For as tough of a season the New Orleans Saints had in 2014, there were still a fair amount of bright spots. Specifically, it was the rookie class. With a large list of injuries happening to the Saints, there were more than a few players who stepped in to fill the void.
Second-year players have a trend to make a huge impact. As the team carries over fourteen second-year players into 2015, there are a handful that I believe will shine more than they did in 2014. Naturally, I’ll exclude Brandin Cooks from this list, as he’s a given for this list.
Jalen Saunders, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner
Jalen Saunders was a tremendous breath of fresh air for the Saints special teams unit in 2014. His play likely saved special teams coach Greg McMahon’s job, so to speak.
Saunders, who played college for the Oklahoma Sooners, bounced around three different clubs (Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks) before finding a permanent home with the black and gold on November 19, 2014. He was originally a fourth-round draft selection by the New York Jets.
His defining moment in 2014 was the final home game against the Atlanta Falcons. Saunders took the opening kickoff 99 yards, and got the Saints off to the best possible start in the game. Unfortunately, the team would lose horribly.
Saunders finished with 139 kick return yards on 3 chances, and 92 punt return yards on 8 attempts for the Saints. He excelled in both punt and kick returns in 2014, much more than Travaris Cadet ever did, and has a bright future ahead of him should he continue the great work in the return game.
Kasim Edebali, Outside Linebacker
As an undrafted rookie free agent from Boston College, Kasim Edebali made quite a few memorable plays for the Saints in 2014. Edebali played in all sixteen games for the team, and finished out with two sacks, a forced fumble, and 23 total tackles.
While the Saints desperately look for an outside edge rusher to line up opposite of Junior Galette during the offseason, Edebali is a player who could benefit tremendously from the addition of linebacker coach James Willis. It wasn’t that Edebali played bad. In fact, he appeared in 167 of the 1,021 defensive snaps in 2014.
Edebali has exhibited various pass rushing techniques, even taking a page from Junior Galette. When Galette missed snaps with an injury, Edebali was there to step in. He fared particularly well against the read-option. Should Galette miss time from the legal issues, or fall victim to any type of injury, Edebali is sure to step in and improve as an edge rusher.
Vinnie Sunseri, Safety
Before breaking his arm against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, Vinnie Sunseri was performing at a high level. His game against the 49ers was deemed his ‘breakout’ performance, as Sunseri made three solo tackles on special teams. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan spoke highly of Sunseri in training camp, saying that “We do like his progress. He takes coaching (well), and he’s obviously a coach’s kid. We’re excited about Vinnie.”
Set to turn 22 in September, Sunseri is a true gunner for the Saints special teams unit. While he isn’t likely to be a starting safety anytime soon for the black and gold, his energy and sure tackling will continue to make large impacts.
On a side note, he’s been pursuing his education at the University of Alabama during the offseason. He’s a business management major.
Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver
Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman was heralded as tremendous ‘steal’ after the draft concluded, and found a home with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent. However, Coleman struggled heavily in OTAs, training camp, and the preseason. He was even released on August 30th. Coleman was brought back to the practice squad, and was even promoted to the active roster the day after Christmas.
Coleman’s size of 6’6″, 225 pounds continues to draw all of the comparisons to Marques Colston. Many might recall that Colston has his fair share of drops early on as a rookie, but developed and flourished into arguably the best wide receiver the New Orleans Saints have had in franchise history.
Having had a year under his belt, coupled with an uncertain future of veteran Robert Meachem, spells a good opportunity for Coleman to put into consideration for a roster spot in 2015.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cornerback
If you’ve likely heard anything about Stanley Jean-Baptiste, it’s been claims of, ‘Why did the Saints waste a 2nd round draft pick on this guy?’, or ‘Why haven’t we seen this guy on the field this year? Is this guy really that bad to the point where he can’t get on the field over Corey White or Patrick Robinson?’.
I’m here to tell you that Jean-Baptiste will be making his presence felt in 2015. General manager Mickey Loomis publicly defended the selection after the season concluded. Loomis said, “First of all, he would not have been available in the fifth or sixth round. I think sometimes our expectations of draft picks, even high draft picks, are a little unrealistic.” Jean-Baptiste has had a year to ‘sit on the sidelines’ to learn, and with the addition of senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen, he’ll only get better.
The saying is that patience is a virtue. What you should hold onto is this:
"“At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he is today’s NFL corner. He’s a lot like Richard Sherman in that he’s a converted wide receiver, but he has the size of Brandon Browner. I think (New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan is going to turn him into a future All-Pro.” — Mike Mayock"
Excluding Brandin Cooks, which second-year player are you most excited about in 2015? Sound off below!
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