A host of players enter their second season for the Saints. Who is primed for the most improved season?
Overall, draft classes seldom make such an immediate impact, especially as a rookie. There are several gems that do shine through, and sometimes it’s not the ones who were taken in the early rounds. The 2012 Draft Class of the Saints addressed several offseason team needs. The only problem was the Saints did not draft until Round 3, and of the 5 picks, only 2 really made it through the course of the season. So, who will shock us in their second season with the Saints?
Let’s first re-visit the 2012 Draft Selections:
Round 3 (#89) – Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina
Round 4 (#122) – Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
Round 5 (#162) – Corey White, S, Samford
Round 6 (#179) – Andrew Tiller, G, Syracuse
Round 7 (#234) – Marcel Jones, T, Nebraska
Let’s also not forget we had 18 undrafted rookies, which included Travaris Cadet, Chris Givens, & Tyrunn Walker. We all know the impacts that Cadet brought to the team. However, for the sake of this particlular article, we’ll focus on just the draft class.
Hicks played in 14 games for the Saints in 2012. He contributed 20 combined tackles (10 solo), and forced a fumble against the Broncos. Now that the Saints have transitioned to the 3-4 scheme, it was announced that Hicks will be lined up as a defensive end, not nose tackle like some were originally thinking. This move may have came largely in part of the Saints drafting John Jenkins of Georgia, and giving Broderick Bunkley first cracks, as nose tackle was something he was familiar with during his time as a Bronco. Hicks will get a good bit of double teams as he lines up at end, you can definitely take that to the bank. Hicks is a very physical presence for the Saints, which Rob Ryan has got to love. I fully expect to hear his name multiple times over the course of the season, even if it does not show directly in the stat sheet.
Nick Toon, as we covered previously in the Wide Receiver Positional Previews breakdown, arguably could have the most upside, and most to prove, as he will immediately be in contention for a starting spot on the wide receiver depth chart. Toon is known more for being a possession receiver, and at 6’2”, he has Colston-like attributes that are very likeable. So far through OTAs, Toon has looked good, and very comfortable. One thing is for certain, you need someone like him to really step up with the loss of Devery Henderson.
Corey White found himself having to step up, especially with the injuries suffered in the secondary in 2012. White played in 10 games for the Saints, made 31 tackles, 3 pass defenses, and 1 interception (against the Falcons). He was ‘picked on’ a good bit by the opposition. White would be done in with a knee injury, landing on injured reserve on December 18th. With the exit of Johnny Patrick to the Chargers, it would look as though White would be able to battle it out with Jabari Greer & Patrick Robinson. However, with the addition of Keenan Lewis, it somewhat dismissed that. White will still look to land a role in the Nickel & Dime schemes, and see a lot more playing time in 2013.
As far as the other two, I touched on them at length in our Offensive Line Positional Previews. Tiller and Jones both landed on IR in the preseason sadly. With the exception of Left Tackle, the offensive line is set in stone as to who will start (de la Puente, Evans, Grubbs, Strief). This is no knock to Tiller, but we wouldn’t necessarily want him playing, as we would prefer Grubbs & Evans to stay healthy. As for Jones, he shouldn’t have to be called upon because of the Brown-Armstead battle. Both of these guys should focus on staying healthy, and learning from the vets.
If I have to vote for anyone at this point, it has to be Nick Toon. Sure, the Saints have a ton of weapons on offense, and the defense is making a change with Rob Ryan, but what has to be understood is Brees has the chemistry with Sproles, Colston, Moore, and Graham (who are usually the favorites if you will). Joe Morgan came on during the course of the season, and there’s nothing to take away from Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and newcomer veteran Ben Watson. When you factor all of this in, you know defenses will already have fits with guarding against these players, so a guy like Nick Toon (and Kenny Stills) will become important pieces that are called upon during each game. The cadence of the Saints offense relies on who Brees targets with the ball, and Nick Toon has more on his back than the others in my opinion. Toon is primed for huge year, and while it remains to be seen, he will arguably be the most watched.
So who is your vote for? Comment below and tell us why!