12 in 2: Top recent player acquisitions by Saints

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Alvin Kamara
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The New Orleans Saints were a losing team from 2014-2016.

They finished each of those seasons with a 7-9 record.

There existed in the organization a sense of urgency to regain its status as a winning team and Super Bowl contender.

A continuation of the string of losing seasons – perhaps even for just one more season – could have been sufficient cause for owner Tom Benson to re-evaluate whether the men in charge of the football operation were still the best ones to handle the challenge – despite a track record that also included a Super Bowl championship after the 2009 season and four additional playoff appearances since 2006.

Coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant general manager/college scouting director Jeff Ireland and director of pro scouting Terry Fontenot set out to upgrade the personnel to playoff and Super Bowl quality.

The window of opportunity to rebuild around quarterback Drew Brees, a sure-bet Hall of Famer and the best player in franchise history, was beginning to slide downward.

Brees needed help if he and New Orleans were going to become Super Bowl contenders again.

Payton and the rest of the football operation put together an outstanding draft in 2017, one worthy of comparison to the elite ones in 1981, 1986 and 2006.

The crop of free agents brought in for the 2017 season brought in a handful of productive starters.

The Saints ended the streak of losing season emphatically, winning the NFC South title and a wild-card playoff game before narrowly missing out on a trip to the NFC title game.

The draft and free agency classes in 2018 didn’t match those of 2017, but supplemented them well enough to continue the progress started a year earlier.

New Orleans won a second consecutive division title for the first time, finished 13-3 despite resting several key players in a season-ending loss and secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Saints play the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, whom they blasted 48-7 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Nov. 18, in a divisional playoff game Sunday afternoon in the same building.

If they win they will host either the Los Angeles Rams or the Dallas Cowboys for the NCF Championship and a trip to Super Bowl LIII.

Regardless of what happens in the playoff, the rebuilding project that the organization undertook two years ago is an unqualified success.

Here’s a look at the top 12 player acquisitions of the last two years.

12 DE Marcus Davenport

If a list such as this is made a year from now or in subsequent seasons, Davenport figures to be much higher on it.

He’s just a rookie and he was slowed in the preseason and early in the regular season because of injuries. Nonetheless he made 4.5 sacks and showed the skill that enticed the Saints to trade this year’s No. 1 draft choice to Green Bay so they could move up in last year’s first round.

Davenport looks like he’ll be a fixture on the line for years to come.

11 LB Alex Anzalone

He earned a starting position as a rookie in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury early in the season.

It took him a while to regain his form but he has started whenever the Saints have opened in their base defense and he’s fourth on the team with 61 tackles.

His speed and athleticism have made him effective as both a run defender and a pass defender.

10 DE Alex Okafor

Okafor had a very good season after joining the Saints as a free agent before last season. But then he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.

New Orleans saw enough of him before the injury – and was satisfied enough by his rehab – to re-sign him and he has continued to be an effective starter (four sacks) even with the arrival of Davenport.

9 WR Ted Ginn Jr.

His value was illustrated when he returned from arthroscopic knee surgery to make five catches for 74 yards in a 31-28 victory against the Steelers on Dec. 23, which clinched the No. 1 seed.

Since July the Saints have been trying to find complementary receivers for Michael Thomas. Only Ginn has been consistently productive – when healthy, which he appears to be now.

If New Orleans is going to be successful in the post-season it’s likely Ginn will be making important catches along the way.

8 LB A.J. Klein

Like Anzalone, Klein’s first season in New Orleans in 2017 was cut short due to injury. He started 12 games before going on injured reserve because of a groin injury.

The former Carolina Panther has been healthy this entire season and been a steady contributor on the much-improved defense, ranking third with 69 tackles.

7 CB Eli Apple

The acquisition of Apple in a trade with the Giants on Oct. 23 was the final piece to the defensive puzzle.

Not only did his arrival give New Orleans a solid starting cornerback, but it allowed P.J. Williams, who struggled early in the season, to move to nickel-back, where he has played better and fixed a weakness caused by a season-ending injury to Patrick Robinson.

6 S Marcus Williams

He was really good as a rookie last season and he has been really good again this season.

Of course, Williams’ rookie performance was best known for his missed tackle that enabled the “Minnesota Miracle” to happen. The Vikings’ touchdown on the final play of the divisional playoff cost New Orleans a trip to the NFC Championship last season.

But Williams has not shown any lingering effects from the blunder and has been a key player for the secondary and the defense as a whole.

5 G Larry Warford

As tends to happen with offensive linemen, it has been easy to overlook Warford’s contributions, but they have been significant since he arrived as a free agent before last season.

His play at right guard has been exceptional and he has been a key contributor to a unit that is one of the strengths of this team.

4 LB Demario Davis

His signing as a free agent was the biggest acquisition of the last offseason.

Davis has been the most significant factor in the defense’s emergence. He leads the team with 110 tackles and is third with five sacks.

3 CB Marshon Lattimore

The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is 2017 hasn’t been as good in 2018.

But he’s still good.

Lattimore got off to a low start this season and he hasn’t made as many big plays as last season. But he has been solid and generally has gotten better as the season has gone along.

His presence as the number one cornerback is still a significant piece to the defensive puzzle.

2 T Ryan Ramczyk

Like Warford, he probably has been a bit overlooked as well.

But he was outstanding as a rookie and continued to improve this season, earning second-team All-Pro honors.

1 RB Alvin Kamara

His ability to run the ball, catch the ball and make game-breaking plays from a variety of positions on the field make him one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL.

Given the fact that he was just a third-round draft choice in 2017 – meaning even the Saints passed on him three times – the value for that pick has been enormous.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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