The New Orleans Saints have certainly overcome a ton of critics and skeptics after starting the season 1-2. Their work is far from done, but the bottom line is that they are moving in the right direction and improving in each week they take the field. They put an exclamation point on the first half of their season after dismantling the highly-favored Bucs in the national spotlight, and look to continue their successful run to hit their ultimate goal that has alluded them for over a decade.
We know the big players who have helped the Saints get to 6-2 on the year, but who has been the biggest surprise of the season so far? Our Saints News Crew weighs in, like we did on the MVP discussion on Friday.
Kyle T. Mosley
The biggest surprise was a toss-up for me between defensive end Trey Hendrickson and rookie wide receiver Marquez Callaway.
The undrafted wideout had been a steady performer in the wake of All-Pro Michael Thomas' injury, but I must go with Hendrickson. He's third on the NFL Sack Leader's list with 7.5 in eight games. Watch him. Hendrickson is effective by either collapsing the pocket or hitting and sacking helpless quarterbacks. Many believed Cam Jordan would be at 7 to 9 sacks at this point in the season. Instead, it's Hendrickson.
If you've watched the Saints over the last four years, you can't help but to be a fan of defensive end Trey Hendrickson. He has a relentless motor as a pass rusher, and has given the Saints defense quality depth on the edge.
Still, I don't think even the biggest Hendrickson fan could have imagined we'd see what we have from him this year so far. After eight games, Hendrickson has 7.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, 18 pressures, and 8 tackles for loss, all team-high numbers. His sack totals at the halfway point of 2020 are more than his three-year career TOTAL of 6.5 takedowns.
We knew that the Saints came into the year with one of the league's deepest defensive lines, but they didn't miss a beat with Hendrickson replacing injured starter Marcus Davenport over the first four games.
When Marcus Davenport suffered an injury prior to Week 1 there was a real level of concern to where the Saints’ pass rush would come from outside of Cameron Jordan. Davenport ended up missing a few weeks, opening the door for Trey Hendrickson to step into a starting role and boy did he make the most of his opportunity!
Through nine weeks, Hendrickson is third in the NFL in sacks at 7.5 and has become the Saints most consistent defensive player in 2020. Since the improved play of the former third round pick and the return of Marcus Davenport, New Orleans holds the NFL’s highest pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus and pieced together their best performance of the year against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Hendrickson’s performance has been a pleasant surprise for Dennis Allen’s defense in the early goings of the season and his continued success makes an already strong offensive line even more terrifying. With the Saints playing their best football of the season and pieces starting to fit defensively look for Hendrickson’s play to continue to rise and for more opportunities to open up for others as Trey will now be a big part of the scouting report.
This absolutely feels like a no-brainer, as you could give honorable mentions to players like Marquez Callaway. No one has made the type of unexpected impact like Trey Hendrickson has for the Saints through the first half of the season, as he's filled in and really helped boost his stock and case to get paid when he hits the open market after this season. Of course, the NFL year is always a tale of two halves, so you only hope to see Hendrickson continuing his feasting quest.
Just because Hendrickson has been the predominant player to shine, you also can't help dismiss some of the impacts made by some of the rookie class, most notably Cesar Ruiz and Adam Trautman. Ruiz has quietly been solid when called upon after finding himself not immediately starting, while Trautman has really come on late to show everyone what teams saw in him going into the draft. You also can't glance over Malcolm Roach on the defensive line, who went undrafted out of Texas.
New Orleans has put themselves in a great position to make a run in the back half to get a top playoff seed, and some of these aforementioned players will have a huge hand in helping them get there.