The New Orleans Saints offense is filled with more unknowns than players seeking redemption.
But the ability of those who are on such a mission to bounce back will play a big role in determining if the Saints can continue to be one of the more productive offenses in the NFL or a team that ranks somewhere closer to the middle of the pack.
The sure things are gone, traded away during the offseason, shining a spotlight on these players’ ability to turn it around after failing to live up to expectations last season because of either ineffectiveness of injury.
Marques Colston, wide receiver
After last season ended, Colston said he too often felt like he was part of the problem and not the solution.
His numbers alone do not represent this sentiment. While his production was lower than it was during his prime, the veteran receiver finished last season with a respectable 59 receptions for 902 yards and five touchdowns.
The bigger issue is that he wasn’t as consistent as he was in previous seasons. Colston dropped eight passes, as well as other missteps such as a fumble that cost New Orleans a victory in a Week 1 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Such struggles were previously not that rare for Colston — he dropped 25 combined passes from 2010-2013 — but the difference is he had the production to cover up for it.
With some key pieces from last year’s passing game now gone, Colston will have even more opportunities to be part of the solution.
Brandin Cooks, wide receiver
This one isn’t about talent or coming back from a down year. Cooks has plenty of it and was just starting to scratch the surface last season when he went down with a thumb injury.
But after trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, New Orleans is going to need the second-year receiver to come back from that injury and begin delivering on his potential in a big way. There is no way around the fact that Cooks is now the centerpiece of the passing offense.
The question is, how good can he be? Cooks showed glimmers last year when he reeled in 53 passes for 550 yards over 10 games. Those are solid numbers for a rookie season. Now Cooks is going to have to take it to the next level. Is the next level 1,000 yards? 1,200? More?
The answer remains to be seen. It won’t be easy for him to get to those levels. Cooks will have to deal with being someone defenses key in on and still find a way to produce. He struggled with press coverage at times last season, so figuring out a way to be more consistent when defenses are being physical will also be a big key to his success.
The talent is there. Now Cooks just needs to deliver.
Jahri Evans, guard
There was a time when Evans was one of the best guards in the NFL. Those days are over. His ceiling has been reset to being a “very good” guard.
That should be good enough for the Saints.
There were times last season when Evans struggled to do the basic aspects of his job. He allowed 41 pressures and six sacks after giving up 21 and three in 2013, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Such production isn’t going to be acceptable next season.
But perhaps last season wasn’t a fair representation of Evans. He played through injuries and played alongside a center, Jonathan Goodwin, who battled through his own struggles. Max Unger has since replaced Goodwin, which should help the line improve next season.
And getting better on the interior line will be imperative to the Saints’ success on offense, because Drew Brees likes to climb the pocket. There were often times when interior pressure caused Brees to throw interceptions last season.