Saints Hopes Depend on Return of Injured Starters

The New Orleans Saints lost several starters to injury in 2016. Their return to playoff contention will largely depend on how well these players return to form.

The New Orleans Saints front office has some difficult evaluations to make about the state of their roster. The question is: how much can the team count on injured players like Hau’oli Kikaha or P.J. Williams to contribute next season?

Those answers will determine how aggressively the team pursues specific positions in free agency. If they feel confident that Kikaha can return from his knee injury, the team may need only one player at DE. If not, then their cupboard is pretty bare outside of Cam Jordan, and I’d expect they’d look to make more than one addition.

Defensive End

Almost every analyst rightly lists DE as the Saints biggest need going into 2017. Mock drafts around the league link the team with pass rushing talent in the first round, and free agent wish lists are invariably ready to spend big money on an End. Everyone agrees: another season with Paul Kruger as the starter won’t cut it.

But whether or not Kikaha can return to form will make a big difference to the team’s approach during the offseason. As I mentioned, if the team feels Kikaha won’t be ready to go, they may need to add more than one player to solidify the position.

Ultimately, even if they like how his recovering is going, they’d be wise to add at least one player either as a backup or starter. This injury marks the third time Kikaha tore that same knee. And his ankle injury in 2015 hobbled him for much of the season. He may very well escape the injury bug, but it would be foolish to bank on it.

Cornerback

The question is much more pressing—and more difficult to evaluate—at cornerback.

The team likely assumes that Delvin Breaux will be back at full strength next season. He will have fully recovered from his fibula injury, and likely the same for his shoulder. He didn’t have a very strong 2016 season, but I’m happy to write that off as the result of rust and camp-legs after recovering from the fibula.

But what about P.J. Williams and Damian Swann?

Both players have had concussion problems. Swann’s rookie season was derailed by a series of concussions, and Williams suffered a season-ending concussion early in 2016.

If the Saints like both to return from injury, then their apparent need at CB is much less severe than advertised. By all accounts, the Saints love what they have in Williams. But after such a severe head injury, can they rely on him to contribute going forward?

Swann is an especially strange case. Before the concussions, Swann had put together a very impressive rookie season covering the slot. If he can return to that form in 2017, I’d be very happy with him as the starting nickel corner.

But during the 2016 preseason, after Swann had allegedly recovered from the concussions, he played very poorly. He looked lost far too often and was consistently beaten downfield. The Saints eventually placed him on IR with a chest injury. They obviously know more about the situation than I do, but I wonder how severe that chest injury was. His poor play may have been due to the chest injury, of course. But I wonder if that was just an excuse to send him to IR while he continued to recover from his concussions.

But I wonder if that was just an excuse to send him to IR while he continued to recover from his concussions. He looked lost and confused more than slow or hurt. But what do I know.

The best approach would be to expect nothing.

Ultimately, I’d think the Saints would do best to expect nothing from these players slated to return from injury. Besides Breaux.

Kikaha may very well return to form. He also may reinjure his knee immediately. He clearly has structural issues. And he was so hobbled by the ankle injury in 2015 that it feels as if any injury might derail him.

And concussion problems are just so tricky. One makes you more prone to the next, and your overall ability to process the game might dimish at each instance.

So go after a cornerback, and at least one solid option at DE. That’s the best recipe for success in 2017. And then, if these players do manage to return to form, the roster will only be that much stronger.

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