One reason the New Orleans Saints are among the favorites to win the NFC this season is the roster is loaded with seasoned, veteran talent. Returnees include All-Pros (receiver Michael Thomas, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, linebacker Demario Davis, defensive end Cam Jordan, returner Deonte Harris and special team ace J.T. Gray) and Pro Bowlers (quarterback Drew Brees, left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jared Cook).
But some newcomers will need to be impactful, too, at some key positions, if the Saints are going to win their fourth consecutive NFC South Division title. Here are five of them:
With the 24th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints selected OL
1. CESAR RUIZ
Cesar Ruiz was drafted to play. Coach Sean Payton said as much, and the path to the starting lineup totally cleared for the rookie offensive lineman when New Orleans parted ways with right guard Larry Warford. We're still not sure if Ruiz, a standout center at Michigan, will play center or right guard (last year's starting center, Erik McCoy, also can play both positions). We do know that Ruiz is going to play, and start, and that the Saints considered upgrading their interior offensive line a high priority. McCoy was a starter as a rookie last season, so it's not as if a young player can't come in and play the position, but the absence of OTAs and minicamps may hinder Ruiz as a center. The chemistry between he and Brees will take time to develop. Still, rightfully, the Saints' first-round pick will bear watching because he'll be playing an important role in helping keep Brees clean, something he did extremely well in college, and his athletic ability is uncommon.
Photos of safety Malcolm Jenkins during his first stint with the New Orleans Saints and his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. MALCOLM JENKINS
Yep, Malcolm Jenkins qualifies as a newcomer. The former Saint spent six seasons with the Eagles, where he blossomed as a safety. This time around in New Orleans, he gives the Saints a double asset. First, he still is viewed as an impact player, which is necessary because the Saints give a ton of three-safety looks. In the last three seasons, he has three interceptions, 24 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 4.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hits. In other words, he's in the middle of the action. Second, he's a veteran who has seen just about everything there is to see on the back end. His ability to help align the defense, and put teammates in position to make plays, can be a critical asset. Plus, he's a leader in the locker room and the community.
Photos of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders throughout his NFL career.
3. EMMANUEL SANDERS
It's not as if the Saints haven't gotten along fabulously offensively without receiver Emmanuel Sanders; New Orleans has had a historic run of production. But if the opportunity presents to take things up a notch and become more formidable, New Orleans hasn't been bashful about taking advantage of it, and adding Sanders gives New Orleans the other receiving threat that the Saints haven't had since drafting Thomas. Sure, Kamara has been an outstanding target and, yes, tight end Jared Cook can embarrass a defense. But Sanders is the kind of receiver who'll make life easier for Thomas, because he's a productive veteran who has averaged 68 catches per season the previous five years, and has played for three teams that reached the Super Bowl (he helped Denver win it). Thomas had 149 catches last year; Ted Ginn Jr. had the second-highest total among receivers, with 30. Sanders' presence could be huge.
With the 74th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints traded up to select LB
4. ZACK BAUN
The Saints moved up in the draft to pick linebacker Zack Baun, and still believe they got him at a bargain spot in the third round. There's room for him to get on the field as a rookie, and his athleticism adds a ton of intrigue as to how defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will choose to employ him. Baun still holds his high school's records in the 200-meter dash and high jump, and he piled up 12.5 sacks in his final season at Wisconsin. At linebacker, the Saints have Davis as a certainty. The hope is that Alex Anzalone can stay healthy and that Kiko Alonso can return to form from his ACL tear, the third he has suffered dating to college. Baun's could play a big role early, as he hopefully can add punch to the pass rush immediately.
With the 105th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints traded up to select TE
5. ADAM TRAUTMAN
I'm tempted to cheat here and go with cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins, because he joined the team late last year and only played two regular-season games (and the playoff game). Having him on the field with Marshon Lattimore could give the Saints as good a cornerback tandem as there is in the league. But that'd be a little bit of a stretch, so I'll go back into the draft class and tag tight end Adam Trautman. Even though New Orleans is good to go at the position with Cook and Josh Hill, Trautman has qualities – as a receiver and blocker – that both of them possess. The Saints won't have to rush him into the lineup, but the feeling is that he's going to grow quickly.