Aug 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) and quarterback Drew Brees (9) and running back Alvin Kamara (41) stand on the sidelines in the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdom

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Saints Fan Survey: Roster projections, Super Bowl dreams, and more

Taking the pulse of the Who Dat Nation

Seth Dunlap
August 27, 2019 - 7:25 pm
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In a now-tradition — yes, two years is enough to describe it as such — I polled New Orleans Saints fans on Twitter to get their thoughts on some of the biggest questions facing the team heading into the regular season.  From position battles as roster cut-downs loom, to thoughts on a possible decline in Drew Brees' play, to what are the team's biggest concerns are less than two week's away from their opener against the Houston Texans, fans responded to ten poll questions posted on Twitter over the weekend.  

While the survey should certainly be considered unscientific looks at the thoughts of the Saints' fan base, the results provide a broader look at what fans are thinking and talking about just before the season starts.   As expected, some of the results were fairly surprising. 

Let's look at the results.

 

1.  Which receiver would fans leave off the final 53-man roster?

Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, and the rest of the coaching staff are going to have real difficult decisions to make with many of their receivers.  Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., and Tre'Quan Smith are all locks to make the 53-man roster.  Uncertainty looms behind that trio.  Emmanuel Butler was the early stand-out at training camp, but has battled injuries the past couple of weeks and hasn't looked great during the past two preseason games.  Keith Kirkwood and Austin Carr make the roster last year, but both have yet to really separate themselves from other young receivers.   Kirkwood, like Butler, has been injured for a large part of camp with Carr doesn't have the obvious physical traits of, say, a Butler of Lil'Jordan Humphrey.  Still, Carr received a major endorsement from Drew Brees last week, perhaps signaling that the franchise's most important player would like him on the roster.  

I didn't include Deonte Harris in the poll as he projects as more of a specialist who could possible contribute a few snaps per game at receiver.   However, Harris' likely ascension to the roster could mean one less spot for one of the players listed above.  Meanwhile, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Simmie Cobbs, and Cyril Grayson Jr. are relative long shots to crack the roster. If the Saints keep 6 receivers, including Harris, then at least on of the Butler-Carr-Kirkwood will likely be cut.  There's a chance the team could keep all three, plus Butler, but carrying seven wide receivers is not something the Saints have typically done in the Payton-Loomis era.  

The fans believe Brees' endorsement of Carr won't be enough to keep him on the roster.  A certain bet of pride rides on whether fans are wrong.

 

 

2. Which player has been the breakout star of Saints training camp?

Early on, this would have been Emmanuel Butler in a run-away.   A few quiet weeks from him have allowed other young players to catch the eagle eye of astute fans and the media.  Deonte Harris has been sensational as a returner, and put the proverbial cherry on top of his preseason sundae with a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Jets.  Defensive end Trey Hendrickson looks like a new player, having bulked up 10 pounds or so while consistently flashing plays in camp practices and preseason games.  Safety Vonn Bell in in a contract year, and he sure seems ready for that pay day.  Bell looks like the team's best safety, an honor most thought would be Marcus Williams' at this point.

Fans sided with Harris in this poll, although write-ins for Butler were prevalent.

 

3.  Which of these players should start in the base defense?

This was admittedly tip-of-the-cap poll to Hendrickson, who has been near brilliant this preseason.  It also piggybacks off of growing concern among the fan base that Davenport isn't developing as quickly as expected.  Those fears may be premature — Davenport had 4.5 sacks by mid-season last year before injuring his foot — and anybody writing off Davenport probably has an agenda.   Yet it's impossible not to notice the progression of Hendrickson, who may be the better all-around player at this point.  That's especially true against the run, where opposing offenses see Davenport has a liability and have consistently run right at him.

Frankly, it would be a surprise to see Hendrickson start in the base defense over Davenport only when viewed through the lens of the latter's first-round pick cache'.  Regardless of who starts, it seems like both players will be big contributors along the defensive front this season.  People should see an increase in snaps for Hendrickson, and a decrease in Davenport's, as not an indictment of the former first-round pick but as an exoneration of Hendrickson's development.

 

4.  Which of these interior offensive lineman should the Saints leave off the final 53-man roster?

Much like the receiver poll above, it's unlikely, but not impossible, that Cameron Tom, Will Clapp, and Nick Easton all make the roster.  However, they all rotate primarily on the interior of the line.  Each once played center as their primary position, but have since become proficient playing guard.  Would the team leave a backup tackle off the roster, perhaps Michael Ola, in favor of keeping three reserve interior lineman? We've seen stranger things during cut-down time before, including the Saints only starting the season with seven offensive lineman on their roster.

Also complicating things is the eyebrow-raising contract the Saints gave Nick Easton this offseason.  While the team guaranteed only $4 million of the $22.5 million total value of Easton's four-year deal, all of that guaranteed money would be due this year if the team cuts him.  There are salary cap tricks the team can use to alleviate that immediate hit, but essentially the team wouldn't save any money this year by releasing Easton.

This will be one of the most intriguing decisions the team has to make this weekend.

 

5. Do the Saints have their quarterback of the future currently on the roster?

A nod to the inescapable Teddy-versus-Taysom debates that have raged on social media this month, I wanted to find out what Saints Twitter thought of that battle after the Jets game.  The results show that while Taysom Hill is viewed more favorably by fans, a majority of voters aren't ready to anoint anybody as Brees' heir-apparent.  In fact, nearly half of respondents believe that guy isn't on the roster yet.  Only 11% of fans believed Teddy Bridgewater will one day replace Brees.

 

6.  Who is the Saints biggest challenger in the NFC South?

Once again, the NFC South will be among the toughest divisions in the NFL.  The Falcons should be much better defensively with guys like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal healthy.  Carolina is banking on Cam Newton resembling more of his former MVP-winning self than the injured version who has trotted out on the field the past few years.  The Buccaneers now have Bruce Arians in house, and the expectations are Jameis Winston will be much better because of it.

There's a real possibility that all three of the Saints' divisional rivals will be better on the field than they were last season. (Note: Better doesn't always mean more wins!) That's one of the reasons Vegas had the Saints over/under win total at 10.5.  Sure, the Saints may be as good or better than they were last season but their schedule is among the most difficult in the league.

The vast majority of respondents to this poll still feel Atlanta will be the team's primary challenger in the division, with the Panthers finishing a distant-second.  

 

7.  Who is the Saints biggest challenger in the NFC?

The NFC as a whole should be improved much in the way the NFC South division is.  There are only three or four teams that, most observers agree, enter the season without any real playoff hopes.  That group includes the Giants, Cardinals, and Washington with many people throwing the Lions in that mix.  That means a full three-quarters of the conference enter September with, at minimum, expectations of a playoff push.  

Fans see the Saints opponents in last January's NFC Championship bout as, still, their primary contenders for conference supremacy.  The Rams had roster attrition this offseason on both sides of the ball, but are among the Super Bowl favorites in the NFC.  The Eagles, another of the Saints' playoff opponents last season, also received a healthy portion of the vote.

Many fans thought the poll disrespected the Chicago Bears, with the new Monsters of the Midway garnering most of the write-in votes.  Touche', Chicago.

 

8.  How many yards will Drew Brees throw for this season?

A subtle way to ask fans about their thoughts on the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the poll asked respondents to predict the amount of yards Brees' will throw for in 2019.  Last season Brees finished with 3,992 yards, his first sub-4,000 yard season since joining the franchise in in 2006.  

It would be foolish to directly correlate his declining passing yard totals with a decrease in his overall performance.  The team now has one of the best running games in football, with one of the most dynamic running backs on the planet, Alvin Kamara, in their backfield.  The Saints offense in probably better when Brees isn't throwing for 5,000-plus yards now.   

Most fans believe Brees' passing yard totals will bounce back a bit, with 72% expecting him to throw between 4,000-5,000 yards. 

 

9. The Saints season will be a disappointment if they don't . . . 

A completely subjective way to take the pulse of the Saints' fan base, I asked what the Saints would need to do for fans to not consider the season a disappointment.  Expectations are high, with 42% of respondents saying they won't be satisfied with anything but a Lombardi Trophy.  An additional 30% said the team would need to at least make the Super Bowl.  

The altitude of expectations is unsurprising, considering the team's back-to-back disastrous playoff exits.

 

10.  What area of the team are you most concerned about entering the regular season?

We finished the fan survey with an open-ended question asking fans about their concerns entering the regular season.   Pass rush consistency was a common response, as was depth at wide receiver behind Michael Thomas.  Some of the responses are listed below.

 

Thanks to everybody who took part in our Twitter-based fan survey. 

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