@MikeTriplett Offense has trended downward on downfield "shot" plays. Will that continue further with the losses of Graham and Stills?— Jamarius (@jjulious17) July 2, 2015
@MikeTriplett or will offensive line upgrade in Unger/young weapons fix it?— Jamarius (@jjulious17) July 2, 2015
@MikeTriplett: Ready for a stat that's going to blow your mind (and blow the Drew Brees 'arm strength' theories out of the water)? Brees has been way better on throws that traveled 40 yards or more in the air from 2012-14 than he was from 2009-11, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
In each three-year span, Brees attempted exactly 35 passes of that distance. From 2009-11, he completed just seven of them for a total of 356 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. From 2012-14, he completed 15 of them for 773 yards, seven TDs and zero INTs. He was 5-of-12 last season, 5-of-12 in 2013 and 5-of-11 in 2012.
However, your point is still correct that the Saints' downfield passing game has been on a downward trend overall. Brees completed just 28 of 63 passes last season that traveled 20-plus yards in the air (44.4 percent) for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Those are Brees' lowest yardage and TD totals since 2007.
Brees had similar numbers in 2010 and 2012, though -- and much worse numbers in 2007. So those downfield passing numbers are generally tied to overall offensive efficiency.
I definitely think losing Jimmy Graham will hurt in that department -- just as losing Darren Sproles hurt last season. Anytime you can create mismatches and demand double teams and extra attention from safeties, you're increasing your chances to find an open man down the field in single coverage.
The Saints have been among the best in the NFL at creating and exploiting mismatches in the Sean Payton era. But defenses have caught up in recent years, bringing pressure up the middle, keeping extra DBs in coverage and forcing Brees to settle for check-down throws.
It's up to Payton and Brees to find new ways to win the chess match. Adding another mismatch weapon such as C.J. Spiller should help. Improving the interior offensive line with Max Unger should help. And having a legitimate run-game threat should help.
But it's hard to imagine the Saints coming anywhere close to their dominance in 2011, when Brees, Graham, Sproles and the interior offensive line were all at their absolute peak.
@MikeTriplett Prediction time: Which cornerbacks are on the roster for Week 1?— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) July 3, 2015
@MikeTriplett: An awfully tough question to answer right now -- very similar to the depth at wide receiver. Obviously, I expect Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner to be the starters. I also expect rookies P.J. Williams and Damian Swann to make the 53-man roster since the Saints invested a third-round pick on Williams and traded up into Round 5 to get Swann. That's no guarantee they'll make the team, but it shows they like them and will probably buy them at least a year to develop.
After that, there's probably only one or two spots left. You have to consider Delvin Breaux a front-runner right now since he stood out during organized team activities and started getting an audition as the starting nickel corner.
And then there is Stanley Jean-Baptiste. His redshirt year is over now, so he has to earn his spot. But with his size and length and potential, I'm sure the Saints will give him every opportunity to earn it. I guess I'd write him in pencil right now as a sixth corner, but I'd have my eraser handy.
That leaves veterans Kyle Wilson and Terrence Frederick and second-year pro Brian Dixon on the outside. Wilson has the most experience, but he'll have to lock down the starting nickel job to stay on the roster (which he hasn't done so far in the practices that were open to the media). Frederick was starting for the Saints at the end of last season, but it's not a good sign he was with the third-stringers in camp this summer.
And Dixon earned his spot last year by excelling on special teams. He'll have to do that again. He could certainly make the roster if he's the best gunner. Special teams will be critical for all of the young corners trying to lock down roster spots.
@MikeTriplett much is said about LBs and CBs, but can the DL live up to the expectation of the other sectors of the Team?— Adriano (@Fara_Adriano) July 2, 2015
@MikeTriplett: You're right that the linebackers and secondary have been talked about more since the Saints are making bigger changes at those positions. But I think the defensive line still has the potential to be the strength of New Orleans' defense, as it was in 2013. Ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks have the potential to be two of the Saints' best players, and the team is counting on both to have bounce-back years.
Third-year pro John Jenkins needs to deliver more on his sizable potential, as well. And the depth is solid with veterans Kevin Williams, Brodrick Bunkley and Glenn Foster.
@MikeTriplett with fantasy season in the horizon...is Drew Brees worth targeting in the high rounds— JD (@jd2cent) July 2, 2015
@MikeTriplett: I wrote about this earlier this summer when I was surprised how far Brees fell in ESPN's first set of 2015 fantasy rankings (44th overall, fifth among quarterbacks). I don't expect a dramatic dip in his usual yards or TDs this season -- even without Graham and Kenny Stills. As I wrote, when Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008, his leading receiver was Lance Moore with 79 catches for 928 yards. He'll find some open men and still find a way to add up to 4,500-plus yards and 35-40 TDs or so.