Archie Manning quarterbacked the Saints from 1971 to 1981 and has been one of the organization’s biggest fans ever since. He’s witnessed New Orleans’ 10 playoff teams, the five division titles, the first NFC Championship Game, and the Super Bowl victory against his son, Peyton Manning, then-quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
Yet it’s possible none of those New Orleans teams had a roster as promising as the one with which the 2014 Saints head into their upcoming season, Archie Manning said during a break Friday at his family’s annual quarterback camp at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
“The Saints are really good,” Manning said. “They’re really good — what (coordinator) Rob Ryan did with their defense last year, and they’ve still got (coach) Sean Payton and (quarterback) Drew (Brees).
“I think the Saints’ line-up on paper to start the season is maybe as strong as I’ve ever seen before.”
He certainly isn’t the only one with that opinion. Since winning Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 campaign, the Saints have been to the playoffs each of the three seasons Payton has been on the sidelines. Brees last year passed for more than 5,000 yards an unprecedented fourth time, and his 39 regular-season touchdown throws were second only to Peyton Manning’s league-record 55 for Denver.
Meanwhile, after giving up the most yards in NFL history in 2012, the Saints’ defense surrendered the fourth-fewest in its first year under Ryan last season. It seems the defense was able to at least maintain its depth by signing players such as safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey in free agency this offseason.
Byrd’s 22 interceptions are the most among NFL safeties — and No. 2 among all players — since entering the league in 2009 as a second-round draft choice by Buffalo. Bailey, meanwhile, has an astounding 52 career regular-season interceptions in a career that began in 1999.
Offensively, the Saints picked up receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round of this year’s draft. In his last year in college, Cooks had 128 catches, 1,730 yards and 16 touchdown receptions, and he won the Biletnikoff trophy given to the nation’s top receiver.