Saints Injured Key Players will impact Offseason Decisions
The New Orleans Saints entered the 2019 season with a roster considered among the deepest in the National Football League. That depth was tested with a series of injuries during the year, especially on the defensive side. The Saints persevered most of the season, as evidenced by their 13-3 record and status among the league’s Super Bowl favorites entering the playoffs. Those expectations ended with a 26-20 home playoff upset to the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings exploited the weaknesses on the Saints roster in that game, leading to several questions heading into the offseason.
New Orleans enters the 2020 off-season not only attempting to shore up their shortcomings but also maintain the strength of a roster that is still considered a title contender. The Saints will add talent through both the draft and free agency while also addressing several of their own free agents. They will also get a few players back into the fold that weren’t a factor during this past season because of injuries. Here is some of the returning talent that will affect the Saints decisions this offseason.
Alex Anzalone, Linebacker
Anzalone was a key member of the 2018 Saints defensive effort but was lost after just two games last season with shoulder surgery. The third year linebacker also missed 12 games during his rookie year with shoulder issues, raising concerns about his durability. When in the lineup though, Anzalone is an athletic sideline to sideline defender with the versatility to be effective against both the run and pass.
Anzalone has 4 career sacks, including 2 with forced 3 fumbles and an intercepted pass in 2018. He and Demario Davis are every down defenders and are factors in any defensive alignment. A.J. Klein is an unrestricted free agent and Kiko Alonso suffered a knee injury in the Saints playoff loss that puts the start to his 2020 season in doubt. If the team cannot keep Klein and Alonso is delayed in his recovery than linebacker becomes a team need this offseason. With a healthy Alex Anzalone alongside Davis in the lineup, New Orleans has two proven playmakers at the position.
Saquan Hampton, Safety
New Orleans used a sixth-round draft choice to select Hampton out of Rutgers last spring. He was the second of two picks at safety that the Saints selected in the draft. The first, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from Florida, had a standout rookie season and became an important part of the defensive success. Hampton appeared in just five games during the year however, before being placed on injured reserve late in the season.
Hampton has nice size for the position while possessing good speed and range. He had an effective preseason to earn a spot on the roster and has impressed coaches with his versatility. Safety Vonn Bell is an unrestricted free agent and will command a high salary on the open market. Defensive back P.J. Williams has played well in a safety role, but will also be a free agent and free safety Marcus Williams continues to be inconsistent. Gardner-Johnson will have an important role in the defense, but much of it could also be as a slot corner where the team also has questions. The Saints coaches are excited about the potential of Hampton, which may lessen the need to add a top-end safety even if they cannot retain Bell or Williams.
Keith Kirkwood, Wide Receiver
Kirkwood, an undrafted wideout from Temple in 2018, played in only the 2019 season opener against the Houston Texans before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The 26-Yr old receiver is a physical player with good size (6’3 210-Lbs) that operates well through the intermediate zones.
After being inactive for the first half of his rookie season in 2018, Kirkwood finished with 15 receptions for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns in nine games. He earned the trust of quarterback Drew Brees in key situations that year and would earn more snaps down the stretch than fellow rookie Tre'Quan Smith, who was a third-round pick. A playmaking # 2 wideout to go alongside Michael Thomas is one of the Saints most important team needs. A healthy Kirkwood would give much-needed depth to the New Orleans receiving corps though, a clear deficiency last season.
Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle
Rankins played in ten games for the Saints in 2019 but was placed on injured reserve in early December with an ankle injury. He had missed the first four games of the year while recovering from an Achilles injury suffered during the Saints divisional playoff victory the previous January. Rankins didn’t play poorly last season but wasn’t the disruptive interior force he was in 2018 prior to that injury.
The 12th overall draft pick by New Orleans in 2016, the 25-Yr old Rankins had a career high 12 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, and 25 pressures in 2018. Tackle David Onyemata is an unrestricted free agent who they expect this offseason to garner high value on the open market. If Rankins can return to his Pro Bowl caliber form of two years ago, this will continue to be a deep position even if Onyemata is not re-signed with himself, Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle, and Mario Edwards, Jr.