For about a four-year stretch, the New Orleans Saints were regarded as one of the NFL’s premier contenders for only a playoff berth, but also a spot in the Super Bowl. Now, with only one postseason appearance since 2011, time is running out on the once-revered Post-Hurricane Katrina regime. Despite uncertain futures, Drew Brees is still the constant on an ever-fluctuating roster. Earning his 10th Pro Bowl selection and passing for yet another 5,000-yard season, a woeful Saints team remains remotely competitive. The biggest on-field question mark, outside of health, is once again the defense. Placing 27th or worse four of the last five campaigns, Brees has gotten next to no help. If New Orleans wants to compete into January, these three defenders must carry their porous defensive unit.
Three New Orleans Saints Players Who Need to be Great in 2017
As the highly-touted defender from the 2016 draft class, Sheldon Rankins needs to have the best 2017 for the Saints, outside of Brees. After missing the first seven games of 2016, the Louisville standout finished his rookie season with 20 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. Given his productivity in limited snaps, critics and fans nationwide expect Rankins to be the “X-factor” for the Black and Gold. With Nick Fairley out for the year–and possibly the rest of his career–with major health concerns, it is even more crucial for him to be impactful. A great outcome would be Rankins following the campaign trend of 2013 Luke Kuechly and 2016 Vic Beasley. Meaning, he will represent the NFC South with a Pro Bowl nod after an excellent sophomore campaign. To think even more auspiciously, Rankins will develop into the next Gerald McCoy or Kawann Short in the division for the future.
Drafted in 2015 by New Orleans after the infamous Jimmy Graham trade, Stephone Anthony enjoyed a productive first year in the pros. Posting 112 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception, the Clemson product appeared to be the franchise’s next Jonathan Vilma. In year two, Anthony was moved to outside linebacker, and his play plummeted. Injuries didn’t help his case either as he was limited to only 16 tackles in 10 games. Outside of health, lack of play recognition and instincts has reportedly caused his early-career demise. Entering his third season with veterans Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein as newcomers, Anthony is in jeopardy of losing his roster spot. Whether it’s him playing out of position or not, it would behoove him to produce for the sake of both the Saints and his own professional career.
Former Canadian Football League star Delvin Breaux rounds out this all-defensive list. While Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore was the highlight of the Saints’ draft, Breaux is clearly the team’s best cornerback. Alike Rankins and Anthony, however, physical ailments have robbed Breaux of playing time. After being a pleasant surprise in 2015 (45 tackles, 19 passes defended and three interceptions), injuries to both the fibula and shoulder forced him to miss most of 2016. Eager to bounce back this season, he will desperately be needed to cover opposing weapons like Julio Jones, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Kelvin Benjamin.