After solidifying their defensive line through the draft, the Saints look to build on the momentum from 2017. Although it may have been a long winter for many of the Saints faithful, there is a lot to look forward to as Sean Payton and Drew Brees gear up for their 12th season together.
With the start of the regular season less than three months away, let’s review the Saints’ recent draft picks and take an early look at their 2018 schedule.
Marcus Davenport (DE) – 1st round
The Saints made a splash on draft night by acquiring Marcus Davenport with the 14th overall pick. New Orleans traded their first round picks for 2018 and 2019 as well as a fifth round pick to the Green Bay Packers in order to move up from 27th to 14th.
Although the trade was viewed as risky by some, Saints management believes Davenport could be an instant contributor for their defensive front. As a senior at UTSA, Davenport tormented opposing offenses, recording 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his final college season.
Combine Davenport’s innate nose for the ball with his massive 6’6”, 265 pound frame, and it is easy to understand why the Saints see tremendous potential in him.
Tre’Quan Smith (WR) – 3rd round
With the 91st overall pick, the Saints opted to bolster their receiving core by drafting Tre’Quan Smith from the University of Central Florida.
Smith is coming off a standout season as a redshirt junior, where he posted 1,171 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns on almost 20 yards per catch. The Saints feel that Smith will be a natural fit in their offense because he specializes in stretching the field vertically and is strong enough to operate over the middle.
In the short term, Smith is a solid addition to a receiving core with tremendous depth. However, many in the Saints organization feel Smith has the potential to be a true number two option at wideout after he adjusts to NFL speed.
Natrell Jamerson (S/CB) – 5th round
In the fifth round, the Saints selected Natrell Jamerson, a safety from the University of Wisconsin. Although Jamerson does not figure to make an immediate impact for the Saints secondary, the organization sees him as a jack-of-all-trades with the speed and tackling ability to stand out on special teams.
Although he is listed as a safety, Jamerson also took snaps at cornerback and wide receiver during his career at Wisconsin. With a creative coach like Sean Payton at the helm, the Saints believe Jamerson has the potential to impact all three facets of the game.
The Saints come into the 2018 season with their sights set on avenging last year’s catastrophic loss to the Vikings in the NFC Divisional round.
Although 2017 was highlighted by a return to the postseason, the Saints faithful remain shell shocked from watching an otherwise successful year come crashing down as the game clock struck zeroes in Minnesota.
As the Saints prepare to take the field in just 72 days, we will examine key matchups on the 2018 schedule and predict what might be in store for Sean Payton’s squad this fall.
Saints @ Falcons, September 23
Any time the Saints and Falcons clash, it is considered a marquee game by both fanbases. Nothing will be different this year, as the two teams square up for the first time in Week 3 with early season positioning at stake.
This will be the Saints’ first road game of 2018, and they can ill afford to lose footing with Atlanta and Carolina in a perpetually tight NFC South race. After opening the season with two VERY winnable games at the Superdome, this Week 3 matchup will serve as the Saints first true litmus test of 2018.
Saints @ Vikings, October 28th
Usually, inter-divisional matchups in Week 8 would not make a list of “key games” for any team. This game is an exception to that rule. This is the game that every Saints fan circled on the calendar as soon as schedules were released.
This is (sort of) a shot at redemption for the same Saints team that sulked out of U.S. Bank Stadium after being 10 seconds from an NFC Championship game.
While the stakes won’t be as high on October 28th, expect to see a fiery Saints team with a point to prove. A win in Week 8 won’t be enough to rectify the Miracle in Minneapolis, but it would go a long way towards building momentum for the second half of the season.
Panthers @ Saints, December 30th
The Saints conclude the 2018 regular season at the Superdome with a showdown against the Carolina Panthers. Depending on how the first 15 games play out, this Week 17 matchup could have playoff implications for several teams.
Last year, New Orleans narrowly edged out the Panthers for the NFC South title via tiebreaker, which gave them home field advantage against Carolina in the playoffs. This year, the NFC South figures to be equally competitive, with Atlanta and Carolina retaining most of their key players from playoff teams in 2017.
This regular season finale could be the difference between a home game or a road game in the playoffs (or making the playoffs versus a long, football-less winter in the Crescent City). Look for the Saints to come out sharp and finish the season on a high note in front of the home fans.
The Saints have a lot to look forward to as the 2018 season approaches. Alvin Kamara appears ready to pick up right where his 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign left off.
Drew Brees has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the last 12 (!) seasons. Most importantly, the much-improved Saints defense should continue to solidify themselves as a formidable threat in 2018.
New Orleans can use the first half of their schedule to get a head start on the NFC South by taking care of business at home and winning road games against middling teams like Washington and Baltimore.
However, the Saints will face the hardest part of their schedule during the final stretch, with stout home tests against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as well as a string of NFC South clashes to close the year.
Expect the Saints to start fast and cling to playoff position throughout the season, eventually winning the division for a second straight year with an 11-5 record.