Up the Middle: A look at the New Orleans Saints roster


New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. - CHERYL GERBER
  • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

There’s a baseball saying that says, “If you’re solid up the middle, you’ve got a chance to be successful.” I feel you can pretty much use that quote in any team sport, especially in football. An example is the current Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Here’s how the Seahawks look up the middle:

QB – Russell Wilson
RB – Marshawn Lynch
C – Max Unger
DT – Tony McDaniel / Brandon Mebane
MLB – Bobby Wagner
FS – Earl Thomas
SS – Kam Chancellor

Out of those eight Seahawks players, five of them were named to the Pro Bowl. Wagner, with his 120 total tackles, 5 sacks and 2 interceptions, has an argument that he should have joined his friends above in being named to the Pro Bowl.

Using this information, what can the Saints do to improve their roster up the middle? Here’s how the Black and Gold look right now:

QB – Drew Brees
RB – Mark Ingram / Pierre Thomas / Khiry Robinson
C – Tim Lelito
DT – Broderick Bunkley / John Jenkins
MLB – Curtis Lofton
FS – Jairus Byrd
SS – Kenny Vaccaro

QB Drew Brees – there’s no improving over Drew. This position can’t get any better. However, wait until next off-season when Drew’s cap hit jumps to $26.4 million, but that’s another story for another day. Here’s information on that, though. 

RB – Mark Ingram  / Pierre Thomas / Khiry Robinson – This three-headed monster last year combined for 1,159 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. More important: Combined they rushed for 4.23 yards per carry and when Thomas went out with a chest injury, Ingram and Robinson stepped up in a big way. There’s a lot to look forward to from this group in 2014.

C – Currently, the Saints don’t have a veteran center on the roster. Second year guard Tim Lelito could take over for Brian de la Puente, who is currently a free agent. The team could bring de la Puente back, sign former Saint and 49’er Jonathan Goodwin, go another route in free agency or look to the draft to shore up this position a little more. Keep in mind, Goodwin was the Saints center during the 2009 Super Bowl year and also was a Pro Bowl reserve in 2010. While with the 49’ers, Goodwin helped open holes for Frank Gore and was part of two NFC title games and one Super Bowl. Over the past five seasons, Goodwin has taken part in two Super Bowls (won one with the Saints) and four NFC title games. Having all that experience and being familiar with the Saints’ offense seems like a short-term great fit for the Saints to explore. I’ll admit though, that this didn’t go well with Olin Kreutz, when Goodwin left in 2010. So, I know there’s a bit of apprehension here, but I feel it’s worth signing Goodwin.

DT – Broderick Bunkley / John Jenkins. Some definite upgrade is needed at defensive tackle. Bunkley has a $6.1 million hit against the 2014 salary cap and his 2013 numbers of 13 total tackles, zero sacks and zero forced fumbles kind of show that the former first round pick out of Florida State will be released soon.

Jenkins showed in his rookie campaign last season that he should be able to stick around the team for a while. He had 21 total tackles last season while starting five games. The 350+ man obviously is not small, so the Black and Gold will need a little depth to help Jenkins out. If the Saints do eventually release Bunkley and his king-size salary, look for the team to make a move either in free agency or early in the May draft. This position definitely needs an upgrade and depth in 2014 since the team likes to rotate people around the defensive line and wants more production from their guys over the center.

MLB – Curtis Lofton – Much like Drew Brees at QB, things can’t get much better for the Saints at MLB. Lofton is the model of consistency at the middle linebacker position with 120+ tackles in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He holds the front seven together and also gets sideline to sideline very, very well. Thanks for not re-signing him Atlanta.

FS - Jairus Byrd – Here’s Byrd’s stats vs former Saint Malcolm Jenkins’ stats since they both entered the NFL in the 2009 draft.

Malcolm Jenkins – 319 tackles • 4.5 QB sacks • 5 interceptions • 6 forced fumbles • 0 Pro Bowls • O All-Pro

Jairus Byrd – 356 tackles • 3 QB sacks • 22 interceptions • 11 forced fumbles • 2 touchdowns • 3 Pro Bowls • 3 time All-Pro

Byrd is the word.

SS – Kenny Vaccaro – Before Vaccaro got injured last season, he seemed to be the perfect fit for Rob Ryan’s defense. However, not just a fit at strong safety, where he’ll take over for the now Carolina Panther, Roman Harper, but a great fit all over the field where he lined up in the slot, over the tight end and at strong safety. He’s the jack-of-all-trades and master of all of them. This year Vaccaro will spend more time at strong safety, however his athleticism alone and his knack to always be around the ball and in on the tackle, makes this a huge upgrade this season.

To sum all this up, the Saints look very good up the middle, except for the center position. We shall see how that gets worked out before the May draft. Right now, look for the Saints to make another post-season in 2014.

Next week, I’ll give an update on the Pelicans and how they look up the middle.

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