Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Saints Nation: Top 10 Most Valuable New Orleans Saints in 2010

Going into each season, I put together a list of the top 10 most valuable Saints. Last year, my top 10 picks were the following.What a difference a year makes, right? Jammal Brown was 3rd, and now he's not even in the top 10. Here's my list for 2010:

1. Drew Brees: No surprise here, and this much is indisputable. He's arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, and by far the best player on the team. As always, the Saints will go as far as Drew Brees takes them (2009 pick: Drew Brees).

2. Tracy Porter: This pick is going to shock some people, but Porter proved to me all season and in the playoffs last year that he's one of the premiere up and coming young corners in the league. Don't get me wrong, Jabari Greer is valuable as well because he keeps quarterbacks throwing to Porter's side a bit thanks to his own good play, but Porter has turned into an elite playmaker on defense. Porter helps Darren Sharper make plays, and he helps Will Smith get to the quarterback. He makes everyone around him better, and he's a catalyst in the Gregg Williams defense (2009 pick: Jonathan Vilma).

3. Jahri Evans: Evans is the best player on the offensive line, no doubt about it. He's equally dominant on running plays as he is passing plays. Brees stepped up in the pocket more than ever last year to avoid pass rushes off the edge, and it was Evans' impeccable interior blocking that allowed him to do so without getting hit. Evans was just rewarded with a massive new contract and he'll anchor the Saints' line for a long time (2009 pick: Jammal Brown).

4. Darren Sharper: He's getting older and there's questions about how he'll rebound from microfracture surgery on his knee, but how can anyone deny the impact he had on and off the field for the Saints' defense in 2009? The guy had 9 interceptions, which ties a career high, 15 defended passes, which is a career high, and he broke the NFL record for most interception returns yards in a season with 376. I wouldn't bet against the guy coming back to have another incredibly productive season.(2009 pick: Pierre Thomas)

5. Pierre Thomas: In three seasons with the Saints, Thomas averaged a staggering 5.1 yards per carry, which includes 5.4 yards per carry in 2009. He keeps the chains moving and he's often finding his way into the end zone. Last year I think Thomas successfully made the transition from a seldom talked about role player around the league, to a well recognized legitimate playmaker. Granted the Saints are a pass first offense, but that's opened massive lanes for Thomas take advantage of. He's been by far the most successful runner for the Saints the last three years. Hopefully the Saints can get his contract situation resolved soon. (2009 pick: Marques Colston)

6. Jonathan Vilma: As you've noticed, Vilma's stock has dropped a little bit in terms of how important he is to the Saints compared to last year when I had him ranked #2. But the drop to #6 does not reflect a drop off in performance from Vilma, it reflects the fact that a lot of players on the team have become more valuable thanks to improved defensive play and team play overall. In 2008, Vilma was one of the lone bright spots on the entire defense. In 2009, you could name him along with several others that made a difference. His tackle tally did drop off from 2008 (110 vs. 132), but his interception total rose (3 vs. 1). Vilma is still the captain of the defense and the primary tackler. (2009 pick: Will Smith)

7. Will Smith: Don't worry Will Smith, I haven't forgotten about you. Smith had a career high 13 sacks in 2009. Great to see him bounce back after what was a disastrous 2008 campaign for him. I still had him ranked as the 6th most valuable Saint going into 2009, and despite a career year he drops 1 place. That should tell you how much better the Saints have gotten as a team. If he had had that kind of season in 2008, Will Smith would probably have been rated #2 behind Brees last year. Smith represents the best pass rushing threat on the team, and he's also very good against the run. It's nice to have such a well rounded defensive end that is living up to his contract (I'm looking at you Charles Grant). Expect great things out of Smith again this year with so many good players around him doing their part. (2009 pick: Darren Sharper)

8. Sedrick Ellis: I didn't have him in the top 10 last year, but I think it's clear he's developing into a crucial element on the roster. His play continues to improve, and I believe he has the talent to be a perennial Pro Bowler. Ellis is without question the most instrumental piece in helping the Saints improve against the run. If there was one statistical place that left the Saints lacking in 2009, it was their run defense. Ultimately, we'll need an even better season from Ellis to improve in that area. He's not too shabby getting pressure up the middle, either. (2009 pick: Jahri Evans)

9. Reggie Bush: The "X factor" moves up one spot from #10 last year. I think the Saints have finally understood his place in the offense, and they've found the number of reps they're comfortable giving him that keep him healthy throughout a season. Bush showed major improvement in the running game last year, averaging a very impressive 5.6 yards per carry. Prior to last year, his highest average per carry for a season was 3.8, so that was a major difference. Bush is also a terrific security valve in the passing game that can turn a short flare pass into something deadly. His breakaway speed is something that needs to be accounted for at all times. Bush as a decoy is as deadly as Bush with the ball, because it creates huge plays for other offensive weapons. Bush did see a major drop off in his punt return performance last year, and that was the one area I was very disappointed with. That said, he did take one to the house against the Cardinals in the playoffs, so hopefully he can build from that. (2009 pick: Bobby McCray)

10. Marques Colston: Colston has had some injury issues as of late that have stunted his development a little bit. I still think he's an elite receiver in the league, but Brees made it clear last year it does not matter who's on the field. He will find the open guy, rack up stats, and put up points for his team. Still, Colston has a huge frame that's essential for moving the chains and making tough catches in the red zone. He's still Brees' primary target and plays a big part in the team's passing success, but he hasn't yet been able to duplicate the peak performance we saw from him in his second season. He's been steady and valuable, just not as dominant. (2009 pick: Reggie Bush)

There's definitely a lot of very good players that could have made this list, but didn't. It's fun to see how things change from year to year, so I'm looking forward to doing this again next year.