The New Orleans Saints are pegged to be a prime contender for the upcoming season. When analysts talk about the NFC, the Saints are usually ranked behind the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers as the conference favorites. In order to make a deep postseason run, there are several players who must elevate their game in 2014. Today, we’ll look at those players, in no particular order.
Brodrick Bunkley, Nose Tackle
It’s not an ideal situation losing your starting gig to a rookie. However, it happened to Brodrick Bunkley in 2013, as rookie John Jenkins took the majority of the snaps at nose tackle for the Saints. Compared to Jenkins, Bunkley is tremendously undersized in terms of weight (359-302 pounds). Bunkley was nearly non-existent on the stat sheet in the 248 defensive snaps (25.4%) he took last season. At 30, Bunkley is arguably nearing the end of his career. However, with the unknown impact Jenkins’ minor pectoral surgery will have, Bunkley needs to be ready to go in 2014.
Corey White, Cornerback
Okay, so let’s first say this. Corey White is a good cornerback. Everyone tends to get wrapped up in his ‘long plays’ given up last season, like the DeSean Jackson play against Philadelphia in the Wild Card playoff game. We all knew it was coming, after Keenan Lewis went out with a concussion. White is a great tackler, and despite your reservations, White finished out better than Jabari Greer in 2013. As per Pro Football Focus, White was targeted 15 more times than Jabari Greer, and only allowed one more touchdown, ten more receptions, and 14 more yards than Greer. The other thing White has going for him is that this all came in a full sixteen game season. Greer only played in ten games, as his season was cut short due to that gruesome ACL injury against the 49ers. The area where White needs to improve? Ball location. He could easily be the team’s nickel corner.
Nick Toon, Wide Receiver
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Nick Toon looked great in mini camp, again. That’s what we were told last season, and it just didn’t transpire on the field for Toon. The New Orleans Saints led the NFL in dropped pass percentage last season (a good thing) with only 2.3%. That’s 15 out of 644 targets (thanks Sporting Charts). As for Toon’s production, or lack thereof, he’d be targeted twelve times, drop two catches, and finish with four receptions on the year. The competition for the fourth through sixth wide receiver spots are wide open, and if Toon does indeed make the final roster, then he will have to elevate his game in 2014. In a New Orleans Saints offensive attack that is so potent, Toon has a glorious opportunity to shine.
Jahri Evans, Guard
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Jahri Evans is an all-pro, Pro Bowler, and arguably the best guard in New Orleans Saints history’. However, as I touched on in my article about Four Areas the 2014 New Orleans Saints Must Get Better In, Evans was the second most penalized offensive lineman on the team in offensive holding (Charles Brown took that honor with six holding penalties). Now, I’m not knocking Jahri Evans, but clearly there were some instances where we saw him get beat, and that doesn’t just happen. The addition of a familiar face, center Jonathan Goodwin, should elevate Evans’ play in 2014.
Mark Ingram, Running Back
Mark Ingram is an obvious choice. With Darren Sproles out of the picture, the Saints look to establish a strong one-two punch with Ingram and second-year running back, Khiry Robinson. After a sluggish start in the first two games, Ingram would be MIA for five straight games. When he returned, Ingram showed true flashes of brilliance, and finished the season with his highest rushing yard average in his career with 4.9 yards per carry. Ingram will rotate with Robinson on first and second downs, while Pierre Thomas should be the team’s permanent third down option. Ingram is in a contract year, and it is unclear as to whether the Saints plan to bring him back after this season. One thing is certain, that contract will make him motivated to play inspired.
Every single player on the 53-man roster plays a pivotal role in the successes or failures of each respective squad. For the Saints, each of these players has a key role with the Saints in one way, form, or fashion. Ultimately, it could be any of these players who decide the fate of the team. I like their odds to ‘make it happen’ this season.
Do you agree with this list? Who would you add? Let us know your thoughts!