NFC South Reporter
Which NFL teams have the best young cores? FOX Sports took a deep look at every team’s players drafted between 2019 and 2023 to ascertain which franchises have the most promising base of young talent. Our writers ranked all 32 individually, and the final result is an aggregate of all those lists. We’ll count them down for you before the start of the 2023 NFL season, starting with the worst (No. 32) all the way up to No. 1.
The Saints will have one of the oldest teams in the NFL in 2023, and while this is their third year without Drew Brees, they’re still reliant on 30-plus leaders like Cam Jordan and Demario Davis, especially on defense.
One reason they’re low on this list is that they’ve given up high draft picks in recent years — they gave up a 2019 first-rounder to move up for edge Marcus Davenport (now gone) in 2018, and gave up a slew of picks to get receiver Chris Olave in 2022. Other first-rounders, like 2021’s Peyton Turner and 2022’s Trevor Penning, haven’t worked out so far.
The Saints’ salary-cap strategy of borrowing heavily from future cap space to fit more talent in current seasons is a practice that really needs them to hit on draft picks for younger talent that’s cheap on rookie contracts, but they haven’t done that well. They’ve also just had fewer picks — only five in 2022, only four in 2020 — such that this year’s class of seven draft picks matches their largest since 2015.
Getting a bonus first-round pick from the Broncos for retired coach Sean Payton gave New Orleans an impact rookie in defensive lineman Bryan Bresee, and this year’s class might not have a huge level of starters, but could make a greater impact next year as New Orleans moves on from their veteran core.
WR Chris Olave (2022 first round)
CB Paulson Adebo
C Erik McCoy (2019 second round)
LB Pete Werner (2021 second round)
TE Juwan Johnson (2020, undrafted)
Standout: Chris Olave
Olave is a budding star whose national profile could take a big leap with Derek Carr throwing him passes this fall. He caught 72 passes for 1,042 yards as a rookie — both leading the team last year — and had four touchdowns. That last number could double if he and Carr can click this season. Will a healthy Michael Thomas crib into his production? The Saints have arguably upgraded their offensive depth all over the field (RB Jamaal Williams, TE Foster Moreau) but Olave should be their most dangerous weapon.
In 2021 third-rounder Paulson Adebo and 2022 second-rounder Alontae Taylor, the Saints have two young corners competing for the starting job opposite Marshon Lattimore. With Lattimore sidelined much of last year, those two combined for 21 starts but zero interceptions — one of them should have a chance to shine with Lattimore covering opponents’ top receiving threat and a veteran secondary that includes Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. One more name to watch: Turner, who has been limited to 13 games and three sacks in two seasons, but could take over Davenport’s starting role with a chance to show why he was a first-round pick two years ago.
Giants Kayvon Thibodeaux & Saints’ Chris Olave headline NFL’s top five impact rookies
Contracts to consider
New Orleans shouldn’t have too many coveted young free agents next spring — guard Cesar Ruiz is the only 2020 draft pick making an impact, and the Saints declined his fifth-year option, so their offseason will be more about shedding veteran contracts that have become unwieldy through multiple restructures. The challenge this fall will be finding ways to get rookies on the field on a team dominated by older players — the sooner they can shift their team to a younger core while staying competitive, the better.
- It’s out of range for our definition of young talent, but the Saints’ 2017 haul remains one of the best for any NFL team in any single draft in the past decade. They aren’t all still in New Orleans, but corner Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramczyk and running back Alvin Kamara are among their best talents, still in their under-30 prime. Lattimore and Kamara have combined for nine Pro Bowls — in the six drafts since, all the Saints’ draft picks have combined for zero Pro Bowl appearances.
- Chris Olave joined Michael Thomas (2016) and Marques Colston (2006) as only the third Saint to cross the 1,000-yard threshold in their rookie seasons
- Eric McCoy has allowed just three sacks and eight QB hits in four seasons (per PFF).
- Pete Werner has just five missed tackles in two seasons
“The two I wrote down [as lowest] were the Rams and the Saints. We like Erik McCoy a lot. Olave and McCoy. They let Davenport walk. Pete Werner could be a top-20 linebacker. He’s a good player.” —NFC personnel executive
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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