For the past three years, we at WWLTV.com have put together the list of the 10 Indispensable Saints players.
And there’s always question as to what does that mean. Our take? They’re the 10 players who mean the most to the Saints on and off the field, the ones who are all around representatives to the franchise. But what happens on the field weighs heavily, of course.
Some averages from what is now our fourth year doing the list.
- On average, there are six players from offense.
- On average, there are three players from defense.
- On average, there’s one special teams player.
- The average number of players to repeat is 6.3.
- Three players have been on the list all four years.
As we wrote last year, we know the feedback isn’t always, um, agreeable on these lists. Nothing wrong with that. We welcome feedback and only ask two things – keep the comments clean and no personal attacks. There will be differences of opinion; it’s what we love about America.
No. 10: WR Marques Colston (-4 from 2012, 3-time list member
Receiver Marques Colston has been in the NFL for seven seasons, has recorded 1,000 yards in six of those years, is tied for most catches in Saints’ history with 532 and owns the franchise record for career touchdowns with 58.
And he hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl.
But hey, the WWLTV.com 10 Indispensable List is something, right?
Colston may be getting older, but his game remains steady. As a co-worker recently said about Colston, he’s like Linus’ blanket for quarterback Drew Brees. He doesn’t always search out Colston, but when he does, it’s usually a big play because he knows the receiver will be there willing to take a big hit and still make the catch.
His most recent campaign was one of his best yet.
In 2012, Colston led the team with 1,254 receiving yards – good for 13th in the NFL – and 10 touchdowns. A quarter of his 84 catches were on third down and 65 of his catches went for first downs, tied for 17th in the league for total first downs.
Because someone usually steps up, you can make a case that the way the Saints’ offense runs, it does so fine as long as Brees is around. But that's necessarily true. Without Colston, it doesn’t generally run as smoothly.
Pro Football Focus rated Colston as the NFL’s ninth-best receiver in 2012 with a 101.8 rating for those with a 50 percent thrown at rate. And though his eight drops were near the bottom of the league, his drop rate (8.79) was among the top 15 in the league among receivers.
The best part about Colston is his veteran leadership in the locker room. He’s quiet but productive. He’s low-key but high character. And he’s signed through 2016.
No. 9: CB Jabari Greer (-5 from 2012, 4-time list member)
Say what you want about the defense last season – and there’s a lot to say – but Greer wasn’t at fault for most of it. In fact, Greer quietly recorded a solid season. In 14 games, Greer made 51 tackles, seventh-most on the team, and had a career-high three interceptions. His 14 passes defensed were second-most on the team.
His value comes in his ability to do a little bit of everything. But he’s proficient in run defense, where he ranked in the top 20 percent of NFL cornerbacks playing at least 50 percent of their teams’ run snaps. He was middle of the pack in coverage rating, but far higher than opposite corner Patrick Robinson.
But it’s his ability to face the fire when something goes wrong that may be his biggest asset to the team. In a profession in which players more and more ignore problems and don’t own up to mistakes, Greer does it time and again, never wavering in his belief that he should talk in both good and bad times.
It’s a powerful message to send to young players, which is mostly what New Orleans’ secondary is made up of these days.
Combined with his ability to play on an island without help, it’s what makes Greer one of the players the Saints would have a hard time replacing at this point.
He had a somewhat down year in 2012, but also was playing through various injuries. And when he's not active or not close to full strength, his backups struggled.
No. 8: LT Jermon Bushrod (N/A, 1st year; 2013 UFA)
It’s not that Jermon Bushrod isn’t replaceable.
There are players who could likely fill in for him and be average.
No, it’s that Bushrod and quarterback Drew Brees have formed a symbiotic bond that might be the most important along the offensive line and one that can’t be replicated so easily with a new player.
With all due respect to Brian de la Puente the center, Brees can see what’s coming through or around him. Bushrod has his backside and the quarterback, having played with the left tackle for four seasons now, knows exactly what’s happening back there.
Bushrod is a soft-spoken lead-by-example kind of guy, one his teammates respect and enjoy being around.
He might not rate highly according to some statistical analytics sites, but his value goes beyond what they’re deducing. The Saints ran 34 times at left tackle this past season, averaging 4.06 yards per tote, second best average along the offensive line. New Orleans’ Brees completed 62.3 percent of his passes thrown short and over Bushrod’s side.
Left tackles aren’t the most readily available players and Bushrod has been reliable. Since taking over as the full-time starter in 2009, he has started 60 straight games 68 of a possible 70 games, missing only one game the past four seasons. He gave up only four sacks this past season, among the lowest in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
No. 7: RG Jahri Evans (0 from 2012, 4-time list member)
Jahri Evans is the highest paid offensive lineman on the Saints roster and it’s something that’s well-earned. His place on this list is well-earned, too.
He has started 112 games to begin his career, which started as a fourth-round choice by the Saints in 2006. It’s the longest streak to open a career in Saints. He has been an All-Pro as well as has been voted into the Pro Bowl in each of the past four season
The Saints ran the ball 82 times behind Evans this past season, the third-highest total in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus’ statistics, he didn’t allow a sack this season.
Still, like Bushrod, Evans isn’t a vocal leader. It’s his silent leadership that makes him invaluable. Younger players can’t help but listen to him when he speaks up or watch him on a daily basis because of what he has done in his past.
And the past two offseasons have involved him restructuring his contract to help the Saints find salary cap space. While that’s not completely altruistic – he’s getting more money up front – it shows he’s willing to help the team in any way he can.
No. 6: P Thomas Morstead (+3 from 2012, 3-time list member)
A punter, you say?
Yes, a punter. And one of the league’s best. When the Saints’ offense is struggling, Thomas Morstead is the team’s biggest weapon. On about 4-5 snaps a game, he’s having a huge impact.
Morstead nearly set an NFL record in 2012 for net punting average at 43.2 yards per punt. He has the league’s No. 3 and No. 4 seasons in the category and shows no signs of letting up.
The fifth-year punter is New Orleans’ all-time leader in both gross (47.1) and net (40.3) averages.
Morstead earned his first-ever Pro Bowl berth on the back of a campaign in which he averaged at least 45 yards per punt eight times. He pinned 20 punts inside the 20-yard line and only six of his punts bounced into the end zone for touchbacks.
But he’s more than just a punter. The team relies on Morstead for kickoffs. He was tied for sixth in the NFL in 2012 with 45 touchbacks, or on 50 percent of his kicks, and 78.3 percent of his kicks reached at least the end zone.
His worth, though, comes in his ability to answer the call just about every time the Saints ask him to change the field position.
No. 5: DE Cameron Jordan (N/A, 1st year)
It became obvious sometime early in the season, let’s say after compiling 23 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in the first three games, that Cameron Jordan was going to be a difference-maker along the defensive line.
In just his second year, he became one of the team’s top defensive linemen. He finished fourth on the team with 76 total tackle, led the team with eight sacks, recorded three passes defensed, forced three fumbles and recovered two more.
No other defensive linemen and only one other player (linebacker Curtis Lofton) had a stat line as robust as the 6-foot-4, 287-pound end.
Along with Akiem Hicks (an honorable mention on this list), Jordan gives the Saints someone to build around for the future. He started all 16 games at left defensive end in 2012 and started all but two games his rookie year.
Pro Football Focus rated him as the third-best 4-3 end against the run, though they’re not high on his pass-rushing. He has room to grow, certainly, but being that he was only a second-year player, the growth should come.
And more importantly for him is that he’ll be moving back to a 3-4 end, the position he played in college that helped get him drafted in the first round in the first place.
No. 4: TE Jimmy Graham (-1 from 2012, 2-time list member)
Jimmy Graham had his problems in 2012. He led all tight ends with 15 drops. But he did so with a bum wrist, one that required offseason surgery.
And he still was the eighth-rated tight end by Pro Football Focus. How important was he? He was third on the team in receiving yards and had the most catches. His nine touchdowns were one less than Marques Colston.
Injured or not, Graham is a matchup nightmare for teams and has turned into one of quarterback Drew Brees’ go-to players. Graham was tied for 13th in the NFL with 85 catches and his 982 yards were 22nd most in the league. That’s overall, not just among tight ends.
There’s more – and more reasons Graham is so important for the Saints – Brees completed 26 passes to the tight end on third down, eighth-most in the NFL.
Since 2011, when Graham broke out, his 184 catches are among the most in the NFL. His 25 touchdowns since 2010 are second most among tight ends.
Graham is the future of the Saints’ offense, the young player whom Brees can build with and coach Sean Payton can make mismatches around.
Graham is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, one that will pay him $575,000. It’s safe to say he’s being underpaid
No. 3: LB Curtis Lofton (N/A, 1st year)
We may be overrating Curtis Lofton here, especially considering how poorly the defense performed in 2012, but the indispensible list is about more than just on-field production. And Lofton was certainly productive, finishing with a team-high 157 tackles, one sack, 10 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Lofton is the consummate team player and when Jonathan Vilma was forced to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, the first-year Saint took over leadership duties. He led the team from the middle linebacker position much like Vilma did the past few years.
Yet, it’s what he does off the field that helps his cause for this list. Lofton is the perfect player for younger guys to emulate. Instead of living elsewhere during the offseason, Lofton chooses to live near the training facility. That’s two-fold – it’s easy to get to practice early and it’s easy to get there to lift and workout.
During the offseason, when most players could get away with eating late and unhealthy, Lofton is not, choosing to remain healthy.
Still, it’s mostly what you do on the field that makes you important and Lofton was big on defense in spite of the team’s overall lack of proficiency on that side of the ball. Lofton was around the ball when he was on the field.
No. 2: QB Drew Brees (-1 from 2012, 4-time list member)
The only surprise here is that Drew Brees is not No. 1. But you can guess who No. 1 is at this point if you haven’t already.
That said, if Brees weren’t with the team, there’d be no success at all. When he played like an average quarterback last season (see Falcons, Atlanta game or 49ers, San Francisco game), the Saints lost.
Brees threw for 5,177 yards and led the NFL with 43 touchdowns. He threw for at least 300 yards 10 times this past season, so many that it just felt normal. But there were only 127 300-yard games out of total of 512 possibilities this season.
Why is he so important? Just take a look at how he performed in the beginning of the season after holding out the entire offseason. He threw for seven touchdowns, but also had five interceptions while completing just 55 percent of his passes in the opening three games. The Saints went 0-3 while he got his bearings.
There’s little more that can be said about Brees at this point that isn’t already known.
A year ago, we wrote that, “Simply put, Drew Brees is the franchise.” Nothing has changed.
No. 1: HC Sean Payton (N/A, 1st year)
In a break from tradition, Sean Payton is our most indispensable Saint this year. Not really sure how you can quibble with it.
Payton learned from his 2007 and 2008 campaigns and put forth that knowledge in each of 2009, 2010 and 2011. In those seasons, he knew what buttons to push, what plays to call and what tricks to pull when and the Saints went 41-13 and won a Super Bowl.
So, yes, he was missed in 2012. The Saints appeared to be wandering through the forest lost in the first month of the season. New Orleans wouldn’t necessarily have been better than 7-9 with Payton on the sideline, but chances are pretty good that they would have been.
The Kansas City and second Atlanta game, at the very least, come to mind as games that Payton could very well have influenced the outcome of had he been around.
The good news for the Saints fans and the franchise is that he’s back in the fold and already making big decisions, including firing Steve Spagnuolo fairly quickly.
Payton is in the mood to win and he’s doing what he thinks he needs to to make that happen. And he can do that because he holds the power.
That, more than anything, is why he is the most indispensable Saints member for 2013.