Drew Brees may have the best top-to-bottom offensive roster of his career heading into the 2018 NFL season. There’s two reasons that’s an extremely bold statement. The first, which will be addressed shortly, is the fact that the Saints have a 30-plus-year-old receiver as their number two option, and neither option three or option four have played a snap for the Saints yet.
The second reason pertains to the highly-talented rosters Brees has been a part of in the past already. In 2004, while Brees was playing for the then-San Diego Chargers, his offensive partners were some of the top in the entire league. It starts with LaDainian Tomlinson, who led the league in rushing touchdowns (17) that season. He also posted 1,335 rushing yards while hauling in 341 receiving yards from Brees. He’s already got his spot in the Hall of Fame, and Antonio Gates is right behind.
Gates, of course, was Brees’ tight end for that year. 2004 was just Gates’ second season in the NFL, but he attained his career-high mark in touchdown receptions with 13. That led the league in regards to tight ends. Add in 964 receiving yards in 15 games of action, and that’s one of the best one-two offensive punches in recent memory.
On top of those two, Brees was handing off to Michael Turner (future Pro Bowler), and throwing passes to the likes of Eric Parker (690 yards and four touchdowns in 2004) and Reche Caldwell (310 yards and three touchdowns in just six games). Brees was also being protected by a great offensive line, headed by Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick. The Chargers went 12-4 that season and clinched a playoff berth for the first time in nine years.
Of course, even more impressive was the slue of guys Brees won Super Bowl XLIV with. Leading the pack was Marques Colston, the “Quiet Storm.” Colston tallied 70 receptions for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns during the championship run. Behind Brees was Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush; both were incredible receiving options out of the backfield. Thomas totaled 1,095 yards from scrimmage with eight touchdowns, while Bush eclipsed 725 scrimmage yards with eight touchdowns as well.
Out of the slot for Brees was Lance Moore, who was recently inducted into the New Orleans Saints Ring of Honor earlier this year with Thomas. During the regular season, Moore accumulated just 153 yards and two touchdowns one season after a near-1,000 yard receiving year in 2008 to go along with 10 touchdowns. He was crucial during the playoffs and Super Bowl, however.
Also catching balls was Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, both underrated deep threats. Jeremy Shockey was a veteran tight end at the time, but was a legendary name after his time with the Giants. Blocking for Brees in 2009 was a handful of impressive guards and tackles: Jermon Bushrod, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, Jon Stinchcomb, and the recently-retired Zach Strief. This is the only team Brees has won a Super Bowl with, so it would be hard to top.
The Saints in 2018
The swagger is back in the Big Easy, so their football team has very high expectations. The desire for a Championship is exponentially larger heading into this season due to the certainty of Brees’ fast-approaching departure from the NFL. Mickey Loomis and the Saints’ front office have spent incredible attention on who they surround Brees with, while timing it perfect for seasons like this one.
It started with moving up for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the 2012 draft. Last season, Ingram was named to his second Pro Bowl and eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the second year in a row. His 12 touchdowns were a career-high as well. The outbreak season for rookie Alvin Kamara caught the attention of the country, and his sophomore year may result in even bigger numbers from the former Volunteer. Kamara is a threat in the running and passing game, as he totaled 1,554 yards and 13 touchdowns, both marks leading all rookies in 2017.
Of course, the Saints’ top-five backfield is complimented by a top-five wide receiver. Michael Thomas is entering his third year in the league, and the former second-round selection looks to continue to break records. In two years, Thomas has 196 receptions for 2,382 yards. His 196 catches are most for any player in their first two seasons in the league, and Thomas was the first Saints player ever to catch 100 passes in a season (he caught 104 last year). He is a bonafide superstar, and he may be the best receiver Brees has thrown to.
Also tops in the league are the guys blocking up front for Brees. Despite zero Pro Bowl players (minus Larry Warford being named an alternate), Pro Football Focus ranked them as the most efficient line in the league for 2017. Center Max Unger is a former All-Pro, as is left tackle Terron Armstead. Warford and Andrus Peat, who is a former first-round pick, are the stud guards for the Saints. And, of course, last draft’s 32nd overall selection, Ryan Ramczyk, is deemed as an up-and-coming star at right tackle.
The only “shaky” aspect of Brees’ surrounding offensive cast is the wide receiving corps outside of Thomas. Ted Ginn Jr, the number two guy, is 33 years old, which is six years older than the average age of NFL WR’s. Cam Meredith, the current slot receiver, is new to the team after a couple of seasons with the Chicago Bears. He hasn’t been part of the Saints’ offense before, so it’s going to be a learning curve for Meredith. And Tre’Quan Smith, who seems to be the fourth guy in the equation, is a rookie third-round pick out of Central Florida, meaning he’s up in the air.
However, if past performances are any indication of how those two will perform with Brees, then New Orleans’ front office will only bolster their impressive resume. Smith was electric in college and was a big piece for UCF going from a 0-12 record in 2016 to 12-0 in 2017. As a Junior, Smith caught 57 balls for 1,175 yards and 13 touchdowns. His average reception was 20 yards; his downfield access is incredible.
If his college stats and tape don’t convince you, his performance thus far in Saints training camp will.
The player who has stood out the most for me today at @Saints practice is rookie WR Tre’quan Smith.
— Sean Kelley (@SeanKelleyLive) July 28, 2018
Saints rookie Tre’Quan Smith 🤭 pic.twitter.com/67A2PK7Dfc
— Amos Morale III (@Amos_MoraleIII) July 29, 2018
Hoping to improve the short-passing game (which is already great), New Orleans signed Cam Meredith to a two-year contract this past offseason. He’s coming off a form ACL suffered during the 2017 preseason. He’s been healthy for training camp, and we won’t see him officially as a Saint until August 9.
The year before his injury, Meredith led the Chicago Bears in receiving. He caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Bears were awful and Meredith’s quarterbacks were Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley. The team finished 3-13, so Meredith finds himself in a much better situation with the Saints. He may be the answer to Willie Snead’s departure, plus some.
It’s hard to say for certain that this roster is the most talented Drew Brees has been around. On paper, it’s definitely in the conversation. The actual results this season will tell the tale.