The New Orleans Saints annually have one of the league's most productive offensive units since Sean Payton took the head coach's reins in 2006. Despite their historical production, this unit has struggled in the team's playoff losses in each of the last three years. The Saints offense is again poised to dominate the league again in 2020, especially after adding WR Emmanuel Sanders and rookie TE Adam Trautman to go along with weapons like WR Michael Thomas, RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, TE Jared Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill.
A few New Orleans offensive players will be under a watchful microscope in 2020, however. Particularly after those postseason shortcomings in each of the last three years. Here are five spots on the Saints offense with the most to prove this season.
DREW BREES, QB
It seems folly to suggest that the NFL's all-time leader in passing yardage, touchdowns, completions, and holder of several other league records has anything left to prove. After reportedly flirting with retirement this offseason, however, and heading into his 20th NFL season at 41-Yrs old, one should wonder if we’ll see any drop-off in this all-time play great this season. Brees continues to be among the league's best quarterbacks, leading the NFL in completion percentage in 2019 for the third consecutive season and earning his 13th Pro Bowl appearance.
Brees missed five games with a thumb injury last year but rebounded as sharp as ever. He played poorly in his team's home playoff upset to the Vikings and remember that he looked worn down towards the end of both the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Ridiculous questions about his arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball persist, but the more accurate question is how long Brees will continue to play at such a high level. Remember that other greats like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, among others, had a sudden and massive dropoff in their play during their last years.
JAMEIS WINSTON, QB
One key to the New Orleans success in 2019 was how well QB Teddy Bridgewater played when Brees was injured, going 5-0 as a starter. The Saints signed Winston, the 1st overall selection of the 2015 draft and Tampa Bay's starter over the last five seasons after Bridgewater departed in free agency. Winston threw 33 touchdowns and led the league in passing yardage last year with 5,109 yards, but also threw a league-high 30 interceptions. Winston's ability has never been in question, but his decision-making draws a concern both on and off the field. He has averaged 274 yards per game passing throughout his career and thrown 121 touchdown passes and an incredible 88 interceptions and a penchant for turning the ball over when the game is on the line.
His maturity was praised by his coaches in Tampa last season, and new teammates have praised him so far in training camp. The Saints now hope that he can grasp their team's playbook and efficiently run the offense. Winston won't take a meaningful snap for New Orleans this season if all goes according to plan, but he must be productive should Brees go down again. Winston, who signed a one-year contract, could also put himself in a position to earn a big contract after the season either as a starter for another team or as Brees' successor. The Saints have surrounded him with the type of talent that he never had with the Buccaneers. With his career at a crossroads, Winston must now show that he can be a franchise quarterback.
ALVIN KAMARA, RB
Kamara had a down year in 2019 by his standards. He still led the Saints in rushing, picking up 797 yards and scoring five touchdowns, and caught 81 passes for 533 yards and 1 touchdown. He dealt with knee and ankle injuries all season that caused him to miss two full games and limited his effectiveness in others. Those injuries affected Kamara's explosiveness, yet still caused criticism in some circles.
Now headed into the last year of his rookie contract, Kamara is in line for a big payday that will make him one of the league's highest-paid backs. Again, he will be arguably the most important key to the Saints' offensive success and is one of the most feared offensive players in the game. Kamara's production will probably dictate whether they make a firm push to re-sign him beyond the 2020 season.
EMMANUEL SANDERS, WR
For the first time since his rookie year in 2016, record-setting All-Pro WR Michael Thomas will have a bonafide threat to go along with himself for the Saints at wideout. The 33-Yr old Sanders is a three-time 1,000-Yd receiver and has played in three Super Bowls. While he won't be expected to match that same sort of production in a loaded New Orleans offense, he must provide a legitimate threat to defenses to take some of their attention away from Thomas, Kamara, and TE Jared Cook.
SAINTS INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
New Orleans has the league's best OT tandem in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, although Armstead has a concerning injury history. The entire Saints offensive line struggled during the playoff loss to Minnesota, but their interior line was particularly lousy. New Orleans spent their 1st round draft choice, 24th overall on Michigan C/G Cesar Ruiz, re-signed LG Andrus Peat and waived starting RG Larry Warford during the offseason.
Peat suffered a thumb injury during the first few days of training camp. He should be ready for the season opener, but an early return is crucial for an offensive line that will look to break in 1-2 players in new positions. Second-year C Erik McCoy will start, and we also expect Ruiz to be an opening day starter. Each player takes reps at both C and RG, so New Orleans could have three new starters along their offensive line if Peat is delayed in his recovery.
The Saints have had one of the NFL's best offensive lines over the last three seasons. Continued dominance upfront in 2020 will not only be crucial to the team's offensive success but will be one of the major keys to their championship aspirations this season.