The Saints are nothing like they were 5 years ago.

In the waning days of Drew Brees' Hall of Fame career, the Saints were a team that would consistently drop 30 or more points on opponents, but struggle to keep other teams from keeping pace.

There were some genuinely horrible defensive showings for the black and gold in the late teens. Not anymore.

Last year, the Saints defense arrived with a massive statement, holding League MVP Aaron Rodgers to 133 yards and no touchdowns while picking him off twice. That performance set the tone for what was an absolutely suffocating defense in 2021, ranking in the top ten of almost every category.

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This offseason, the Saints have invested even further in their defense, adding defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, and depth guys Kentavius Street, Justin Evans, and Daniel Sorenson.

But not every playmaker this season will be a big name. Here are five players to keep an eye on to have potential breakout seasons for the black and gold.


Paulson Adebo

A rookie third-round pick in 2021, Adebo had a stellar year as the counterpart to star corner Marshon Lattimore. He defensed 8 passes and tied Lattimore, CJGJ, and PJ Williams at 3 picks. If Adebo gets any better, the Saints could easily make a case for the best cornerback tandem in the league.

Expect him to be targeted heavily by offenses scared by the star-power spread around the defensive backfield. If he steps up to that challenge, Adebo could have a monster season.

Paulson Adebo
Photo by Scott Taetsch
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Pete Werner

Also beginning his sophomore season in the Big Easy, Pete Werner is one of the most exciting young players on the Saints roster. He can cover any position in the passing game, hits his run fits well, and plays with a high motor. He ranked sixth in total tackles on the team last year, with 4 TFL in 15 games.

In my conversations with friends of mine who are Saints fans, Werner is one of the players they are most excited to see blow up this year. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him take an even bigger step as a cover linebacker this year, maybe pulling in a couple of interceptions.

Tanoh Kpassagnon

Veteran defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon came over to the Saints from the Chiefs last year. Despite playing only eight games before sustaining an injury that kept him off the field for the remainder of the season, Kpassagnon recorded 4 sacks, which landed him third on the team in that category. He also forced a fumble and even defensed two passes.

If Kpassagnon stays healthy, he is primed to have a Hendrickson-esque breakout season. If he does, the Saints need to lock him down ASAP. He could be a lethal weapon on the d-line opposite Cam Jordan.

Tanoh Kpassagnon
Photo by Steph Chambers
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Shy Tuttle

Shy Tuttle is already a fantastic defensive tackle, but he didn't make as big an impact on the box score last season as he could this year. In 2021, he recorded 48 tackles, 3 for losses, and both forced and recovered a fumble.

Shy is nothing like what his name suggests. He bodies up guards and put pressure on quarterbacks and runners alike, leading to lots of blocked running lanes and hurried passes. It's because of that pressure that players like Cam Jordan or Demario Davis can record ridiculous stat lines like 12.5 sacks and 105 tackles, respectively.

Do I think Shy will fill his stat sheet a bit more this year? It's certainly possible. This defense feels dangerous at every position, which means any player could explode for a big game or breakout season. But regardless of what the numbers say, Tuttle's presence will absolutely be felt by opposing offenses.

Zack Baun

In 2020, Baun's rookie season, he didn't get a lot of playing time and didn't do a whole lot with the time he got. But in 2021, he took a sizable step forward into being the defender the Saints wanted him to be the year before. Despite recording only 30 tackles, Baun played every single game and proved his willingness to work within Dennis Allen's system.

Why do I think we may see Baun turn up big this year? It's simple. This is his shot to prove what he's worth. With Pete Werner looking like an ideal cover linebacker, and All-Pro Demario Davis calling the shots, Baun has a spot in this defense. He just has to earn it. When a player has a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, they usually show you who they really are. Baun has a chance to do just that this season.


 

These players stand out as potential stars in an already star-studded Saints defense.

2022 is going to be a fun ride for Who Dat Nation.

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