The New Orleans Saints have been in the spotlight for the whole offseason. They made a ton of moves in free agency, were the focal point in the bounty scandal and will be playing in the Hall of Fame game. With a handful of moves made and a couple of suspensions handed out, this year’s team will look a little different than in years past. A few players are almost guaranteed to be starting, but there are question marks surrounding some positions. Here is the New Orleans Saints projected starting lineup for this season.
: Drew Brees
Saints fans around the world were just recently allowed to start breathing again. After months of discussion, Drew Brees finally has a new contract. Brees has thrown for over 4,000 yards in six straight seasons and is the only quarterback to ever throw for over 5,000 yards twice.
: Darren Sproles
I was originally leaning towards Mark Ingram here due to the fact that he was their first round pick last year, but Darren Sproles should be the favorite for the starting job after the year he had in 2011. New Orleans uses multiple backs to stay fresh and keep the opposition off balance. Three or four running backs will get the chance to play, but Sproles should start.
: Marques Colston, Nick Toon and Lance Moore
Marques Colston was going to be a free agent this offseason and the Saints made sure that he stuck around, signing him to a five-year $40 million contract. The deal comes with almost $18 million in guaranteed money. He will be the Saints No. 1 receiver this year. The No. 2 receiver battle is between Nick Toon and Devery Henderson this year. I like Toon here and believe he will come out on top. Lance Moore is pretty much a lock for the slot receiver position and he is a guy that you cannot forget about.
: Jimmy Graham
Was there ever any doubt here? In 2011, Jimmy Graham established himself as one of the best tight ends in football. He had 99 catches for over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns and became Drew Brees’ favorite target.
: Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief
Following a breakout season in 2011, Jermon Bushrod is pretty much a lock at left tackle. He played in all 16 games last season, leading the entire league in snaps played (1,177). He was rewarded with his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Zach Strief should get the nod on the right side.
: Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs
New Orleans will have a slight shakeup on their offensive line this year. Carl Nicks signed a mega deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they brought in former Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Grubbs to replace him. Jahri Evans will assume his normal role.
: Brian de la Puente
After going through four different practice squads in two seasons, it seems that Brian de la Puente has finally found a home in New Orleans. He was given an opportunity to start last year and made the most of it, developing chemistry with Drew Brees.
: Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette
This is the year that the Saints will get what they hoped for when they selected Cameron Jordan in the first round last year. He was a little slow out of the gates and recorded only one sack in 15 starts. With a full offseason, it would not come as a surprise if he has a solid year. Junior Galette will have a chance to shine early on in 2012 as Will Smith will be serving a four-game suspension.
: Sedrick Ellis and Broderick Bunkley
2012 is a make-or-break year for Sedrick Ellis. The former first-round pick has not lived up to his expectations so far and he is now in his contract year. Broderick Bunkley was brought over from Denver through free agency and he will be a big part of their defense this year. If the Saints have a successful defense this season, you can expect to point at him as a big reason why.
: Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne
New Orleans free agency splash continued when they signed both Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne. These players are coming over from the NFC West division, one from Seattle, one from St. Louis. Chamberlain will have an edge over the rest of the team early on as he is familiar with the defense run by Steve Spagnuolo.
: Curtis Lofton
With Jonathon Vilma suspended for the entire 2012 campaign, the clear cut favorite for the starting job is Curtis Lofton, who the Saints signed in free agency. The 26-year-old is arguably an upgrade over Vilma and will be a key component of their success.
: Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson
With Tracy Porter leaving for Denver, Patrick Robinson will have a chance to solidify himself as the No. 2 corner. He started seven games last year and had four interceptions and 15 pass defenses. It will be interesting to see what he can do if he starts a full season. Greer started every game in 2011 and will continue to do so as long as he stays healthy.
: Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins
Statistically, the Saints have one of the best safety duos in all of football. Last season, Harper and Jenkins combined for 172 tackles, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. With no significant pickups at the position, expect these two to start again in 2012.
: John Kasay
A Garrett Hartley injury forced the Saints to sign John Kasay as a replacement for a year. Following a great season, New Orleans brought back the 42-year-old again. Many believe it is for insurance, but I believe that he will beat out Hartley for the starting job.
: Thomas Morstead
With no other punter on the roster, I think it is safe to say that Thomas Morstead will be the starter this season. The Saints drafted him back in 2009 and he has been with the team ever since.