New Orleans Saints 2023 Training Camp Preview
The New Orleans Saints have not made the playoffs since 2020 but that might change this year with a new-look roster. Last season the Saints finished 7-10 which was third in the NFC South division. However, they have three big changes heading into the 2023 season. Firstly, head coach Dennis Allen is now heading into his second season with New Orleans. Secondly, former All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas will be back this season after only playing in three games last year. Lastly, there is a new sheriff in town as Derek Carr is now the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.
Carr is a capable starter in the NFL and he is a better option than New Orleans has had at QB. The Saints focused on offense this offseason adding running back Jamaal Williams and tight end Foster Moreau. Carr will have some good weapons with a wide receivers duo of Thomas and Chris Olave as well as running back Alvin Kamara. However, New Orleans suffered multiple losses on the defensive side of the ball specifically in their front seven. Ultimately, it will be interesting to see if the Saints can end their playoff drought with coach Allen and QB Carr driving the boat.
3 Positions Battles to Watch
TE Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau
An intriguing position battle in training camp is for the tight end position. Juwan Johnson just had his best year yet with 42 receptions, 508 yards, and seven touchdowns. He was effective for the Saints last year and valuable as a red zone target. Meanwhile, Moreau a free-agent acquisition from the Raiders ended with 33 receptions, 420 yards, and two touchdowns. This position battle will be competitive because both tight ends are around the same skill level as solid starters. Also, it is important to note that the Saints do not run many two tight end sets so it is unlikely they share a lot of playing time.
Finally, Johnson has the advantage of being with New Orleans for three years and already knowing the offensive system. However, Moreau has the advantage of playing with Carr in Las Vegas and already has chemistry with the quarterback. Whoever wins the job will get a lot of looks as Carr has a history of highly targeting his tight ends.
CB Paulson Adebo, Alontae Taylor
Last year, I had Alontae Taylor in a position battle with Bradley Roby for the first backup cornerback. Now, Taylor is pushing for the starting job after Adebo had a bad second season. The Saints drafted Paulson Adebo from Stanford in the third round of the 2021 draft. He surprised a lot of people when he had a great rookie campaign with three interceptions, eight pass deflections, and 66 tackles. However, he regressed last year, leaving an opening for 2022 second-round pick Taylor. The former Tennessee cornerback had a solid rookie season playing in 13 games and starting in nine. He finished the season with 11 pass deflections and 46 tackles.
This will be a competitive position battle but there is a chance that one of them could bump to the nickel cornerback position. However, if the New Orleans Saints can get both of these players to improve ahead of next season then their secondary will be dangerous. New Orleans already has Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore and above-average safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye.
WR Tre’Quan Smith, Rashid Shaheed
The last position battle is for the wide receiver three position. It seems like the Saints have been having wide receiver battles for the past three seasons. However, New Orleans might have found some stability in Thomas and Olave. That is if Thomas can stay healthy and actually play some football. Now, the Saints need to worry about their wide receiver three. Tre’Quan Smith is a veteran wide receiver that has played with the Saints for five seasons. However, he has never lived up to his potential and he is coming off of the worst statistical year in his career.
On the other hand, undrafted wide receiver Rashid Shaheed had a solid rookie year ending with 28 receptions, 488 yards, and two touchdowns. This position battle will come down to if Shaheed can continue to improve and show he is capable of a bigger role. If he can not demonstrate that he is a reliable option then the Saints already know what they are getting out of Smith.
Ready To Break Out: WR Chris Olave
Olave is a well-known wide receiver as he was taken with the 11th pick in the 2022 NFL draft. However, by breakout I mean he will put his name up there as one of the best young receivers in the game and as a possible top-25 type wide receiver. He ended last season with 72 receptions, 1042 yards, and four touchdowns while only starting nine games.
Next season, Olave will have more opportunities as a locked and loaded wide receiver two. Also, he will receive a boost in production because of the better quarterback play now that Carr is in New Orleans. He is an ultra-smooth runner with great speed and ball skills. I think he will demonstrate his elite skill for finding the end zone next year like he did time and time again in college.
Rookie to Watch: Bryan Breese
Bryan Breese was the 29th overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2023 NFL draft. He was a talented defensive tackle out of Clemson. He was a former national top recruit that found success in the Clemson program. Breese did not have the greatest season in 2022 but he still displayed his skill on the field. He finished with 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two pass deflections in ten games.
He has some concerns such as his injury history and lack of big production in college. However, he is an athletic defensive tackle that does well against double teams. Breese will need to be more of a disrupter in the NFL which will be possible as he will be lined up next to perineal Pro-Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan.
Fantasy Sleeper: Jamaal Williams
Williams is not the biggest sleeper as he had a phenomenal fantasy season last year. However, a backup running back is a backup running back and Williams offers value in the later rounds. Williams was at the right place at the right time last year setting career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns. He led the league in touchdowns last year with 17. I think he can find some success in New Orleans and be a valid fantasy option.
Kamara is a great receiving back and a good runner but he had arguably his worst season yet last year. Williams is a skilled runner and a good receiving back that can carve out a meaningful role in this offense. I think Williams can keep a steady floor with receiving work while getting a good amount of carries and specifically goal line touches. If his touchdown numbers are anything near what they were last year then he will be an extremely valuable pick for where he will be drafted.