Five Biggest Surprises For Saints In 2016
The New Orleans Saints fell to the Atlanta Falcons, 38-32, in their 2016 regular season finale last Sunday.
The loss dropped the Saints to 7-9, the third-consecutive year they ended their season with that same record.
As is the case in every season, on every team, there were some surprises, as well as some disappointments.
Today, we take a look at the five biggest surprises, or pleasant surprises, for the Saints in 2016:
1)---Jahri Evans---Many, including myself, thought the Saints' offensive line was going to big a big negative for them this season. And while it certainly wasn't elite, the line played way better than anticipated, and Evans had a lot to do with that. A 6-time Pro Bowler with the Saints from 2009-2014, many thought that Evans' career was all but done after the Seattle Seahawks released him in early September. Named to the Saints' All-50th Team in 2016, Evans started every game at right guard, and helped the team to a number of offensive exploits, including having Drew Brees pass for 5,000 yards for the fifth time is his career, and having Mark Ingram become the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006. All of the offensive line issues that many expected the Saints to have, and made worse by Terron Armstead playing in only 7 games, were helped eases, thanks to the surprising play of Evans, who turned back the clock a few years.
2)---Nick Fairley---He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Saints during the offseason, and boy, did that ever work out for the team! After totaling only 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks from 2014-2015, combined, with the Lions and Rams, Fairley, in this year alone, accumulated 29 tackles, to go along with 6.5 sacks. He probably made himself a lot of money for 2017, but he also made the Saints look very savvy for signing him.
3)---Craig Robertson---Like Fairley, Robertson was a great offseason free agent signing for the Saints, after inking him to a 3-year, $3.98 million deal. He was supposed to be a reserve and special teams performer, but he turned out to be so much more. Robertson led the teams in tackles, with 115, after never compiling more than 99 in his four years with the Cleveland Browns. Production is the most important thing, it's exciting that the Saints get Robertson at a bargain basement price for the next two years, giving them an opportunity to spend ore money elsewhere.
4)---Michael Thomas---The Saints really liked Thomas when they took him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but they probably didn't expect him to string together the season that he had. Thomas accumulated 92 receptions for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns, which are all franchise records for a rookie. How good was the pick by the Saints, taking Thomas in the second round? Understand that there were four receivers taken in the first round; Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell, and combined, those four guys had 70 catches in 2016, 22 less than Thomas. The sky is the limit for this guy.
5)---Drew Brees---It's hard to put Brees in the "surprising" category. After all, we're talking about a surefire Hall of Famer here. That being said, Brees had his best season since 2013, throwing for 5,208 yards, the second-most of his career, to go along with 37 touchdowns, the most since 2013, and a 101.7 quarterback rating, his second-best in the last five years. Brees' 70.0% completion percentage was also his best since 2011. Again, many expected Brees to have a really good year, but at age 37, I don't think they expected him to put up the kind of numbers he did. He led the league in passing yards, while finishing fifth in passer rating. A terrific year by an all-time great!