One of the things that makes DREW BREES great is his ability to manipulate pass defenders with body language. He does this not only with pump fakes but also with shoulder rolls and misleading glances to one side of the field. This is quarterbacking at its highest level, and it is vital for a New Orleans offense that focuses its passing game almost exclusively inside the numbers.
• Left tackle TERRON ARMSTEAD will miss part of the season as he recovers from offseason surgery for a torn left labrum. But the Saints can survive, because their scheme naturally helps blockers. For one, no NFC coach last year used formations with six offensive linemen more than SEAN PAYTON, who loves to throw from that personnel grouping. Also, its tight ends and running backs often help with chip blocks. This slows those players as they're getting into their routes, but that's fine because they can serve as check-down options, and Brees's eyes don't reach them until late in the play.
• Don't be surprised when ADRIAN PETERSON supplants MARK INGRAM in the running back pecking order. The free-agent pickup is a great fit for New Orleans's north-south ground game, which stylistically resembles the one Peterson thrived in as a Viking.
• The defense has been bad for a while, even though the front office has been trying. Every year since 2011 the Saints have spent two of their top three draft picks on defense. The wet-noodle-to-wall approach has left them with a ton of depth—if we're defining depth as highly drafted players who could carve out significant roles but also might provide nothing. Only five starters are proven and locked in: end CAMERON JORDAN, tackle SHELDON RANKINS, cornerback DELVIN BREAUX (if healthy), and safeties KENNY VACCARO and VONN BELL. That's not to say New Orleans is in dire straits at every other position; it's just that those spots are unsettled.
• Defensive coordinator DENNIS ALLEN plays with a ton of personnel groupings, front seven alignments and coverage rotations. It's no surprise the Saints drafted cornerback MARSHON LATTIMORE of Ohio State in the first round. The better Allen's corners are in solo coverage, the more creative he can be.
"BREES IS QUARTER-BACKING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL, AND HE'S VITAL TO THEIR BETWEEN-THE-NUMBERS AIR ATTACK."
SI'S 2017 PREDICTION
2016 RECORD 7--9
ANDY BENOIT'S 400 MMQB ON.SI.COM/400
37 DREW BREES QB
127 DELVIN BREAUX CB
169 ADRIAN PETERSON RB
176 CAMERON JORDAN DE
222 MARK INGRAM RB
228 MAX UNGER C
237 SHELDON RANKINS DT
260 KENNY VACCARO SS
298 MICHAEL THOMAS WR
318 TERRON ARMSTEAD T
370 VONN BELL FS
371 A.J. KLEIN LB