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Saints Nation: 5 Up and Coming Saints Players to Watch in 2011

Every year I try to identify 5 young players on the roster that I think seem poised for a prominent role and breakout season. I need to make amends for the atrocious piece I did last year which did not pan out well at all. Of the 5 guys I picked that were poised to have a breakout year, only one (Garrett Hartley) had what most of us would deem an acceptable season… although even he had struggles. Two of the five ended up on IR before the season even started (Hamilton, Casillas), one didn’t even make the team (Rod Harper) and one regressed significantly from the previous year (Hargrove). Hopefully this year’s installment won’t doom the players I name!

Here’s my 5 player watch list for 2011:

5. DE Junior Galette: I was so pumped to hopefully see Galette play last season after the monster preseason he had that ultimately cost Bobby McCray his job. Only, after Galette sent McCray packing he never saw the field in real games. The few times he did, he went remarkably unnoticed. Galette’s main strength was the Dwight Freeney like speed off the edge that in theory should make him a devastating pass rusher. We never saw that after the preseason, though, and a guy many of us were really excited about ended up a flash in the pan. It didn’t help that the staff barely trusted him in almost any situation last year. In year 2 I fully expect Galette to get more chances, develop his game, see the field more, and make plays.

4. HB Mark Ingram: This may be obvious to most of you, but I truly believe Ingram will make an immediate impact on the team. By season’s end I fully expect him to lead the team in rushing yards ahead of both Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory. I could be dead wrong there, but I just have the feeling the Saints will ease Ivory and PT back into duty as they nurse their offseason surgeries and progress through rehab. That will mean leaning more heavily on the rookie early on, and I believe he will impress from minute one. He is that good.

3. LB Jonathan Casillas: I’m terrified to put him on this list again because I fear this may be the kiss of death in ruining another promising season for him. If he can stay healthy, though, the coaching staff loves his potential. He could start and make an immediate impact. Here’s to hoping he can turn his career around this season. He’s a really promising player if he can avoid major injury again.

2. WR Adrian Arrington: that 7 catch 79 yard performance was very impressive, as was Arrington’s team leading preseason performance. Despite never really getting a chance, Arrington proved last year that he was ready to step into a more consistent role. We’re still not sure if the Saints will keep Devery Henderson or be able to re-sign Lance Moore. Arrington is hoping to step into an opening spot on the team that either of their players could afford him. If they both come back, Arrington will have to beat them out. Based on Henderson’s performance last year, it may be time he got his shot. Arrington is 25 now and not getting any younger. He’s been a pet project for long enough so this is a make it or break it year for Arrington.

1. TE Jimmy Graham (pictured): Graham caught 31 passes last season and 5 touchdowns in what most everyone considered an incredibly impressive rookie season. Jeremy Shockey’s release this offseason communicated everything we need to know about what the coaching staff thinks of this kid. The starting job is his for the taking now and with the increase in reps on offense Drew Brees is only going to look his way more often. Let’s not forget the kind of numbers Antonio Gates put up with Brees as his quarterback. If Graham can stay healthy, he’ll be headed to the Pro Bowl. Mark my words. He’s going to be a dominant NFL player in a hurry.