Predicting the Saints’ starting offense following the 2024 NFL draft

It’s no secret that the New Orleans Saints’ offense wasn’t good enough last season. They struggled to protect the quarterback, establish the run, pick up third downs, and end drives with touchdowns, among other things successful units around the league do each week. And there hasn’t been a ton of turnover for them on offense this spring, either. The Saints are gambling on massive changes to the offensive coaching staff to lead to better results, not big changes to the starting lineup.

Predicting the Saints' starting offense following the 2024 NFL draft

Maybe that’s the right approach. If Klint Kubiak can be a league-average play caller after Pete Carmichael was the NFL’s worst, that might be enough for the Saints to score more points and win more games in 2024. Either way, we’re expecting most of the starting lineup to return for 2023. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change:

Aug 1, 2023; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: None

This is Carr’s show, and everything is being done to better support him. The Saints drafted Taliese Fuaga to help keep him clean. They’re prioritizing a stronger run game to take pressure off his shoulders. They’re signing more receivers to give him more weapons to work with. There could come a day (soon) where Jake Haener or Spencer Rattler push him, but Carr’s job is not in danger this summer.

Jul 31, 2023; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: Kendre Miller

Jamaal Williams is said to have a role in the offense, but both Kamara and Miller have more to offer. And Kamara figures to remain the tip of the spear. Until Miller has shown the team he can stay healthy and handle a larger workload, he’s going to be backing Kamara up. And the good news is that Kubiak’s zone-heavy blocking scheme should give Kamara wider lanes and more opportunities to work with.

Aug 25, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers fullback Zander Horvath (40) during warm ups before the start of the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: Adam Prentice

It’s shaping up for a fullback battle at Saints training camp, and we’re predicting Horvath defeats the incumbent. Prentice just made too many mistakes last year with dropped passes, blown blocking assignments, and a very untimely fumble deep inside New Orleans territory. Kubiak asks a lot of his fullbacks. When he was calling plays for the Minnesota Vikings in 2021, fullback C.J. Ham played more snaps (376) than both of the team’s backup tight ends put together (337).

Jul 31, 2023; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson (83) during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: Foster Moreau

Dallin Holker has made noise as an undrafted rookie, but he has a ways to go before he’ll be climbing on top of the depth chart. Maybe Moreau is a better fit in Kubiak’s offense given his blocking ability, but it’s not like Johnson is a poor blocker himself. The Saints didn’t get enough production out of their tight ends last year with Johnson working through an injury and too many early-season miscues with Carr. And Moreau was miscast as a blocking specialist who wasn’t allowed to run even half as many routes as he did with the Raiders. Kubiak doesn’t have a history of running many two-tight end sets, but that could be a function of personnel. The Saints have two dynamic athletes who can block and who have put up impressive numbers before. They need to use them.

Sep 24, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Trevor Penning (70) during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Challengers: Oli Udoh, Justin Herron

Penning has to sink or swim. Udoh could be a decent backup in a pinch, and he’s started games at left tackle before, but it can’t be understated how desperately the Saints need Penning to play at a high level. Coming into his own and giving them 17 quality starts would legitimately change the perception of this team in 2024 and beyond. If he can’t do that, they probably aren’t going anywhere. It would be reassuring to sign a free agent they can trust to take his place like Andrus Peat did last year, but right now this is a frightful situation.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 29: Oli Udoh #74 of the Minnesota Vikings blocks during a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on August 29, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Challengers: Nick Saldiveri, Landon Young, Shane Lemieux

Let’s start by noting that, out of Udoh’s 1,690 career snaps in the NFL, not a single one has seen him line up at left guard. He’s played left tackle (on 279 snaps) and right guard (959), and even right tackle (452), but left guard would be a new experience for him. But he’s probably the best option in the building right now. There’s no information or insight on how far along Saldiveri is in converting to left guard after playing right tackle in college, or even if the new coaching staff plans on continuing that experiment. Young has played tackle too but there are rumors he could be moving inside. Lemieux did play 630 snaps at left guard in four years with the New York Giants, but they weren’t pretty.

Jul 29, 2022; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints center Erik McCoy (78) works during training camp at Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: None

McCoy was the sturdiest blocker for the Saints up front, and they’re counting on him again in 2024. He’s a Pro Bowl-quality talent and team captain in the prime of his athletic career. Expectations are high for him, but that’s because McCoy has earned them by consistently playing at such a high level.

Sep 19, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints center Cesar Ruiz (51) on the field in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: None

Ruiz is entering the second year of his hefty $44 million contract extension, and he needs to perform better than what we saw last year. He fell back into bad habits and was too passive in pass protection, doubling the number of pressures he allowed in 2022, and the Saints weren’t able to consistently run behind him. Hopefully Kubiak’s movement-based scheme is better suited for him. Ruiz is a great athlete and he’s made some devastating blocks on the move. Putting him into more positions to succeed should be a priority.

Nov 19, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Oregon State Beavers offensive lineman Taliese Fuaga (75) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: Landon Young

This is a different situation if Ryan Ramczyk is healthy (in that Alternate Universe, Fuaga is probably filling in at left guard), but that’s not where we are. And the Saints don’t have many players who can truly push Fuaga for this job. He’s lightyears ahead of his fellow rookie Josiah Ezirim (seventh round pick from Eastern Kentucky), and while Young could draw reps here the expectation should be for Fuaga to settle in with the first team and be first on the field in Week 1.

Jun 13, 2023; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave (12) during passing drills during minicamp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: None

Olave returns as the team’s WR1. Things were frustrating for him and Carr at points last year, but you have to hope they’ve gotten over those hurdles. Olave is coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and he still has room to improve after the catch and on 50/50 balls, but he’ll probably always struggle in those situations given his size limitations. Still, Kubiak could do a better job than Carmichael by designing more routes for Olave to catch the ball in stride and take off on the run. Remember how exciting it was when he ran a couple of routes out of the backfield early last season, then never did it again?

Aug 1, 2023; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed (22) catches passes during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Challenger: Cedrick Wilson Jr.

It won’t make fans happy to see Shaheed losing reps to other wideouts, but that’s exactly what happened at times last year. Until he’s blocking more effectively and running a wider variety of routes he’s going to be playing behind guys like Lynn Bowden and Keith Kirkwood (as was the case last year) in certain situations. The good news is that the Saints run so many three-receiver sets that the point is moot. Shaheed should still finish top-three on the team in targets, and no wideout lined up more often in the slot than he did last year (47.1% of routes).

Jun 2, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (11) catches a football during a workout during minicamp at Baptist Health Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Challengers: A.T. Perry, Bub Means

It would be awesome to see Perry or Means running ahead of Wilson to open the season. The more younger draft picks are contributing on Sundays, the better off the Saints will be. But Wilson was signed with the expectation that he’d help install Kubiak’s offense (given his experience in Mike McDaniel’s similar Kyle Shanahan-derived system) and play meaningful snaps, so right now we’re assuming he’s in the lead. Hopefully Perry (or Means) can supplant him by September. Perry flashed real potential as a downfield threat last season. He needs to keep it up and expand his route tree.

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