Every season I go into training camp giving you my top 10 list of players on the team that stand out as most important. This is now the sixth time I’ve done this and every year the list seems to be drastically different from the previous with one same constant: Drew Brees is always at the top. Last season there was only two defensive players on the list so it’s nice to see that represented in a much better way with five this year. This list was very hard to compile and some of the players I left off I didn’t feel good about. That’s a good problem to have, the Saints’ roster is loaded with talent.
1. Drew Brees: He’s the most valuable player on the team currently and in the history of the franchise, little debate necessary. (2013 pick was Drew Brees)
2. Jimmy Graham: I made a bit of a leap of faith making Graham my #2 last year despite him having a down season. He clearly re-affirmed himself in 2013 as the best tight end in the NFL, a critical part of the offense, and a guy the Saints’ offense desperately needs to win games. The sooner the contract situation is resolved, the better, because he’s clearly the biggest piece of the puzzle on the team not named Brees. (2013 pick was Jimmy Graham)
3. Cameron Jordan: He made his first appearance on this list at #10 last year and he’s vaulted himself up to 3 now. Watching his maturation as a player the last three seasons has really been eye opening. He’s transformed himself from a player with promise in year one, to a pretty good pro in year two, to a Pro Bowler and star in year 3. Now he seems primed to be a superstar for many years to come and there’s no reason why he can’t be the best defensive lineman in team history when his career comes to a close. The guy has it all and his game has no major weakness. (2013 pick was Jahri Evans)
4. Jairus Byrd: This may be too high considering he’s never played a down for the Saints, but the investment and expectations mean he figures to be a huge part of the team. Hopefully he can live up to that status, but he comes to the Saints very decorated. (2013 pick was Marques Colston)
5. Keenan Lewis: I never expected the team’s top cover man to figure this high on the list but his performance so far speaks for itself. What a fantastic free agent signing this turned out to be. His injury in the Philadelphia playoff game completely changed the performance of the defense for the worse, proving just how valuable he is. His elite coverage allows the Saints to take a lot of risks defensively they otherwise might not be able to. (2013 pick was Thomas Morstead)
6. Jahri Evans: He’s dropped a few spots as he’s getting a little longer in the tooth and Pro Bowl or not last year was a down season for Evans as he played a good part of it hurt. Give Evans credit for always laying it on the line when he’s compromised and playing through pain, but clearly his performance suffered a little bit. As he’s older this is an important season for Evans to re-establish how good he is because he’s a player that could have Hall of Fame credentials if he continues to make Pro Bowls into his mid/late 30s. With the line being weaker than years past too the Saints really need him at peak performance. There’s no doubt he’s one of the very best interior lineman in the business when healthy. (2013 pick was Curtis Lofton)
7. Marques Colston: He’s also down because he’s aging and not quite what he used to be but he’s still a really big part of the offense. It’s a good sign that his foot finally appears 100% healthy after he had been dealing with plantar fascia issues for the better part of two seasons. Hopefully that signals a big season for him because I do think his body type and style of play could allow him to age gracefully in the league. (2013 pick was Darren Sproles)
8. Kenny Vaccaro: This was a good first round pick for the Saints. He’s most valuable not because of the statistics he puts up necessarily but because the Saints can use him in such a variety of ways. He can cover on the outside, in the slot, he can play the run, he can blitz a little, and he can play as a deep center field safety. His versatility combined with his ability to match up against big receivers down the seam is a huge asset. He’s a blossoming player under Rob Ryan that only figures to get better. Potential is very high with him. (2013 pick was Pierre Thomas)
9. Thomas Morstead: He drops from 5 to 9 not really because he did anything wrong, I just think the team as a whole is much better. Morstead is still an elite punter though I think his performance in 2013 was slightly down from 2012. In fairness, his 2012 was one of the best seasons from a kickoff man/punter in NFL history, so it was going to be hard to top. He’s clearly a very valuable part of Saints special teams for many years to come. (2013 pick was Lance Moore)
10. Junior Galette: He’s a beast rushing the passer and now he’s finally seeing the field enough to get to those double digit sack totals. I can’t wait to see how he builds off his breakout season. (2013 pick was Cameron Jordan)
Honorable mentions: Curtis Lofton, Akiem Hicks, Zach Strief, Brandin Cooks, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Champ Bailey, Rafael Bush, Ben Grubbs
Players that dropped out of the top 10 from last year: Curtis Lofton, Darren Sproles (traded), Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore (released)
Thoughts on the list this year?