This is the fifth installment in a series that will examine each of the Green Bay Packers’ scheduled 2020 opponents, their offseason changes, and their statuses heading into training camp. We continue by looking at the teams in the NFC South, today examining the Packers’ early-season game against the New Orleans Saints.
For the most part, the 2020 New Orleans Saints will look very similar to the 2019 squad that went 13-3. The Green Bay Packers narrowly snuck into the #2 seed in the NFC last season ahead of those Saints, earning a playoff bye thanks to a tiebreaker. That proved to be critical, as the Saints fell 26-20 in the Wild Card round to the Minnesota Vikings, while the Packers got a pass into the Divisional Round and beat Seattle to advance to the NFC Championship.
In 2020, however, the two teams will meet early on in the Superdome to get a potential head-to-head tiebreaker out of the way early on.
Over the offseason, the Saints made a few subtle tweaks to their roster, but largely stood pat with their core personnel groupings. The biggest free agent addition comes at wide receiver, where Emmanuel Sanders will attempt to take some pressure off Michael Thomas and his 185 targets from a year ago. that number blew away the nearest competitor, and his 149 receptions were 33 more than the second-place player in the category.
Meanwhile, in the draft the Saints continued their aggressive posture in the draft. After trading away their 2019 first-round pick to the Packers in a move up in 2018, the Saints gave up their 2020 second-rounder in a move up on draft day 2019. After drafting Michigan center Cesar Ruiz in their normal spot in round one of the 2020 draft, New Orleans would trade up twice in round three. They first climbed the ladder from 88 to 74 for Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun, giving up next year’s third-round pick in the process. Then they wiped out almost the entirety of their day three to get to 105 to select Dayton tight end Adam Trautm
Whether or not these moves pay off will be critical, as Drew Brees turned 41 in January and missed significant time in 2019, the first time he had missed more than one game since his third NFL season in 2003.
Here’s a deeper look at the Saints’ offseason and training camp storylines from our SB Nation compatriots at Canal Street Chronicles.
New Orleans Saints
Notable free agency additions: S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Jameis Winston, FB Michael Burton, CB Deatrick Nichols (from the XFL)
Over/under 10 wins? An honest answer at this point would be “under,” but not because I don’t think the Saints will win many games, but because I’m not sure how many games the 2020 NFL season will have. Assuming a 16-game season, I’ll take the over.
Rookie I’m most excited about: TE Adam Trautman. The Saints didn’t have many 2020 draft picks, so I’ll go with third round pick, tight end Adam Trautman out of Dayton. Trautman dominated in the Pioneer Football League and looks to be an above-average pass-catching tight end option, but considering his lack of a collegiate pedigree, it will be interesting to see how he can perform against NFL competition.
Best position battle heading into training camp: Who is the Saints third wide receiver? Is it QB/WR/RB/TE/ST Taysom Hill? But Taysom has repeatedly expressed his desire to be a long-term quarterback. Is it Deonte Harris who was an All-Pro last year in his rookie season as a return specialist? But he’s only 5’6. Maybe Tre’Quan Smith, the 2018 3rd rounder? He’s failed to show he can consistently get open against opposing cornerbacks. Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are clearly the #1 and #2 option at wide receiver, but after that, it’s really not clear at all.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: How will the team chemistry be affected after Drew Brees’s controversial statements regarding the peaceful protests during the national anthem? He’s publicly recanted his take and has spoken out against President Trump for making similarly insensitive comments, but he clearly upset and disappointed some of his teammates so it will be interesting to see if they’re all still willing to go to war for him in 2020.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: How will a young and shuffled offensive line play in 2020? The Saints drafted center Cesar Ruiz with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The only problem is they drafted center Erik McCoy with their first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and McCoy played well as a rookie last year. The extra body in the interior of the Saints offensive line forced the Saints to release Pro Bowl guard Larry Warford with the expectation that either McCoy or Ruiz will shift to right guard. This is a lot of faith to put into one or both of two young offensive linemen, and it could very well backfire on the offense.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: There are a few injured players (Kiko Alonso, Achilles; Cam Jordan, core; Sheldon Rankin, Achilles), but all are expected back by training camp.