Saints players who have the most to prove this season

Bob Rose

The New Orleans Saints have plenty to prove in the 2020 NFL season. They enter the year as a prohibitive Super Bowl favorite and have a 37-11 record over the last three seasons. Despite that success, the Saints fell short of their second championship each time in a heartbreaking fashion. They are armed with one of the league's deepest and most talented rosters with few glaring weaknesses and now look to finish their title mission.

Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk, Terron Armstead, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, and Marshon Lattimore are among the NFL's best at their respective positions. Still, they must come up big in critical moments. Erik McCoy, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Deonte Harris, and Shy Tuttle look to progress from terrific rookie seasons, and this year's draft crop will be expected to contribute to a loaded roster. New Orleans has complementary stars at nearly every position, but the entire team must overcome their post-season failures. Here are a handful of players who will be under the most intense spotlight during the year.

Marcus Davenport, DE/EDGE

Sep 9, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (25) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Buccaneers defeated the Saints 48-40. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 14th overall selection of the 2018 draft faces a pivotal season. Davenport has been productive when he's been in the lineup. He has 10.5 sacks, 43 quarterback pressures, 11 tackles for loss, and 4 forced fumbles in 26 games played. He is an athletic freak at 6’6 265-Lbs, a disruptive presence that’s difficult to block one on one, and the perfect complement to All-Pro end Cameron Jordan. Davenport has had recurring foot injuries in each of the last two seasons, raising doubts about his long-term durability and ability to stay consistent. The Saints need his disruptive skills up front defensively and must make a decision next offseason on whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

Alex Anzalone, LB

Aug 30, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone (47) intercepts a pass in front of Los Angeles Rams running back Nick Holley (25) during the first half of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Like Davenport, Anzalone has been outstanding when he's been able to stay on the field. The 3rd round selection from the 2017 draft has appeared in only 24 of his team's 53 games since entering the league because of shoulder injuries, including just two contests last year. The 25-year old Anzalone has terrific athleticism, and excellent coverage ability is a devastating blitzer and possesses a good understanding of opposing offenses. He is an outstanding complement to All-Pro Demario Davis at linebacker, but the Saints need him on the field consistently. Anzalone will be a free agent at season’s end and could be in line for a big contract if he can answer durability questions.

Sheldon Rankins, DT

Sep 29, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) is blocked by Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Rankins was playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2018 before suffering a torn Achilles tendon during a playoff victory over the Eagles. The injury forced Rankins to miss the first month of the 2019 season. He was on a limited snap count once returning before an unrelated leg injury shelved him for the last month of the year. The Saints re-signed defensive tackle David Onyemata this offseason and also have Malcom Brown and Shy Tuttle at the position but need Rankins to return to his dominant form. The 12th selection of the 2016 draft will be a free agent at the end of the season and is one of the league's more disruptive defensive tackles when healthy.

Tre'Quan Smith, WR

Nov 18, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (10) breaks away from Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones (22) during the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Smith has been a bit of a disappointment since the Saints selected him in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft. He has teased Saints fans with performances like his 10 catches, 157 yards, and 1 touchdown outing against the Eagles. Also, his 3 receptions for 111 yards and two scores against the Redskins as a rookie. Yet, Smith disappears for long stretches and had only 18 receptions in eleven games a year ago; he caught ten career touchdowns. He has good size (6’2 210-Lbs) and decent speed but struggles to gain separation and operates poorly in traffic. With the offseason addition of Emmanuel Sanders, there will be reduced expectations on Smith in 2020. He must still show that he can be a complementary threat for the New Orleans offense to be more productive.

Jameis Winston, QB

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) makes a throw in the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Winston was signed to a 1-year contract by the Saints to provide a veteran backup to Brees and hopefully revive his career. The 1st overall selection in the 2015 draft by Tampa Bay, the 26-Yr old Winston, has always been a productive passer but also prone to turnovers and poor decision making. He led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards last season but also led the league with 30 interceptions and has thrown 88 interceptions in 72 career games.

This year will be an audition of sorts for Winston. If he can grasp the New Orleans offense, eliminate turnovers, and show increased maturity off the field, he could put himself in a position for a big contract in 2021. Possibly even with the Saints as the successor to Brees. For this season, though, Winston is among several of his teammates who will be under the intense spotlight to reverse their playoff failings of the last three years.