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State of the 2023 New Orleans Saints: Can Derek Carr spark offensive rebound, deliver playoff berth?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Saints organization, Saints fans around the world and those who might finally be ready to put away those Drew Brees jerseys ...

New Orleans has not made the playoffs since Brees retired following the 2020 season. In March, though, the Saints handed four-time Pro Bowl QB Derek Carr a four-year, $150 million contract with $100 million in total guarantees. Is it enough to get them back into the postseason tournament? Good question. But before we look forward, we must again take a quick look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Winning three of four games to close out the season. The draftniks will bemoan the fact that this late rally actually cost New Orleans in the grand scheme of things. OK, but life's short -- live in the moment. In Week 17, you got a road win over the eventual NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. That was pretty cool, even though Jalen Hurts was inactive.

One low from last season: Losing to the Buccaneers. Twice. Ah, man -- you always seemed to have Tom Brady's number, and that was kind of fun. But then you went out and got swept by the G.O.A.T. as he was on his way out to pasture. Tough.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Derek Carr. I have a Derek Carr bias, I know this. But I truly believe Raiders fans didn't appreciate what they had with Carr and are going to end up wishing he was still under center for the Silver and Black this season. I mean, no fan base impugns its own product like Raiders fans. Well, maybe Star Wars fans, but there is way too much to unpack there. I really love this as a second act for Derek. He's been a consistent performer over the years. And when you look at what the Saints have gone through post-Brees -- with five different quarterbacks making at least one start over the last two seasons -- it's nice to once again have some stability at the game's most important position.

Projected 2023 MVP: Carr. I had high hopes for Derek last year with the Raiders. I honestly thought the reunion with Davante Adams would put the QB in the MVP conversation. It turned out to be one of his worst seasons since entering the league in 2014. OK, in fairness, he threw for 3,522 yards and 24 touchdowns (against 14 picks) in 15 games. Not disastrous, but definitely not what I anticipated. And it wasn't up to Carr's own standard, as he recently said the Raiders "just didn't get my best and that drove me crazy at the end." Call me a Carr apologist if you like, but sometimes a fresh start is exactly what's needed. I feel like that's the case here.

New face to know: Jamaal Williams, running back. I mean, Carr was a huge get for New Orleans. Duh. But don't sleep on the Williams signing. Now, let me be clear: Jamaal's due for a scoring regression in 2023. It's hard to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons; he had a whopping 17 with Detroit in 2022, breaking the iconic Barry Sanders' franchise record. But I always felt like Williams was the glue that held the Lions together. Kind of like the Scott Hall of the group. Hall wasn't Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash, but he was so underrated and brilliant. That's J-Dub. Not only will he be great on the gridiron in NOLA, but an excellent locker room guy, too.

2023 breakout star: Alontae Taylor, cornerback. I know a lot of folks initially thought the Saints reached on Taylor in the second round of last year's draft, but the dude was really good as a rookie. He was thrown into the mix when Marshon Lattimore was sidelined by injury and ended up starting nine games. We've all been there. I was once training to be a server at The Improv when this guy called in sick, so I just had to jump in and do it. I was terrible. Taylor was great. He had a team-high 11 pass breakups in 2022. This year, he's taking a lot of snaps at slot corner. And don't think that slot corner is just some throwaway position. Not in the modern game. A lot of teams routinely put their best receivers in the slot. This is a vital position, and Taylor is ready for it.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Dennis Allen
General manager Mickey Loomis
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods
Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi
  • Dennis Allen and Derek Carr will be reunited in New Orleans. Allen was Carr's first coach in the NFL -- at least for the first four games of the 2014 season, before Allen was fired. Both men are much different now, having been through a lot in the years since their initial union -- and hopefully, they will be better for it. Their relationship was a big factor in Carr signing with the Saints, as was Allen's fifth-ranked defense from last year. I'm sure they have shared a meal at Commander's Palace reminiscing about their time in Oakland.
  • There was speculation New Orleans could move on from longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael after last year's disappointing output. The Saints ranked 19th in total offense and 22nd in scoring. But Carmichael's back for a 15th season as New Orleans' OC.
  • Mickey Loomis has seen it all during his two-plus decades with the Saints. He was there when the team brought in Drew Brees to eventually hoist the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy. Can he work that kind of magic again with Derek Carr?

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Saints' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson (1-29) Derek Carr, QB Andy Dalton, QB
Isaiah Foskey, DE, Notre Dame (2-40) Jamaal Williams, RB Mark Ingram, RB
Kendre Miller, RB, TCU (3-71) Foster Moreau, TE Marquez Callaway, WR
Nick Saldiveri, OG, Old Dominion (4-103) Khalen Saunders, DT Deonte Harty, WR/RET
Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State (4-127) Nathan Shepherd, DT Jarvis Landry, WR
Jordan Howden, S, Minnesota (5-146) Johnathan Abram, S Adam Trautman, TE
A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forrest (6-195) Marcus Davenport, DE
Kentavius Street, DE
David Onyemata, DL
Shy Tuttle, DL
Kaden Elliss, LB
Chris Harris Jr., CB
Justin Evans, S
Daniel Sorensen, S
P.J. Williams, S

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

Will the Saints be able to ...

... count on the return of Michael Thomas? He's one of the best receivers in the game -- when healthy, which hasn't been the case for quite some time. Thomas has missed 40 of 50 games over the last three seasons, including the entire 2021 campaign and 14 contests in 2022. The Saints' receiving corps is a touch thin, though Chris Olave was dynamite in his rookie season with 72 receptions, just over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns. Now -- as you might expect -- there are reports of Derek and Olave bonding this offseason. And thank goodness, because I was worried. But Olave could have a monster Season 2, like you've seen out of a lot of players. And TV shows. Many don't entirely hit their groove in that first season. Well, outside of Ted Lasso, which might have been the best first season in TV history. Rashid Shaheed is another WR to watch. He has the ability to stretch the defense, and Derek can take full advantage of that. But if you throw a healthy Thomas into that mix, the Saints will really be cooking.

... continue to dominate on defense? New Orleans' defense was stellar last season, ranking fifth in the NFL in total D and second against the pass. And remember, Marshon Lattimore missed 10 games. It's possible the Saints could be even better in 2023. There is a real chance that's true. The Saints were great at getting to the passer in 2022, which no doubt helped, but they could actually stand to improve in creating turnovers. New Orleans, believe it or not, tied for 30th in the NFL in that category with 14. Don't feel bad about doubting that stat. My editor initially raised an eyebrow and was ultimately chagrined I got that right. (Because I get a lot of stuff wrong.) Marcus Davenport is gone, but the Saints did draft some depth on the defensive line, adding DT Bryan Bresee and DE Isaiah Foskey with their first two picks. They also added DTs Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd in free agency.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: Uncertainty surrounding Alvin Kamara. The Saints running back pleaded not guilty in March to conspiracy to commit battery and substantial bodily harm charges stemming from an incident that occurred in February of 2022 during Pro Bowl weekend in Las Vegas. Kamara's trial is set for July 31, and the five-time Pro Bowler could face discipline that abbreviates his 2023 campaign. Any missed time would obviously be a hit to New Orleans -- just ask the new QB. Derek Carr recently marveled at Kamara's route-running ability, telling Saints rookie QB Jake Haener, "That's not normal." All that said, I do NOT think the Saints' backfield is sunk without AK. You already know how I feel about Jamaal Williams and what he brings to the table. But don't sleep on third-round pick Kendre Miller coming in and making an immediate impact. Dude had a breakout season with TCU last year, rumbling for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns. I don't want to be the guy who recklessly compares the 220-pound back to Marshawn Lynch, but, well, it's too late. I've done it. Miller is absolutely one to watch. Even if Kamara plays a full season, the rookie is going to carve out a role. Long story short: Kamara's legal situation (and accompanying league situation) merits your attention, obviously, but the Saints have fortified the position to mitigate the damage of his potential absence.

For 2023 to be a success, the Saints MUST:

  • Make the playoffs. The Saints are playoff ready. You don't bring in an established stud like Derek Carr to not win what could be the most wide-open division in football. So maybe I should have just put "Win the NFC South" in that bold writing next to the bullet point. Bottom line: If New Orleans doesn't reach the postseason one way or another, a lot of seats in the building will be scorching hot.

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