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2014 NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints

by Photo of Sam Cohen

We talked to Canal Street Chronicles writer Jon Oliver about the 2014 Saints

2014 NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints

In this article…

The New Orleans Saints have been one of the premier teams in the NFL in recent seasons and this season should be no different. After a very successful year saw the Saints go 11-5 and beat a white-hot Eagles team in the playoffs, the team will look to go even further this year. The team is stacked with talent, as quarterback Drew Brees is still in the prime of his career at age 35 and tight end Jimmy Graham is, in one word, unstoppable. On defense, the Saints took a huge leap forward last year. Cameron Jordan cemented himself as one of the elite defenders in the NFL while safety Kenny Vaccaro showed why he was a top-15 selection in the 2013 draft.

During the offseason, the Saints even further improved their defense, adding top safety Jarius Byrd and future hall-of-famer Champ Bailey. While the offense didn't need many additions, Saints fans have to be excited to watch first-round pick wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who is a dynamite on the field. There is so much to look forward to in New Orleans and few are more locked into the Saints than Jon Oliver of Canal Street Chronicles. We spoke to Jon about the 2014 Saints.

The Saints defense was very improved last season after struggling for a few years. After signing a top safety in Jarius Byrd as well as future hall-of-fame cornerback Champ Bailey this offseason, is there a chance that this defense can become one of the top defensive units in the NFL?

After a terrible performance in 2012, the Saints defense last year was one of the top defensive units in the NFL. New Orleans was top 5 in multiple aspects of defense, not only in pure stats but in DVOA [Defense-adjusted Value Over Average]. And Rob Ryan managed to accomplish that with a defense that he didn't draft and with several key players missing due to injuries. This year, with additions like Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd, and with Victor Butler and others back from injury, the Saints defense should be at least as effective in 2014 as it was last year. So barring an insurmountable number of injuries, New Orleans should field another Top-5 defense this season.

One of the notable moves the team made during the offseason was trading Darren Sproles to the Eagles. How significant is his loss to the Saints?

This was a heartbreaking loss for most Saints fans. Not only is Darren Sproles someone for whom many defenses have tried to plan, and often failed, but he was a beloved figure among the Who Dat Nation. Even this past week, at training camp, I took part in and/or overheard multiple conversations in which the emotional impact of his loss was being discussed. I have never heard a Saints fan who didn't thoroughly enjoy watching him every time he stepped on the field, and many of us still wish him the best.

That said, he took several really rough hits early last year, and it seemed to impact the rest of his season. Add to that a fractured hand in October, and it was far more heartbreaking than surprising when the team decided to let him go. New Orleans has a crowded backfield, and Sean Payton seems intent on letting [Mark] Ingram prove himself, in addition to letting Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet step up. Early this year, Payton seemed to expect Cadet to step into the Sproles role, at least to some extent; and Travaris has done well during training camp. After seeing rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks perform in camp, I expect both Cooks and Cadet to split some of the plays that would have gone to Sproles, in addition to whatever else Payton draws up for them.

Brandin Cooks is a popular pick to win Rookie of the Year and many of his teammates have stated that he plays at a different speed than everyone else. What role do you see the talented 20-year-old receiver playing this year?

Cooks is impressing absolutely everyone this year. It's not unusual for fans and media to fawn over a 1st-round pick who is doing well. But while players are often respectfully positive about other teammates, guys on both offense and defense have been singing the praises of Brandin Cooks. He has shown himself to be equally adept at returns, screens, and longer routes.

Like Jimmy Graham, Brandin Cooks should be a matchup nightmare, though obviously for different reasons. I expect he will be used often, on screen plays and otherwise; though whether or not he is used for returns will likely be based on how much Sean Payton plans on using him on offense in any given game, weighed against how well Cadet and others are returning the ball.

Besides Cooks, are there any other rookies you see making a big impact in their first year?

Vinnie Sunseri has the potential to develop into a big part of the Saints defense. However, with the talent New Orleans currently has at safety, his impact will likely be limited this year. Linebacker Khairi Fortt has been doing well at camp and has the potential to make a difference at the position. And Sean Payton has always made it clear that a UDFA has the same chance to prove himself as a veteran or 1st-round pick; so I wouldn't be surprised to see someone who went undrafted this year become a known figure before the season is over.

However, Cooks is far and away the biggest standout of this year's rookies.

Cameron Jordan broke out in a big way last season. Which player do you believe has the best chance to breakout in 2014?

Travaris Cadet has a big upside as a runner, return man, and pass catcher. Although it is difficult to shine on a Saints offense with a loaded backfield and plenty of receiving talent, Cadet should get his chance to shine this year.

On defense, if Victor Butler can avoid injury, there is a good chance of him breaking out as a regular figure opposite Junior Galette this year.

What are your predictions for this loaded Saints team this season?

Barring catastrophic injuries, I expect the Saints to win the NFC South at 13-3 this year. As they face off against the AFC North and NFC North this year, the dome team from New Orleans will be tested in the elements. But there is enough talent on both the roster and the coaching staff to take the division.

For more from Jon Oliver, make sure to check out his articles for Canal Street Chronicles as well as Canal Street Chronicles and TheNobleJon on Twitter.

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