Coach Sean Payton has returned from a season-long suspension, stemming from the bounty scandal.
At the NFL owners meeting last month, Payton said the team’s situation at left tackle was something that kept him up a night. The Saints lost last year's starting left tackle, Jermon Bushrod, via free agency.
The Saints may have found a solution for that Thursday. The team just announced it has signed tackle Jason Smith to a one-year contract.
Smith was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft by the St. Louis Rams. He never quite lived up to his draft status in St. Louis and spent last season with the New York Jets.
But Smith has started 26 of 45 career games and has played both right and left tackle. In New Orleans, Smith probably immediately moves ahead of Charles Brown on the depth chart at left tackle.
Once upon a time, Smith was viewed as a guy that could be a special left tackle. It looks like he’ll have a chance for a fresh start in New Orleans.
Teams will bring in a bunch of prospects that they won’t end up drafting, simply because they’re doing their homework.
But there’s one visit going on Tuesday that has at least made me curious. The New Orleans Saints reportedly are hosting Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
The Saints have a glaring need at left tackle after the departure of Jermon Bushrod in free agency. Johnson would be a great fit, but the potential stumbling block in this scenario is that it’s likely he won’t be available when the Saints pick at No. 15.
In virtually every mock draft I’ve seen, Johnson is gone before No. 15, and he usually is in the top 10.
The fact the Saints have him in for a visit at least makes me wonder if they would consider trading up to get Johnson. It’s possible, but I’d say it’s a long shot.
The Saints might not have the means to make such a move. They’re without their second-round pick (as punishment for their bounty program). Also, the Saints haven’t placed a premium on their tackles in the Sean Payton era. They generally have used later picks (like Bushrod and Zach Strief) at tackle. Plus, there’s the fact that the Saints have some big needs on defense.
But the left tackle is the guy that protects Drew Brees’ blind side. Makes you wonder if the Saints might break from their routine and try to trade up for Johnson.
A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each NFC South team thus far this offseason:
Atlanta Falcons: Most of the attention has gone to the additions of running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. But the re-signing of safety William Moore might have been just as significant. Moore is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and is just hitting his prime. He should only continue to get better. He and free safety Thomas DeCoud have a chance to become one of the best safety tandems in the NFL.
Carolina Panthers: The salary cap has prevented the Panthers from making any significant moves in free agency. But they’ve been active in signing some role players. One addition who should be a nice fit is linebacker Chase Blackburn. New general manager Dave Gettleman knows him well from their time together with the New York Giants. The Panthers are set with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason as their starting linebackers. But Blackburn will give them a top-notch backup, which is important because Davis and Beason have had injuries in the past. He also is likely to be a regular on special teams.
New Orleans Saints: Most of the moves this offseason have been focused on the defensive side of the ball. But the Saints quietly made a move that should make a great offense even better when they signed veteran tight end Benjamin Watson. They already have one of the game’s best tight ends in Jimmy Graham. But Watson also is a good pass-catcher. Coach Sean Payton is an innovator, and I have no doubt he’s going to have a lot of sets in which he’ll use both tight ends to create nightmare matchups for opposing defenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The signing of safety Dashon Goldson was Tampa Bay’s biggest move of the offseason, but the Bucs have done a nice job of bringing in role players. One of them is running back Brian Leonard. He’s a jack of all trades and should fill the role as the third-down back. Leonard played for Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers. The Bucs are so confident in Leonard that they released D.J. Ware, who was the third-down back last year.
The exact time and date of the game have yet to be finalized, but it will be sometime between Aug. 8 and 11. The Saints also will be at home with Oakland in Week 2 (Aug. 15 to 19).
On Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. ET, the Saints will play a nationally televised game (on FOX) at Houston. The Saints will close their preseason at Miami on either Aug. 29 or 30. That will be the first time the Saints have been to Sun Life Stadium since winning Super Bowl XLIV.
They said he appeared more fit (probably a result of a fitness program that culminated with his running a half-marathon) and younger than he has looked in years. They said he looked relaxed and -- in the biggest news flash of all -- sounded almost humble at times.
"It's almost like Year 1," Payton said.
In some ways, it is Year 1 all over again. Payton is back from a season-long suspension stemming from the bounty scandal. It's a good thing he's fit and refreshed because he's facing a challenge almost as big as the one he so successfully took on when he first became the coach of the Saints in 2006.
Back then, the franchise, the city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A young hotshot who had made his name as an assistant with the Cowboys and Giants, Payton energized the Saints, and the team became a rallying point for the entire region.
You know the story of the electric return to the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. You know the story of how the Saints made it to the NFC Championship Game in Payton's first season and how they won the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history in his fourth year.
In the process, a die-hard fan base that had endured decades of disappointment came to expect big success on a regular basis.
Then along came the bounty scandal and the Saints traveled back in time. They went back to mediocrity and went 7-9 while putting a historically bad defense on the field.
"We found a way to get to 7-9 and that's where we are right now," Payton said. "Until we get a lot of that corrected, we've got a lot of work to do."
Although he's known around the league for his confidence (some would say arrogance), Payton wasn't beating his chest. He pulled off a miracle in New Orleans once and he knows an encore isn't going to be easy.
"What's dangerous is [saying], 'He's back and they're right back to being the old Saints,'" Payton said. "That’s a dangerous mindset to have. It's not real. We could turn around and win five games if we don't correct some things."
That's a very healthy and smart attitude to have because the Saints aren't the same team he was forced to walk away from just over a year ago. Things didn't work out well for Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator Payton hand-picked to replace Gregg Williams.
The Saints allowed more yards than any defense in history.
"In fairness to Steve, we never got to coach together," Payton said. "It was a difficult and probably unfair situation for Steve."
Fair or not, Spagnuolo was fired after last season and has been replaced by Rob Ryan, who will switch the base defense from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 front. Ryan faces a monumental task. Not only is he taking over a defense that was horrible last season, but he has to find a way to make a new scheme work when the Saints don't have much salary-cap room to bring in guys who will fit in his system.
But there's more than just a defense to fix. Even quarterback Drew Brees had a subpar (by his standards) 2012 season.
"His two greatest allies are a good defense and a decent, good running game," Payton said. "The quarterback's job description is entirely different. He's having to press and do things that his counterpart doesn't have to do. You get one-dimensional where you're not controlling the game."
The Saints have to get back to controlling games and Payton has to get back to controlling the Saints. As he watched his team from a distance last year, Payton said he felt like a parent who had left his child in the hands of a baby sitter.
"When you're away from it and you come back and the swing set is empty and there's dirty diapers in the garbage can that normally would be taken away each day, you wonder, 'How did this happen?' Payton said. "It's not one person's fault. It just happened."
And again, Payton would like to remind you that his mere presence isn't going to solve everything.
"I think the one thing we have to avoid is this perception that we'll be right back in the swing of things," Payton said.
It's true that Payton has to get used to a bunch of new players, and the coaching staff has had some turnover. Payton estimated that the Saints turn over 18 percent of the roster each year. He didn't get to know the new players from last season and he has to get to know the players that have been (and will be) added this year. That's nearly 40 percent of the roster.
"It's not been uncommon to walk the hallways and run into a player you haven't met yet," Payton said. "I'd equate that almost to a coach in the first year."
Maybe that's not such a bad spot to be in. Sure there's a ton of work to be done. But the last time Payton was a first-year coach, he turned a franchise around.
I wouldn't bet against him doing it again.
He said he’s losing sleep over who will rush the passer and who will play left tackle.
I get the feeling the Saints aren’t done bringing in outside linebackers. But at least they have some promising options there. Martez Wilson and Junior Galette, who have played defensive end, could prosper as outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme the Saints are switching to.
The bigger issue is left tackle. The Saints lost Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod to Chicago as a free agent. Although the Saints had to have known losing Bushrod was likely due to their salary-cap situation, there’s no obvious replacement on the roster.
Bryce Harris and Marcel Jones are young and their ceilings may not be that high. The best option currently on the roster might be Charles Brown, but he’s far from a sure thing and I don’t know that the Saints are ready to let him protect Drew Brees’ blind side.
A second-round pick in 2010, Brown never has lived up to his hype. That largely has been due to a series of injuries. Brown is recovering from a knee injury that brought a premature end to his 2012 season.
I think Brown will at least get a look as a possibility at left tackle, but the Saints would be wise to try to add someone with starting experience in free agency.
The Atlanta Falcons came in at No. 4. That’s down two spots from where the Falcons were in the final rankings for the 2012 season. Are the Falcons really a worse team than they were when they were No. 2 at the end of last season?
I don’t think so. I think their offense is markedly better with the arrival of running back Steven Jackson. Yes, they still need to upgrade their pass rush, but I think the Falcons might be a little bit better than No. 4. But, hey, they’re four spots ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl.
The other surprise is that the New Orleans Saints are No. 12. I don’t disagree with the ranking, but it’s a huge leap for the Saints. They’re up seven spots from where they were at the end of last season and I don’t think it’s just because they signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis. I think the voters are looking at the return of coach Sean Payton and assuming that will make the Saints a much better team, which is probably true.
There are no major surprises when it comes to the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re right about where you’d expect them to be.
The Panthers are No. 20, down two spots from the last rankings. If the Panthers had the cap room to do much of anything in free agency, they probably would be ranked higher.
The Buccaneers are No. 21 -- the same spot they finished last season in. The Bucs have added safety Dashon Goldson, which should help. But I think the voters want to see the Bucs improve at cornerback before giving them a better ranking.