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Saints Game Balls for the 2021 Season

Several New Orleans Saints players still had standout campaigns in the 2021-22 season.
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The New Orleans Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. They dealt with a never-ending string of injuries and several other obstacles from the beginning that would have derailed most teams by mid-season.

However, the Saints persevered and finished with a 9-8 record. They were just a choke job from the Los Angeles Rams away from sneaking into the postseason.

Those injuries were mainly on the offensive side of the ball. New Orleans finished with by far the lowest production in the 16-year tenure of head coach Sean Payton.

The offseason retirement of QB Drew Brees, losing WR Michael Thomas and K Wil Lutz for the year, a battered offensive line, a season-ending injury to QB Jameis Winston, and an alarming lack of talent at the receiver spot crippled the offense.

The Saints defense led the team in 2021. The unit ranked 4th in points allowed, 7th in total yardage permitted, 4th against the run, and held top-five spots in several other categories. Early season stumbles like giving up over 300 yards to mediocre quarterbacks like Daniel Jones of the Giants, and Carolina's Sam Darnold led to a rocky start.

The defense was still worlds ahead of its 28th ranked offensive counterpart. My season-ending game balls reflect the New Orleans Saints' top performers for the 2021-22 NFL season.

ALVIN KAMARA, RB

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball past Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (54). Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball past Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (54). Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Versatile RB Alvin Kamara carried the offense most of the year. Kamara led the team in rushing with 898 yards and scored four touchdowns. He had three outings of over 100 yards on the ground and three more with over 80 yards.

Despite missing four games with a knee injury, Kamara led his team with 47 receptions, resulting in 439 yards and five scores. He had the team's best receiving game of the year, catching ten passes for 128 yards in a Week 7 win at Seattle.

Kamara had a difficult time getting into open space all season. He averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per rush. His reception totals and receiving yardage were also by far the worst of his five-year career.

Despite wideouts' development, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harty, Kamara was often still the only viable offensive threat. This is for a team with a patchwork offensive line and used four different quarterbacks during the year.

CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON, S

New Orleans Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) and Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady during a 9-0 Saints win on Sunday Night Football. Credit: Nola.com

New Orleans Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) and Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady during a 9-0 Saints win on Sunday Night Football. Credit: Nola.com

The defense's version of Kamara for 2021 was Gardner-Johnson.  He is a playmaker from everywhere along with the defensive formation. He got off to a fairly rocky start to the year, then missed four games with a foot injury. However, he rebounded to have the best season of his three-year career.

Gardner-Johnson tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions and had 2 sacks and 7 pressures. All three were career best marks despite playing in just 12 contests. He also broke up 7 passes and had 4 tackles for loss among 46 total stops.

The 24-year-old Gardner-Johnson provided outstanding coverage in the slot and was underrated as an outside corner. When targeted, he allowed a 63.2% completion rate, locking on to bigger tight ends and some of the league's better wideouts.

Despite his 5'11" and 210 lb. frame, Gardner-Johnson was also a force near the line of scrimmage. He was a terrific tackler for the fourth-ranked run defense and provided constant disruption as a blitzer.

An aggressive defender, Gardner-Johnson was an emotional spark for one of the league's best units. The Saints had a 9-3 record in games he played.

MARSHON LATTIMORE, CB

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Washington receiver Terry McLaurin (17). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY 

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Washington receiver Terry McLaurin (17). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY 

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Lattimore strengthened his status as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in 2021. The fifth-year corner earned his fourth Pro Bowl bid and continued to blanket the league's best wideouts one on one.

After starting the year off by stifling Packers Pro Bowl WR Davante Adams, the 25-year-old Lattimore earned a lucrative contract extension. He also suffered a broken hand in that season-opening rout of Green Bay. He'd have surgery on his hand but would miss just one outing.

Lattimore wound up with three interceptions, tying for the team lead, and was among the league leaders with 19 passes broken up. He allowed only 57.4% completion percentage when targeted, despite shadowing the NFL's top receivers.

Lattimore is more than just a standout cover corner. He's also an outstanding open-field tackler who provides excellent run support along the edge.

Pro Bowl wideouts, Devante Adams, Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Mike Evans, were completely shut down by the Saints secondary. Lattimore was the one primarily responsible for making them irrelevant. Those abilities allow the rest of the New Orleans defense to be more aggressive in pass rush and coverage packages.

DEMARIO DAVIS, LB

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) runs down Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33). Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) runs down Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33). Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being snubbed in Pro Bowl voting again, Davis earned his third-straight All-Pro honor. One of the NFL's best all-around defensive players, he was the leader on one of the league's best defenses.

In his fourth year with the Saints, Davis continued to be the model of top-tier consistency. He tallied over 100 tackles for the fifth consecutive season. It was his ninth straight year with at least 90 tackles.

More than just a tackling machine, the 33-year-old linebacker continues to make plays all over the field in every capacity. He has elite diagnostic skills and an explosion to the ball carrier to make plays in the backfield. His 13 tackles for loss were tied for the team lead.

Davis has the athleticism to provide excellent coverage on tight ends and track-down backs in the open field. He's also a disruptive blitzer, recording three sacks and 10 QB hits.

CAMERON JORDAN, DE

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (12). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (12). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

The 32-year-old Jordan started his 11th NFL season quietly and was unfairly criticized in some circles. He ended the campaign on a tear, representing a potential future Hall of Famer.

Jordan didn't record a sack over the first five weeks of the year. However, he still had 8 QB hits and three tackles for loss over that span. Over the last four contests, he had an eye-popping 8.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Jordan led the Saints with 12.5 sacks and 33 pressures while tying for the team lead with 13 tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles and batted down six passes. It was the fourth time in the last five years that Jordan had double-digit sack totals and the sixth such time in his career.

One of the league's best all-around edge players, Jordan was exemplary against the run. He and fellow DE Marcus Davenport (9 sacks, 20 pressures, three tackles for loss) were a nearly unblockable tandem for opponents down the stretch.

Davenport, LB Kwon Alexander, FS Marcus Williams, and rookie CB Paulson Adebo also had solid seasons for the defense. It was a deep unit that played championship-caliber football for most of the year.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by linebacker Demario Davis (56), safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (94). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by linebacker Demario Davis (56), safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (94). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the season fell short of expectations, head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and the entire staff shined brightly. They and the Saints veteran leadership kept the squad focused and motivated when most other teams would have folded against the same obstacles.

The New Orleans Saints have several crucial offseason decisions facing them. However, the team showed fortitude and star power in 2021 and have a bright outlook for 2022.

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