Behind Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, the Saints Will Bounce Back Stronger

Even though Drew Brees is showing his age, the addition of pass-catching tight end Jared Cook spurs the offense, and Alvin Kamara shows why he is the NFL's most feared running back.
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The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he breaks down the New Orleans Saints, who finished 13–3 and first in the NFC South last year.

The Saints’ supporting cast lifts the offense. The arm of 40-year-old Drew Brees continues its gradual decline, but he compensates with unparalleled pocket mechanics and field-reading acumen. It helps that New Orleans has perhaps football’s best offensive line. Free agent signee Nick Easton is a sneakily athletic center and might hold off second-round rookie Erik McCoy from Texas A&M. Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford have the power to make the inside ground game go, while tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk can both pass-block on an island.

Free-agent signee Jared Cook gives even more dimension to the NFL’s most diverse passing game. The Saints have not had a mismatch-making tight end like this since Jimmy Graham. Cook’s ability to execute iso-routes on the weak side expands New Orleans’s aerial attack, and his presence creates better three-man route combinations for a receiving corps that, beyond new $100-million possession receiver Michael Thomas, is solid but unspectacular.

Alvin Kamara becomes an MVP candidate. The third-year star doesn’t win the award only because he plays about 20% fewer snaps than foundational backs like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, but people within the league describe Kamara as football’s most feared backfield weapon. His terrifying speed allows him to turn corners, while his balance helps him break tackles, including on inside runs, where he’s surprisingly effective. And with soft hands, quick feet and sharp body control, he can run a full route tree, adding vast dimension to New Orleans’s passing game, especially on the short side of the field, where Kamara often operates alongside Thomas.

The D-line decides the defense’s fate. New Orleans’ linebackers and defensive backs, though talented, can be streaky. The Saints need a strong four-man rush to hide those holes. The line, well-coached and on the rise, is led by brilliant, tireless nine-year veteran Cam Jordan, and it headlines a Dennis Allen defense that keeps offenses guessing with an ever-changing array of straightforward, easy-to-execute man and zone looks. In their previous 12 seasons under coach Sean Payton, the Saints have made the playoffs only once without a top-14 scoring defense, and that was in 2009, when they forced the second most turnovers.

Alex Anzalone breaks out. The third-year linebacker builds on his impressive late-season surge of 2018, injecting speed and aggression into New Orleans’s passing-down nickel package.

BOTTOM LINE: On paper, this team is better than it was last year, which means that anything short of a Super Bowl would be disappointing.

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