New Orleans Saints, Def, Saints
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2015 Outlook: Deep-league OnlyLast updated on Jun-29-2015 by Shawn Childs
New Orleans' run defense has a favorable schedule. It contains nine games against teams with below-par rushing attacks. However, they will also have to stop the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers (twice). The Saints have three games against top-notch passing offenses -- the Indianapolis Colts and the Atlanta Falcons (twice) -- along with difficult matchups versus the Lions, Eagles, Giants and two against the Falcons. The Saints' pass defense will get a bit of a break against the Texans, Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice).
The Saints had the 29th ranked rushing defense in the league in 2014 (2125 yards). Ball carriers gained 4.8 yards per rush with a league high 19 runs of 20 yards or more. This led to 17 rushing TDs. New Orleans only managed only 34 sacks (25th) in 2014. They allowed 4019 passing yards (8th) with 26 TDs and 12 Ints.
DE Cameron Jordan was an above-average run defender last year and has racked up 20 sacks over the past two seasons. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley has settled into being a one-dimensional run stopper. He missed the last five games last year with a torn quad. New Orleans added veteran nose tackle Kevin Williams to add depth. He will be 35 in August. He'll try to clog the running lanes and may record a couple of sacks. Defensive end Akiem Hicks didn't develop as the Saints had hoped in 2014. Hicks had only two sacks, five QB hits and 20 QB hurries with slightly above league average value as a run defender.
Junior Galette has split time between defensive end and linebacker over the last two years. Last year, he had an impressive season rushing the QB (10 sacks, 13 QB hits and 45 QB hurries), but he was a liability against the run. There could be some concern with his status for the 2015 due to a 2013 video that shows him assaulting a man and a woman, hitting them with a belt. He was also arrested and charged in January with domestic violence. The charges were dropped the following month. In June, Galette suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The early reports suggest he will avoid surgery.
LB David Hawthorne was a neutral run defender last year with low value attacking the QB (three sacks, two QB hits and three QB hurries). Plus, he tends to be a liability in pass coverage. Dannell Ellerbe only saw action in one game last year with the Dolphins due a hip injury. Ellerbe has only had one season of value in his career; in 2009, he recorded five sacks, seven QB hits and 13 QB hurries and was a positive force against the run. Dannell was a disaster in the run game in 2013 and had only one sack. LB Anthony Spencer played well in 2012 with the Cowboys when he recorded 11 sacks, two QB hits and 27 QB hurries while being a top player against the run. A knee injury in September 2013 led to microfracture surgery and cost him nearly the entire year. His game was a lot less impressive in 2014 (two sacks, seven QB hits and 18 QB hurries). Spencer did hold his own in run support, but his level of play was still a big step down from his 2012 success. Rookie Stephone Anthony has enough talent to earn starting snaps. He'll add value to the pass rush and can succeed in pass coverage. His risk as a run defender may lead to him seeing action on only second and third downs in 2015.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis went from being an asset in pass coverage in 2013 (42 catches on 77 attempts for 512 yards and three TDs with four INTs) to being a liability in 2014 (52 catches on 91 attempts for 693 yards, seven TDs and two INTs). He also allowed 139 more yards after the catch. Brandon Browner is expected to start at the other CB position. He has size (6 feet 3, 221 pounds), but Brandon can get beat by speedy receivers. In his 11 games with the Patriots in 2014, Browner allowed 38 catches on 63 attempts for 562 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, after playing fairly well as a rookie in 2013, was a bust in run support and in pass coverage. He allowed 23 catches on 24 attempts. With New Orleans having so many defensive issues last year, Vaccaro may have had too many holes to plug. Safety Jairus Byrd missed the last 12 games of 2014 with a torn meniscus. Byrd also had back surgery in May 2014. Jarius should upgrade the pass D this year and pitch in against the run.
This defense has more than meets the eye if Galette remains in the starting lineup. The Saints would also be helped if Spencer regains his previous form and Jordan can get back to his 2013 total of 12.5 sacks. I expect the secondary to be improved and to make some plays as long as the defensive front can pressure the QB. This defense is a year removed from being the fourth-best defense in the NFL. In the Fantasy market, New Orleans will be a back-end defense with underlying upside. The Saints must solve their issues against the run.
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