After faring relatively well as a unit in 2013, the Saints took a big step back defensively in 2014, finishing 31st in the league. That faceplant, in turn, led to some big changes, including the release of inside linebacker Curtis Lofton. However, for Mickey Loomis’ talk about the defense getting better this season, it doesn’t look that way on paper.
Just like the Saints as a team last year, defensive end Cameron Jordan saw his production drop off in 2014, from 12.5 sacks in 2013 to only 7.5 a year ago. That didn’t stop the team from handing Jordan a fat new contract extension, and defensive line coach Bill Johnson told Andrew Lopez of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he envisions a big bounceback from Jordan in 2015.
“I think he’s going to have a rebound year; I really do,” Johnson said. “He’s settled down. He’s matured. He had a baby. Things have slowed down for him. The fundamentals that we’ve worked on you see improvement. He’s a good football player but there’s no finish line in getting better.”
Even in last year’s “down” season, Jordan still finished inside the top 20 defensive linemen in fantasy scoring. The year before, Jordan finished 10th, and it’s reasonable to expect Jordan’s 2015 to fall somewhere on the higher end of that scale.
The Saints addressed the departure of Lofton in the 2015 NFL Draft with the selection of Clemson’s Stephone Anthony. The pick met with the approval of the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. “Anthony is a big inside linebacker; a prototype,” Mayock said. “I think his best football is ahead of him. He’ll be a starting inside linebacker immediately. He blew it up at the combine. For a guy that big, he’s highly athletic.”
As Mayock said, the general assumption is that Anthony will immediately assume a three-down role. Assuming that is indeed the case, Anthony’s out look is an upside LB3, although he may wind up slightly overvalued, as rookies often are.
The starting spot next to Anthony will be determined by an uninspiring training camp battle between veteran David Hawthorne and Dannell Ellerbe, who came over from Miami in the Kenny Stills trade. The winner of that battle could sneak into LB4 territory with an every-down role, but neither is apt to be much more than that.
Coming off a disappointing sophomore season, John Hendrix of FanSided believes there isn’t a player on the Saints with more to prove in 2015 than strong safety Kenny Vaccaro. And Hendrix expects Vaccaro to step up. “Staying angry and hungry, coupled with some strong veteran presence of Brandon Browner and coach Dennis Allen, could make Vaccaro an extremely scary safety in 2015.”
If that’s the case, the Vaccaro could be quite the IDP value pick in 2015. The problem is that we’ve been saying that same thing about Vaccaro since the moment he entered the NFL. However, given the issues in front of him and the tackle opportunities that could mean, Vaccaro’s an interesting upside pick late for IDP owners who like to wait at the position.
The Saints should also improve now that they might actually get to see what Jairus Byrd looks like somewhere other than the trainer’s table. The problem for IDP owners with Byrd isn’t his bum knee – it’s his centerfield role and reliance on big plays for IDP production.