Every year in June I compile the list of my top 10 Saints in terms of their value to the team going into that season. Compared to last year there are some significant changes, as always. There are five new faces on this list compared to last year, with five players remaining as holdovers. This is my eighth consecutive year doing this specific post and while so much has shifted year to year, Brees remains at the very top every time I’ve done this. It was very hard to leave some players off but with only 10 spots I had to be judicious. Leaving off Thomas Morstead was by far the hardest one this year – but injuries forced him to miss games and relinquish kickoff duties last season. He’s still an elite punter but unless he’s maximizing the value he brings to the team there’s just other players more valuable. Here is the list:
1. Drew Brees, QB: I don’t know how many more years we can count on him performing at this level – or even being a Saint – but his “bounce back” performance last season despite the injuries he suffered make it clear he’s still a very special player. If the Saints have any shot at the playoffs it’s because of him. (2015 pick was Drew Brees)
2. Cameron Jordan, DE: He’s an all around player good in all areas, run defense and pass rush alike. I hear his lack of explosiveness get called into question sometimes but here’s some food for thought: there were only 16 double digit sack guys last year and Jordan was one of them. That means, on average, only half the NFL teams have one double digit sack guy. I’d say the big extension was worth every penny. (2015 pick was Thomas Morstead)
3. Terron Armstead, T: We didn’t really get a chance to see how good he was last year because he was basically on one leg the entire season. Even still, he was dominant. If healthy, I think he vaults to #2 and he quite possibly could be #1 on this list very soon. His ceiling is that high. He has been banged up a good bit, though, so staying healthy is the one thing standing in the way of him reaching his full potential. (2015 pick was Max Unger)
4. Brandin Cooks, WR: I had him at #6 last year in what at the time felt like a bit of a leap of faith but he delivered. Now Cooks is unquestionably a top 5 player on the roster with his arrow pointing up (or sideways if he’s celebrating a big play). He seemed to really find his chemistry with Brees in the second half of last season and it’s exciting to think what they can do in a full year playing like that together. (2015 pick was Cameron Jordan)
5. Max Unger, C: I probably had him a little high last year but when you come in as return in a Jimmy Graham trade the expectations are high. I wouldn’t say he disappointed in his first season either, though. Unger is a very solid interior player and I’m glad the Saints have him. If the Saints are going to have success up front this season – clearly that’s with he and Armstead leading the way. (2015 pick was Keenan Lewis)
6. Mark Ingram, RB: He was #8 last year and he continues to move up. Ingram has really delivered and been solid the last two years. It’s been cool to see him develop into a capable all around back. He can run between the tackles, he can catch the ball, he can run guys over at the second level and he can block. I’m not sure you could really say half of those things with confidence when he first entered the league. He’s come a really long way, which is great to see. He’s got a decent shot at being the first 1,000 yard rushing back for the Saints since Deuce McAllister in 2006. (2015 pick was Brandin Cooks)
7. Delvin Breaux, CB: Who? Yes really. A year later he’s a top 10 player on the team. Hard to believe. Many of us were hopeful he’d pan out but none of us expected him to be this good. Now that he’s got a full NFL season under his belt it’s going to be interesting to see how he fares. But based on the injuries to Lewis the last two years I think it’s fair to say Breaux is now the Saints’ best corner. (2015 pick was Jahri Evans)
8. Kenny Vaccaro, S: He was really good as a rookie in 2013 and positively miserable as a 2nd year player in 2014 due to injuries. It’s nice to see him back on this list after taking a year off. His return to quality performance was sorely missed. If this defense is going to stand any chance at improving it’s with him on it and playing well. (2015 pick was Mark Ingram)
9. Stephone Anthony, LB: The other part of the Graham trade along with Unger. It’s nice to see both assets acquired on this list. Anthony was good last year but it’s going to be really exciting to see what he can do this season. Hopefully the addition of Laurinaitis will give him more freedom to play more instinctively. I’m expecting big things out of Anthony. (2015 pick was Junior Galette)
10. Coby Fleener, TE: I was hesitant to have him on this list without seeing him play a down for the team but given what the Saints invested in him – he needs to be a contributing force on this team. I can’t imagine the Saints would have given him that much unless they felt he could be very productive in this offense. Granted I thought the same of Spiller last season, but the contract is much bigger this time around. The Saints will give him every chance to be successful. (2015 pick was C. J. Spiller)
Honorable mentions: Thomas Morstead, Willie Snead, Keenan Lewis, James Laurinaitis, Hau’oli Kikaha, Zach Strief, Jairus Byrd, Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins.
Players that dropped from the top 10 this year: Thomas Morstead, Keenan Lewis, Jahri Evans (released), Junior Galette (released), C. J. Spiller.
How would your top 10 be different?