Chasing History: New Orleans Saints Players Building Upon Their Legacies
Aaron S. Miller
A handful of expertly navigated draft classes in consecutive years and the New Orleans Saints remain among the toast of the NFL’s upper-echelon. Within what most would agree is a well-rounded team on either side of the ball (not including the Saints’ defensive woes Week 14 vs. the San Francisco 49ers), is a cadre of the elite. Men, both young and old, who will retire from this game one day and whose presence left an indelible mark on the annals of the National Football League. Let’s have a look at these players and where they sit currently within the records.
Brees is a bit of a big deal in New Orleans and indeed the entirety of Louisiana. He’s been with the black and gold since signing on in free agency in 2006, and at the spry young age of 40 this season he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Brees, as anyone with eyes would attest, is among the very greatest of NFL QBs ever to do it. Already owning myriad passing titles, Brees is in hot pursuit of some of the most prestigious and rare accolades a QB can achieve.
Passing Attempts: #2 all-time with 10,063 attempts, trailing only Brett Favre by a mere 106 attempts. Within the next 3 games, barring him potentially resting given playoff seeding implications, Brees can get close to, if not break, the record. He’s averaging 35 attempts per game, so that would put him right on the cusp of #1. Keep an eye on his usage specifically in how the flow of the upcoming three games which will dictate the extent for which the Saints call passing versus rushing plays, and whether the Saints might potentially be more preoccupied with rest ahead of the playoffs in January.
Passing TDs: #2 all-time with 537, trailing only the great Peyton Manning by just 2 TD passes. Brees should absolutely break Manning’s record, likely against the Indianapolis Colts (very aptly), though the issue is that fellow future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is bearing down on both Brees and Manning alike with 536 TD passes. Expect both QBs to be 1 and 2 by the end of the season–who’s at the top at the end of the season will be fun to follow.
Career starts: Given the heap of statistical distinctions Brees owns, this is a bit of a niche category. Nevertheless, Brees is again chasing Brett Favre who has the record for most career starts in the NFL history (298). Tom Brady is also in pursuit with just 18 regular season starts removed from holding the record, whereas Brees has another 26 starts to tie Favre’s record. Either of these men will play for at least another couple seasons, so it wouldn’t surprise to see this record belonging to one (or both?) of Brady or Brees.
In what might currently be his best season as a young pro, Michael Thomas has been setting records ever since joining the league his rookie season. Through just 60 regular season games in his career, Thomas is #4 in Saints history in both receptions and receiving yards, and he’s on pace to quickly collect every single Saints WR record. In what is likely to be a second consecutive First Team All Pro selection season, let’s look at what Mike has done from a league-wide perspective in 2019.
Receptions in a single season: Blink and you’ll miss it. Thomas sits alone, aptly, at #13 all-time for the single season reception total record this season. Last year, his personal best, he reached #5 all-time in this category with 125 receptions. Thomas has averaged just over 7 receptions a game since coming into the NFL in 2016, and a staggering 8.5 receptions per contest both this season and the entirety of 2018. Given that he is a mere 22 receptions trailing the current record holder, Marvin Harrison (143), it is entirely within reason to project that this coveted distinction is very much in reach. Keep track of this one, as it would be a major record to set for the 26-year-old phenom out of Ohio State.
Targets: This statistic has only recently been tracked more closely, and here it pertains to the 2019 season. It’s very telling when a player routinely receives 10+ targets per game, in that it demonstrates has the trust and respect of his QB and there’s also a high likelihood he’s getting open. Running crisp routes and death gripping any ball in his vicinity has been Thomas’ M.O. since he’s arrived. Through 14 weeks in 2019, Thomas leads all WRs by a healthy 13 target margin. He also leads the league in targets per game with just over 11. When you have a player of Thomas’ caliber, you do what you can to get him the ball. 2019 is the first (and probably not last) time Thomas has ever led this statistic. While we’re on 2019 season records and generally bullying opposing CBs - Thomas is leading the league in completion percentage this season, hauling in over 82% of balls thrown his way.
And, if none of the above were impressive enough, it’s very much worth noting that Michael Thomas has already set 2 new records this season. He’s the only player ever with over 400 receptions through his first 4 seasons. Thomas is also the only player in NFL history with at least 90 receptions in each of his first 4 seasons.
Special Teams–Thomas Morstead and Wil Lutz
To wrap up this piece, I’m packaging both Saints special teams’ aces, Morstead and Lutz.
Stud punter Thomas Morstead is the only other active Saints player not named Drew Brees to sport a New Orleans Saints Super Bowl ring. Since being selected in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Morstead has been a perennial fixture on this team. As punters go, it may surprise you to learn that Morstead is #3 all-time in the yards per punt category with a career 46.8 yards per boot. He trails only current active Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker (47 yards per punt) and the great Shane Lechler (47.6) for ownership of this category. While there likely isn’t enough games left in 2019 for Morstead to close even this small of a gap, this will be a fun and interesting record to follow going forward.
The other special teams man to mention here is Wil Lutz. You may already know Lutz set an NFL record back in October against the Chicago Bears by converting his 35th consecutive road field goal. What you may not know is that Lutz (in only his fourth season as a pro) is the #5 all-time in career field goal percentage. The margins both on the field and in the stats books are so razor thin that stat trackers use a thousandth decimal place to differentiate kickers for this distinction.
It’s a bit of a logjam at the top of this list, replete with active players. Leading the group is Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who’s converted a staggering 90.592% of his kicks. Lutz is sitting at 87.218% and, like his compatriot Morstead, while he likely can’t expect to move up with just 3 regular season games remaining, this is another great record to keep your eye on heading into 2020 and beyond.
As league records go in 2019, this list covers most of what us Saints fans care about. We all enjoy talking about how amazing our favorite players are, but the most important record of all for any fan of the Saints is achieving the pinnacle of the sport - a second Super Bowl title and, as records go, most Lombardi's in the trophy cabinet in the NFC South.