Entering 2014 I really feel like the talent on the Saints’ roster is superior to that of the 2009, or at least very close. So I want to put that to the test. Before this exercise the one exception to this being a close race is the offensive line, where I think the Saints are significantly weaker. So I wanted to go position by position and really analyze the value of each. You guys know I love grading things, too, so I couldn’t help myself but add a score to each position. After all it’s been a while since I’ve been able to grade things. So I’m assuming a value from 1-10 for each position, 1 being Jonathan Sullivan and 10 being Willie Roaf level quality.
Quarterback: Drew Brees 2009 vs. Drew Brees 2014 (10 vs. 10)
We have not seen a drop off in production from Brees yet. Despite more hits, more pressure and a less productive offense, Brees continued to play with the same efficiency as always. In fact, 2013 was a good year for him statistically despite playing behind the worst offensive line he’s had since coming to New Orleans. He probably can’t keep taking those kinds of hits and maintain the same production for long at his age, so hopefully the improvements late in the seasons in the running game will carry over to protect him. As long as that happens I still consider Brees a 10, just like he was in 2009.
Running Backs: Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush 2009 vs. Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet 2014 (6.67 vs. 6)
So the scoring here I did as an average of the main players. I assigned a 6 to Mike Bell and a 7 to both Pierre Thomas (2009) and Bush. Bell was really hot early in the year and the Saints caught lightning in the bottle a bit with him, then he faded down the stretch. Thomas was reliable and consistent, but not a game breaker. Bush was a game breaker, but not consistent. In 2014, a lot of question marks surround Khiry and Cadet. I assigned Khiry a 7 due to his promise, Ingram a 6 due to how one dimensional he’s been, Pierre a 6 due to slight regression, and Cadet a 5 until he proves more. So the difference is negligible, but I give a slight edge to 2009.
Fullback: Kyle Eckel, Heath Evans 2009 vs. Erik Lorig 2014 (4 vs. 6)
I thought Eckel was a non factor after Evans got hurt early in the season. Lorig, I’m confident, will be more productive than both if he stays healthy. For now I think the Saints are in a better position here.
Wide Receivers: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem 2009 vs. Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Robert Meachem 2014 (7.25 vs. 6.25)
I assigned Colston a 9 as he was in his prime in 2009 and a 7 now. He’s still good, but not the player he used to be. I assigned Moore and Meachem 7s in 2009, and Henderson a 6. While I’ve never seen Cooks, I gave him a 7 because there’s no reason he can’t be as good as Moore was in year one. I firmly believe that. Stills received a 6 because I view him as about even with Henderson, for now, and I dropped Meachem to a 5 in 2014 because he’s a shell of his former self. So the 2009 receiving core was stronger, for now, until we see how Stills and Cooks develop.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas, Darnell Dinkins 2009 vs. Jimmy Graham, Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill 2014 (6 vs. 7.33)
No comparison here. The Saints are clearly in a much better position now. No offense to Shockey, Graham is in Antonio Gates level quality.
Offensive Line: Bushrod/Nicks/Goodwin/Evans/Stinchcomb 2009 vs. Armstead/Grubbs/Goodwin/Evans/Strief in 2014 (8.2 vs. 7)
There’s no question the offensive line in 2009 was dominant. I gave Bushrod a 7, Nicks a 9, Goodwin an 8, Evans a 10 and Stinchcomb a 7. I gave Armstead a 6, Grubbs a 7, Goody is down to a 7, Evans is down to an 8, and Strief a 7. The line should still be ok this year, especially if Armstead continues to improve, but the 2009 is unquestionably better.
Defensive Line: McCray/Ayodele/Ellis/Smith/Charleston/Hargrove/Pressley 2009 vs. Galette/Bunkley/Hicks/Jordan/Foster/Jenkins/Walker 2014 (6.14 vs. 7.14)
The edge is significant again but this time in favor of the 2014 squad. Gregg Williams blitzed a lot to mask what in my opinion was an average defensive line. I assigned McCray a 6, Ayodele a 6, Ellis a 6, Smith an 8, Charleston a 5, Hargrove a 7 and Pressley a 5. Galette gets an 8, Bunkley a 7, Hicks an 8, Jordan a 9, Foster a 6, Jenkins a 6 and Walker a 6. Not only is the starting lineup a lot stronger, the rotation guys are much better too.
Linebackers: Shanle/Fujita/Vilma 2009 vs. Hawthorne/Haralson/Lofton 2014 (7.33 vs. 6.67)
I view Shanle and Hawthorne as a wash, and Fujita is better than Haralson because he’s more versatile. And while Lofton is very good, I don’t view him as Vilma in his prime level. Slight edge to 2009.
Cornerbacks: Greer/Porter/Gay/Jenkins 2009 vs. Lewis/Bailey/White/Robinson 2014 (7.25 vs. 6.75)
I’m not putting Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the top 4 yet because we don’t know what he’ll give the Saints this year. The big question mark here is Champ Bailey. I gave Greer an 8 because he was fantastic that season, and Porter got an 8 as well because of what he did in the playoffs. Gay was a solid nickel man, so he gets a 7, and Jenkins got a 6. Lewis gets a 9 because he’s been that special, Bailey with a 7, White with a 6 and Robinson with a 5.
Safeties: Sharper, Harper, Usama Young 2009 vs. Byrd, Vaccaro, Bush 2014 (7 vs. 8.33)
Safety might be the strongest position on the team right now. You might be surprised to hear me call Byrd and Sharper a wash, but Sharper really faded down the stretch of 2009. Vaccaro in my mind is already better than Harper in his prime because he can do so much more. I also remember Usama Young coming in in the Super Bowl and Peyton Manning immediately roasting him for a touchdown. By contrast, I graded Bush as highly as Vaccaro (8).
Special Teams: Thomas Morstead/Garrett Hartley/Bush/Courtney Roby 2009 vs. Morstead/Shayne Graham/Cooks/Marcus Ball 2014 (7.75 vs. 7.5)
The Saints had an outstanding gunner in Roby in 2009. Who is even the Saints’ best special teamer now? Will Herring led the team in special teams tackles last year, he’s gone, and Isa Abdul-Quddus was third (Kevin Reddick was second). So only one of the top three remain. I guess we’ll assume for now that Ball will become the stand out guy but it’s hard to imagine him being better than (or even as good as) what Roby gave. I think Morstead was very good in 2009 but he’s rounded out his game in an elite way now. Kicker is a wash, though Hartley made big kicks in 2009 and was riding a hot streak in the playoffs. And hopefully Cooks will be as explosive in the return game as Bush was but we can’t assume that yet.
So if you average all of these out, the total “roster grade” for 2009 is 7.05. The “roster grade” for 2014 is 7.03. Now this is a very inexact science and merely an average of my face value estimation of the roster’s talent/worth. So take it for what it’s worth. But still, I found it interesting that assigning what I think was a fair grade to each player based on their talent and value to the team, the two rosters came so close in score. Obviously the benefit of 2009 is I now know the finished product, whereas with 2014 there’s a lot of uncertainty. Players could regress much lower than their score, and there’s also a strong chance guys like Robinson, Cooks, Stills, Hicks and others could explode.
All in all I’m not ready to say this team is more talented than the 2009 roster, but my quick gauge test suggests they could be very close.