SUPER BOWL: Key players for Saints, Colts
Projected starters and key players for Sunday's Super Bowl:
Drew Brees, QB (9), 6-0, 209, 9th season, Purdue.
Comes off sensational season in which he led NFL in passer rating (109.6, a career high), TD passes (34), and completion percentage (70.6, an NFL record) ... Had 4,388 yards passing, his fourth consecutive 4,000-yard season ... Has been key to Saints' turnaround since 2006, leading them to two NFC title games and now the Super Bowl ... Was a college hero in Indiana, although not many Colts fans likely are rooting for him this time ... Has thrown six TDs, no INTs and has 116.1 rating in playoffs.
Pierre Thomas, RB (23), 5-11, 215, 3rd season, Illinois.
Undrafted out of college, has gone from special teams ace to starting running back ... Led Saints with 793 yards rushing and six TDs. Also had 39 receptions and two more TDs ... Overtime leap on fourth-and-1 for first down was key in NFC championship victory ... Has recovered from late-season rib injury that sidelined him for finale.
Reggie Bush, RB (25), 6-0, 203, 4th season, Southern California.
Dynamic receiver, runner and punt returner, but also mistake-prone ... Recovery from knee surgery slowed him for much of schedule, but has rediscovered his burst since getting healthy ... Broke 83-yard punt return and 46-yard run for scores vs. Arizona in divisional round ... Muffed punt in championship game, but also scored touchdown on reception.
Jeremy Shockey, TE (88), 6-5, 251, 8th season, Miami.
Has battled injuries all season and sore right knee has limited him in playoffs ... Splits time with David Thomas (85), who has similar skills ... Provides good target over middle for Brees ... Had 48 catches for 569 yards and three TDs in 13 games ... Was hurt for Giants' Super Bowl win two years ago, then discarded by team, so he desperately wants a major role in this one.
Marques Colston, WR (12), 6-4, 225, 4th season, Hofstra.
Hofstra might have dropped football, but Colston remains a force ... Versatile wideout can get deep, make catches over the middle and on sidelines ... Led Saints with 70 catches for 1,074 yards and scored nine times ... Has eight catches in postseason, one score.
Devery Henderson, WR (19), 5-11, 200, 6th season, LSU.
Deep threat who has inconsistent hands, although much better at holding the ball than earlier in his career ... Averaged 15.8 yards for his 51 catches during season ... Tied with Colston for team lead with eight postseason receptions, two for TDs.
Robert Meachem, WR (17), 6-2, 210, 3rd season, Tennessee.
After wasted rookie year, has really come on in last two seasons ... A prime deep threat who had nine TD catches among 45 receptions and averaged 16.0 yards ... Has only two catches in postseason and has been bothered by sprained ankle ... Could draw single coverage often.
Jermon Bushrod, LT (74), 6-5, 315, 3rd season, Towson.
Fourth-round pick in 2007 from Division I-AA ... Very raw, was special-teamer in '07 and '08 in rare times he was active, but made 14 starts this year after Jammal Brown hurt his hip ... Has become reliable protector of Drew Brees' blind side.
Carl Nicks, LG (77), 6-5, 343, 2nd season, Nebraska.
The biggest of New Orleans' blockers ... Fifth-round choice in 2008 who started 13 games as a rookie ... Key performer in running attack, started every game this season.
Jonathan Goodwin, C (76), 6-3, 318, 8th season, Michigan.
Most veteran of blockers, joined Saints as free agent in 2006 after starting career with Jets ... Also has played some guard ... Became starting center in 2008, when he battled knee injury that cost him three games.
Jahri Evans, RG (73), 6-8, 318, 4th season, Bloomsburg.
All-Pro has blossomed rapidly after small-college background ... Fourth-round pick in 2006 has started every game in his career ... Gets outside to make blocks to spring runners, also excels in pass protection.
Jon Stinchcomb, RT (78), 6-5, 315, 7th season, Georgia.
Second-rounder in 2003 who was four-year starter in college ... Missed entire 2005 season with knee injury, but has started 64 straight regular-season games since ... Older brother Matt played for Raiders.
Bobby McCray, LE (93), 6-6, 260, 6th season, Florida.
Signed away from Jaguars as a free agent in '08 ... Replaced injured Charles Grant as starter that season and has become starter with Grant sidelined again ... Must step up his game in Super Bowl after being non-factor for most of playoff games.
Remi Ayodele, NT (92), 6-2, 318, 3rd season, Oklahoma.
Sedrick Ellis, DT (98), 6-1, 307, 2nd season, Southern California.
First-round selection in 2008, has Saints' only sack of playoffs ... Has started every game in which he's played for New Orleans, but missed six contests this season with knee problem ... Had 45 tackles, two sacks.
Will Smith, DE (91), 6-2, 282, 6th season, Ohio State.
New Orleans' best pass rusher, was second in NFC with 13 sacks ... Has not come close to one in playoffs, but has an interception ... Has 49 1/2 career sacks and has caused 16 career fumbles, recovering six ... One of players implicated in StarCaps case, has not been forced to sit out any games yet.
Scott Fujita, SLB (55), 6-5, 250, 8th season, California.
Signed in 2006 as free agent from Dallas, the first defensive addition when coach Sean Payton took over ... Played for Kansas City before that ... Team leader with some versatility ... Had 75 tackles in '09 ... Missed five games with calf and knee injuries.
Jonathan Vilma, MLB (51), 6-1, 230, 6th season, Miami.
Was 2004 Defensive Rookie of Year with Jets, where he was dominant in 4-3 defense. Jets switched to 3-4 when Eric Mangini became coach, wasting Vilma's pursuit skills. Was traded to Saints in 2008 and became centerpiece of New Orleans defense ... Made 130 tackles this season, had three INTs and two sacks. Also had interception in NFC title game.
Scott Shanle, WLB (58), 6-2, 245, 7th season, Nebraska.
Former special-teamer who worked his way into starting job ... Missed two games this season with concussion ... Finds the ball, had two INTs and two fumble recoveries ... Has 106 tackles, third on the team ... Was acquired in trade with Dallas in 2006, previously played for Rams.
Jabari Greer, LCB (32), 5-11, 180, 6th season, Tennessee.
Key free-agent signing in offseason from Buffalo ... Had strong opening to season, then suffered sports hernia and missed seven weeks ... Came back in season finale ... Had 48-yard INT return, longest of career, for TD against Atlanta ... Had two INTs for TDs in 2008 with Bills.
Roman Harper, SS (41), 6-1, 200, 4th season, Alabama.
Has started all 52 games in which he's played in NFL ... Finished second on team with 127 tackles, including career-high 14 against Carolina ... Also forced two fumbles ... A second-round draftee in 2006 who started five games as a rookie.
Darren Sharper, FS (42), 6-2, 210, 13th season, William and Mary.
All-Pro ballhawk who tied for league lead with nine INTs, returning three for scores ... Set NFL record with 376 yards on his interception runbacks, one for 99 yards ... Also solid in run support and will match up with another All-Pro in Dallas Clark ... Had 93 tackles this season ... One guy Peyton Manning must watch out for.
Tracy Porter, RCB (22), 5-11, 186, 2nd season, Indiana.
Made up for pass interference call that set up Vikings' tying TD last week with last-minute interception of Brett Favre ... Second-round pick in '08 ... Started five games as a rookie before going on IR with right wrist injury ... Also missed four games this season with knee injury ... Had four INTs to go with two forced fumbles and 69 tackles this season.
Thomas Morstead, P (6), 6-4, 225, 1st season, SMU. Solid rookie punter Payton praises for his poise ... Has done particularly well punting and kicking off in two postseason games ... Fifth-round pick last year ... Also punted and kicked off at SMU.
Garrett Hartley, PK (5), 5-8, 196, 2nd season, Oklahoma.
Made 40-yard field goal in OT to win NFC title ... Cut by Denver, was signed by Saints in October 2008 and made all 13 field goals. But opened this season suspended for use of banned stimulant ... Was inactive another seven weeks as veteran John Carney kicked, then returned on Dec. 6 to make 9 of 11 FGs.
Courtney Roby, KR (15), 6-0, 189, 4th season, Indiana.
Injured right knee on return late in NFC championship game ... Signed as free agent in 2008 after setting receiving records in college ... Ran track in college, was drafted in third round by Titans in 2005. Also played for Bengals and Colts ... Cousin was renowned punter Reggie Roby.
Peyton Manning, QB (18), 6-5, 230, 12th season, Tennessee.
Only four-time MVP in NFL history ... Led Colts to 2006 championship, winning Super Bowl in Miami and game's MVP award ... A native of New Orleans whose father, Archie, was Saints' first star ... Trying to become first reigning MVP to win Super Bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999 ... Set NFL record for 300-yard playoff games with his seventh in AFC title game win over Jets, going 26 of 39 for 377 yards ... Is No. 3 in postseason completions ... Had instrumental role in development of young WRs this season.
Joseph Addai, RB (29), 5-11, 214, 4th season, LSU.
Leading rusher for Colts with 828 yards, scored 10 TDs. Also caught 51 passes and scored three times ... Averaging only 3.8 yards per rush in postseason, but against top defenses of Baltimore and New York ... Set Super Bowl reception mark for RB with 10 for 66 yards in 2007 ... First-round pick in 2006.
Dallas Clark, TE (44), 6-3, 252, 7th season, Iowa.
Needs 74 yards receiving to pass Shannon Sharpe (814) and Keith Jackson (834) for most by tight end in postseason history ... First-round pick in 2003 who made first All-Pro team this season with 100 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs ... Joined Tony Gonzalez as only TEs with 100 receptions in a season ... A favorite target on third down.
Reggie Wayne, WR (87), 6-0, 198, 9th season, Miami.
Consistent threat who had sixth straight 1,000-yard season, making 100 catches for 1,264 yards and 10 scores ... Can run every pattern and will beat you deep ... Didn't do much in AFC title game against Darrelle Revis, but Saints have no cover guys like Revis ... In 2007 Super Bowl, had 53-yard TD against Bears ... Born in New Orleans.
Pierre Garcon, WR (85), 6-0, 210, 2nd season, Mount Union.
Grew up in Fort Lauderdale ... Rare successful NFL player from Division III school - albeit a powerhouse on that level ... A special-teamer in '08 who blossomed in '09, ably replacing injured Anthony Gonzalez in lineup ... Made 47 catches for 16.3 average and four TDs during season, has been sensational in playoffs with 16 receptions and a TD.
Austin Collie, WR (17), 6-0, 200, 1st season, BYU.
Manning's pet project has become clutch receiver who also has starred in playoffs ... Fourth-round pick after three seasons at BYU and two-year church mission in Argentina ... Made 60 catches, tied for most among rookies, and scored seven TDs. In postseason, has 11 catches for 15.9 average and two scores.
Charlie Johnson, LT (74), 6-4, 305, 4th season, Oklahoma State.
Started 12 games as Manning's protector on blind side ... Sixth-round pick in 2006 ... Became regular midway through 2007 season ... Replaced injured Ryan Diem at RT in Super Bowl win over Chicago ... Also was starter at left guard in past.
Ryan Lilja, LG (65), 6-2, 290, 6th season, Kansas State.
Returned to starting lineup after missing last season with knee injury ... Acquired on waivers in 2004 from Kansas City, which signed him as undrafted free agent ... Played full seasons in 2005, 2007 and 2009 ... Solid performer when healthy.
Jeff Saturday, C (63), 6-2, 295, 11th season, North Carolina.
One of the league's best centers, started all 16 games as leader of offensive line ... Two-time All-Pro, equally adept at run and pass blocking ... Signed as free agent in 1999 after Ravens cut him in 1998 ... Became starter in 2000, has played in every game in eight of his seasons.
Kyle DeVan, RG (66), 6-2, 306, 2nd season, Oregon State.
Inactive in first game, didn't start until eighth contest against Houston ... Has been solid ever since ... Replaced 2008 second-round pick Mike Pollak and Addai's per-carry average since then jumped to 4.21 yards ... Signed as undrafted free agent with Washington in 2008, was cut, went to Jets and was cut. Also played in ArenaFootball2 in Boise.
Ryan Diem, RT (71), 6-6, 320, 9th season, Northern Illinois.
Fourth-round pick in 2001 who became regular the next year ... Began career as a guard ... Started every game but finale this season despite back and hamstring issues ... Very consistent in ground game and passing attack. Key reason Manning was sacked only 13 times all season.
Robert Mathis, LE (98), 6-2, 245, 7th season, Alabama A&M.
So quick that his lack of size doesn't hamper him, even against 320-pound tackles ... Had 9 1/2 sacks, giving him 63 for career ... Is not a liability against run, but makes presence felt mostly on passing downs ... Missed seven games this season with quad and neck problems ... Excellent complement for Dwight Freeney.
Antonio Johnson, LT (99), 6-3, 310, 3rd season, Mississippi State.
Started all but season finale, had 34 tackles ... An inside force, not much as pass rusher ... Fifth-round pick by Titans in 2007, signed in 2008 off Tennessee practice squad ... Started four times and once in playoffs that season.
Dan Muir, RT (90), 6-2, 312, 3rd season, Kent State.
Has had strong playoffs with 12 tackles after 66 during regular season ... Joined Colts in 2008 off waivers from Green Bay, was backup that season ... Started 10 of last 11 games, has been very active on line.
Dwight Freeney, DE (93), 6-1, 268, 8th season, Syracuse.
All-Pro DE who plays hurt, with a motor that never stops. But ligament damage in his right ankle could sideline him, a big blow for the defense ... Also considered undersized, but never has inhibited him ... Led team with 13 1/2 sacks in 14 sacks, has team record of 84 sacks in career ... First-round pick in 2002 has started all 14 postseason games in career ... Has made five Pro Bowls.
Philip Wheeler, SLB (50), 6-2, 240, 2nd season, Georgia Tech.
Third-round pick in 2008 became starter this season in 10th game, replacing Tyjuan Hagler, who ruptured a biceps ... Wound up with 53 tackles and played special teams ... Also was forced to fill in at DE.
Gary Brackett, MLB (58), 5-11, 235, 7th season, Rutgers.
Leader of the defense, has gone from undrafted free agent to key contributor ... Became starter in 2005 and sets tone for physical, fast linebackers ... Missed two games this season with knee injury, battled injuries all year, but had 99 tackles ... Watch for him to make an early statement with a hard hit.
Clint Session, WLB (55), 6-0, 235, 3rd season, Pittsburgh.
Fourth-round pick in 2007 emerged as starter last season ... Missed final two games of season with knee problem ... Had two INTs, returning for TD, during season. Already has fumble recovery in playoffs ... Led team with 101 tackles, can make plays sideline to sideline.
Kelvin Hayden, LCB (26), 6-0, 195, 5th season, Illinois.
A hero of the 2007 Super Bowl win with interception return for TD ... Will have difficult matchup with Colston or Meachem or Henderson ... Had 50 tackles, but only one interception during season after being inactive for seven games with knee injury ... Has one pick in playoffs ... Second-round selection in 2005 draft and became starter in 2007 after big game vs. Bears in February's Super Bowl.
Jerraud Powers, RCB (25), 5-10, 192, 1st season, Auburn.
Third-round pick who became starter early in season, but has struggled with injuries since and missed AFC title game with left foot problem ... Had 63 tackles, a pick, a forced fumble and fumble recovery during season ... Colts are hopeful he is healthy for Super Bowl, but could be reserve anyway.
Jacob Lacey, RCB (27), 5-10, 177, 1st season, Oklahoma State.
Undrafted free agent signed after draft, made quick impression ... Replaced both Hayden and Powers when they had injuries, easily could start vs. Saints ... Finished with 78 tackles and three INTs, also did well on special teams ... Brees will look to go his way, or Powers' way.
Melvin Bullitt, SS (33), 6-1, 201, 3rd season, Texas A&M.
A revelation in place of star Bob Sanders, who can't stay healthy ... Signed as free agent in 2007, mostly was special-teamer, but started half the games in '08 and started 12 this season ... Missed final two games with injured shoulder ... Not as dynamic as Sanders, but makes plays, especially against the run ... Could see a lot of Shockey or even Bush over the middle.
Antoine Bethea, FS (41), 5-11, 203, 4th season, Howard.
Somehow, he was not voted to Pro Bowl ... A playmaker and leader on defense ... Started every game and had to hold secondary together in face of injuries ... Had 95 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered one ... Will make his presence felt early.
Pat McAfee, P (1), 6-1, 220, 1st season, West Virginia.
Like Saints, Colts have rookie punter who also kicks off ... Had better numbers than Morstead ... Had net of 37.8 yards per punt and put 21 inside the 20 ... Doesn't get shaken by tough kicks, but also has kicked indoors in 13 of his games.
Matt Stover, PK (3), 5-11, 178, 20th season, Louisiana Tech.
One of NFL's all-time kicking leaders, was original Baltimore Raven ... Joined Colts this season when Adam Vinatieri (right hip) got hurt in sixth game ... Won Super Bowl with Ravens in January 2001 ... Made 9 of 11 FGs, all 33 PATS ... Very accurate from 40 yards in, does not have long range ... A clutch kicker.
Chad Simpson, KR (35), 5-9, 216, 2nd season, Morgan State.
Had two TDs rushing but his role is returning kickoffs ... Averaged 23.6 yards, with a 93-yard TD ... Signed as undrafted free agent in 2008, spent time on practice squad, but played in postseason loss to San Diego ... Hasn't done much in these playoffs.
T.J. Rushing, PR (20), 5-9, 186, 4th season, Stanford.
Averaged 5.7 yards on punt returns, has also run back some kickoffs ... Also has role on coverage teams ... Seventh-round pick in 2006 who also plays defensive back.