Every year I start the season with the list of my top 10 “most valuable” Saints entering a season. It’s a lot of fun to see how this changes from year to year. You can check out my top 10 “most valuable” players on the team for 2009 by clicking here and for 2010 by clicking here. A few interesting tidbits: Reggie Bush is not on this list even though he was listed at #9 both of the last two years. Pierre Thomas suffered a significant drop after being #4 in 2009 and #5 in 2010. Carl Nicks not only makes his first appearance in the top 10, he’s all the way up to #2.
Without further ado I present you my list for 2011 with the top 10 “most valuable” Saints players.
1. Drew Brees: This is the third consecutive year he’s atop of these standings. There’s no need to defend this pick. (2010 pick: Drew Brees)
2. Carl Nicks: Surprised to see Nicks entering the top 10 for the first time as high as #2? Well, he’s earned it. Last year he proved not only better than Jahri Evans, he proved better than any guard in the NFL. Nicks has come a really long way and he’s an elite lineman that gets nowhere near the amount of respect he deserves. He’s not currently under contract but getting him a longterm extension is of the highest priority. (2010 pick: Tracy Porter)
3. Malcolm Jenkins: Jenkins was moved to free safety last year, but he also played a ton at corner and nickel over the course of the season. He’s the most versatile player by far in the defensive backfield and his presence in the playoffs were sorely missed. The Saints’ defense was just nowhere near as good without him. He made some huge plays that defined the Saints’ season, none bigger than the Thanksgiving day strip of Roy Williams against the Cowboys. This kid is going to get even better in a hurry. This is also Jenkins’ first year in my top 10. (2010 pick: Jahri Evans)
4. Marques Colston: Colston quietly had himself a very nice season in 2010 and showed once again that the Saints’ passing game goes through him. This guy has been about as consistent and reliable of a receiver as you could ever ask for. This is the highest ranking I’ve ever given Colston, as he was #5 in 2009 and #10 in 2010. (2010 pick: Darren Sharper)
5. Jahri Evans: Pretty amazing that the Saints’ two guards both hold places in the top 5 most valuable players on the team… but the tandem the Saints have is that good. Pure and simple, it’s the best in the NFL, and it has been for the last 3 seasons. There’s no reason for that not to continue. Still, Evans as the highest paid guard in NFL history has struggled a bit with penalties lately. His drop off in performance is a little troubling, but I believe he’ll bounce back to have a monster year in 2011, if the season ever happens. Evans was rated by me as #8 in 2009 and #3 in 2010. (2010 pick: Pierre Thomas)
6. Jonathan Vilma: He’s still the captain of the defense and the heart and soul of the team after Brees. He’s shown during this lockout that he’s a leader to the defense and that besides Brees there’s no one else on the team that they depend on more. He’s been instrumental in developing younger player and making the guys around him better. Oh, and he still plays at a very high level too. This is Vilma’s third straight year in the top 10 as he was #2 in 2009 and #6 in 2010. (2010 pick: Jonathan Vilma)
7. Tracy Porter: 2010 was a down year for Porter as he struggled with injuries. Still, he’s a premiere lockdown corner when healthy and you could see what a difference it made to the defense when he was on the field. Porter skyrocketed to #2 in my rankings last year on the heels of a heroic Super Bowl performance, and he was not in the top 10 in 2009. (2010 pick: Will Smith)
8. Roman Harper: The playoff game in Seattle aside, Harper had a monster season in 2010 and the Saints need to do everything in their power to get him back. He’s not currently under contract but the Saints do hope to re-sign him and have said so publicly. In Harper’s defense, the absence of Jenkins in that game forced him to do things not best suited to his abilities. Overall, he was a huge performer during the regular season as a tackling machine around the box and he would honestly have been ranked much much higher on this list had it not been for that game. This marks the first time Harper is in the top 10. (2010 pick: Sedrick Ellis)
9. Will Smith: Yes, Smith had a down year in 2010 but all that did was confirm that the Saints’ pass rush is completely lost without him. Either he plays well, or the Saints’ pass rush completely goes down the tubes. Unfortunately for the Saints, it’s likely he’s going to miss the first 4 games of the season due to suspension. It remains to be seen if the Saints can survive his absence. Smith is still a big time leader on the team, and he’s played through a sports hernia 2 of the last 3 years. That’s the reason for the drop off in performance, though you have to applaud his ability to still perform admirably through pain. Smith was rated #6 in 2009 and #7 in 2010, so he’s on a steady decline. (2010 pick: Reggie Bush)
10. Pierre Thomas: The Saints rushing attack was largely in shambles without him last year, though Chris Ivory did a terrific job carrying the load when he was healthy. Thomas is in the top 10 for the third straight year with a #4 ranking in 2009 and a #5 ranking in 2010, but another down year this season will drop him off the list for good. Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory will both be barking up his tree for carry opportunities this year and they could easily surpass him as the lead back for the Saints if PT doesn’t get back to peak performance. (2010 pick: Marques Colston)
So there you have it. Some good players were once again left off this list, and I had some tough decisions to make. Lance Moore, Chris Ivory, Jimmy Graham, Jabari Greer and Sedrick Ellis in particular are guys that I had issues leaving off. Reggie Bush, on the other hand… well it was time for him to come off. It’s always a pleasure compiling this and I very much look forward to it next year as always. Comments welcome.