It goes without saying, but the NFL season can't get here fast enough. We're going through a dreaded lull period of the league year right now, which gives us a small moment to catch our breath before training camp gets here. The Saints are a somewhat mystery team going into 2021. Vegas odds give New Orleans around 9-9.5 wins for the new 17-game season, with some believing the team will just fail without Drew Brees at the helm.
It's a new era for Sean Payton's squad, and there's still a good nucleus the team has to compete. In order for the Saints to keep some postseason hopes in their immediate future, there's a lot of players who will need to step up to the plate and respond accordingly. Here's several who get my early vote ahead of training camp.
The news on Ruiz is promising so far, as several coaches have complimented the work the second-year guard has put in. It's no secret that Ruiz had his fair share of struggles as a rookie, and it was Erik McCoy's stellar play at center that really negated Ruiz playing there. He finished out as Pro Football Focus' 64th Overall guard out of 80 graded players. Perhaps new offensive line coach Brendan Nugent and a familiar face in Zach Strief could help elevate Ruiz's game.
Working out with Jameis Winston may have its advantages this season, and it would be a spectacular year for Smith to show his true potential. This is a contract year for the UCF product, and if that has taught us anything, it can typically bode well for Saints players.
Smith hasn't gone a full season for the Saints, and his highest receiving yardage came last year (448). He had 50 targets last season, hauling in a career-high 34 receptions with 4 touchdowns. He also accounted for 22 Saints first downs in 2020. We fully expect Michael Thomas to have a bounceback season, and the team didn't draft a receiver high (but did draft Kawaan Baker in the 7th) or go to the free agency pool for answers. They also didn't add any undrafted wide receivers post-draft. This has to be the year for Smith.
The departures of Jared Cook and Josh Hill make it easy to rely on the second-year tight end to make a huge impact in the offense. The Saints did add Nick Vannett to the team via free agency, while they look to convert Juwan Johnson from wide receiver and have Garrett Griffin, Ethan Wolf, and Dylan Soehner in the mix.
What bodes well for Trautman is a sampling from Winston's 2019 season. In that final year with the Bucs, Winston targeted Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard a combined 88 times. The 70 receptions between the two accounted for 18 percent of Winston's completions (380). Trautman has displayed some tools, and this could be a giant year for him.
Without Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown in the mix, there's a huge vacancy for the partner in crime to pair alongside David Onyemata on the interior line. Shy Tuttle looks to be the early benefactor here, but may split time with Malcolm Roach going into the new season. Tuttle already stamped his place in Saints history from Thanksgiving 2019 against the Falcons when he stiff-armed Matt Ryan into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf. He's one to keep an eye on in training camp.
These players deserve an honorable mention here as potential breakout candidates, but should be monitored throughout training camp and preseason action.
- Jameis Winston - Winston's not getting much love because of the bad taste left in everyone's mouth from his final year in Tampa. However, it's hard to not picture him as the starter going into the new season, and he could be in for a monster season under Sean Payton.
- Marquez Callaway - He's likely going in as the third wide receiver going into the season. He certainly made the most of his opportunities. Maybe that No. 12 magic has something to it.
- Deonte Harris - He could be primed for an even bigger role in the offense. If that happens, one would wonder if it would affect or cut into his return abilities. Remember that Kawaan Baker has a ton of return experience, which could make things interesting.
- Marcus Davenport - This could finally be the year we see Davenport live up to the expectations. As long as he stays focused on the field, then he could go a long way in 2020.
- Malcolm Roach - The second-year UDFA could have a larger role on the interior line. Where he fits in remains to be seen, but he should absolutely see more time on the defensive line.