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NFL insiders rank Drew Brees among top tier of quarterbacks

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) runs off the field after a 35-32 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) runs off the field after a 35-32 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Drew Brees is still regarded as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks by NFL evaluators and executives, according to ESPN.com.

But there is a perception that Brees might be declining.

Brees, who tied for first last year, fell to No. 6 in ESPN’s poll of coaches, evaluators and executives, although he remained in the top tier, defined as a quarterback who can carry his team and doesn’t need as much help.

“Brees was one of the hardest,” an anonymous offensive coordinator told ESPN. “He doesn’t throw as well. His lower body is not as good. He’s been nicked up a little bit. He is just losing his juice. Things have to be perfect for him to be himself.”

Brees, who completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,952 yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, was given some credit by evaluators for working with a “diminished supporting cast,” according to ESPN.

Brees was the final member of the six-man top tier, joining Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, in that order.

For the full rankings and thoughts on every quarterback, here’s the link: ESPN’s 2015 NFL QB Tier Rankings. A subscription is required.

Sean Payton loves two things about The Greenbrier

Only a week remains before the New Orleans Saints pile onto the planes and make their second straight trip to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. for training camp.

Saints coach Sean Payton loves the Greenbrier.

And he’s got two clear reasons.

“Number one, it provides the temperatures that we feel like are most ideal to train in,” Payton said in a spot on Fox Sports Radio Monday. “And it also isolates your team, gives you a chance to really just focus in on one thing.”

Temperatures in the mountains of West Virginia topped out in the high 70’s last year, and the Greenbrier has rolled out the red carpet, building a two-story football building with two grass fields and a FieldTurf practice field available to the Saints.

And it doesn’t hurt that there’s not a lot of trouble to be found in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Certainly, there’s time away, there’s a day every seven days that the players are off, but there aren’t a lot of distractions,” Payton said. “It’s kind of an area that you’ve got to really work hard to get there, it’s not easy.”

The summer is almost over. Rookies report to New Orleans this Wednesday, the team flies out next Tuesday and the Saints open training camp with a non-padded practice on July 30, next Thursday.

Report: Saints made offer to tight end Jermaine Gresham

Jermaine Gresham’s visit with the Saints was more than a meet and greet.

New Orleans reportedly made an offer to the former Cincinnati Bengals tight end following his June visit, according to ESPN. Gresham is now set to visit the Arizona Cardinals.

Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed the visit and said Gresham would be a “fit” for the team.

“He’s a guy that we’ve studied quite a bit now in the last couple months,” he said. “So it was just finding the right time (to visit), and it was good to have that chance to meet him (in June).”

The NFLPA lists the Saints as having $2.639 million in available cap room. One way to potentially offer Gresham more money would be to include incentives in his deal that are classified as “not likely to be earned.”

Such incentives would have to exceed his production from last season and would not immediately count against the salary cap.

The 27-year-old finished last season with 62 receptions for 460 yards and five touchdowns. ProFootballFocus.com graded him out as one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the NFL.

One of the main reasons the former first-round pick remains  unsigned is that he underwent surgery  to repair a herniated disc in March.

If signed by the Saints, Gresham would likely be more in competition for Ben Watson’s “Y” tight end role than with Josh Hill’s flex role.

Registration now open for Saints Kickoff Run

Online registration for the New Orleans Saints and Easy Day Sports is now open for the 2015 Saints Kickoff Run.

The race will take place on Sept. 12, the day before the Saints open their season at the Arizona Cardinals. The race begins in Champions Square and culminates with fans sprinting through the Saints’ team tunnel and finishing at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s 50-yard line. There will also be an NFL ‘Play 60’ fun run for kids. All proceeds will benefit the Louisiana Children’s Museum.

The run begins at 7:30 a.m. and is immediately followed by the youth fun run. Live entertainment, a beer garden and jambalaya will be in Champions Square following the event. All participants will receive commemorative shirts and a medal.

The Saints Kickoff Run presented by Chevron is now in its fourth year. More information can be found at Saints5K.com.

Khiry Robinson might deserve more appreciation

Khiry Robinson might be the most under-appreciated player on the New Orleans Saints’ roster.

Viewed by many as the third banana behind Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller as the team prepares to enter training camp, the third-year running back might possess the ability to force a conversation about finding ways to get him the ball more often next season.

Robinson’s talent isn’t a secret. He capably filled in as the lead back last season while Ingram was nursing an injury, most notably in games against Dallas and Tampa Bay early in the year when he combined for 176 yards on 29 carries, but saw his momentum come to a halt after suffering an arm injury shortly thereafter.

During that stretch of games, Robinson flashed the potential to be a featured part of the offense. The question now is whether that potential has been properly appreciated.

ProFootballFocus.com spent the last week breaking down the NFL’s running backs, getting into the finer details of how players produced on a per-touch basis in various categories. Robinson ranked among the top players in the league in a staggering amount of those lists.

While Ingram, who averaged 2.38 yards after contact per attempt, has the reputation of being the most physical, bruising running back on the team, it was actually Robinson who performed best after contact last season by averaging 2.71 yards per attempt. That figure becomes more impressive when breaking down how it was accumulated.

Of his 76 total rushing attempts last season, Robinson picked up three or more yards after contact on 27 of his rushes. That figure accounts for 35.5 percent of his attempts, which is the sixth-highest rate in the NFL, placing him just behind Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (38.8 percent), and ahead of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (34.6 percent).

ProFootballFocus.com did not reveal Ingram’s numbers in this category.

In terms of simple plus/minus plays, Robinson ranked among the best in the league in both categories by having 39.5 percent of his runs go for five or more yards and 39.5 percent of his runs go for two or fewer yards. For the sake of comparison, 33.2 percent of Ingram’s runs went for five or more yards, while 42.9 percent were for two yards or fewer.

Robinson’s ability to avoid negative plays is even more impressive considering he was hit behind the line of scrimmage 20 times, or on 26.3 percent of his carries, including seven runs where he was hit three or more yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Ingram’s numbers in these categories were not available, though Robinson’s rates were among the highest in the league.

Though Robinson is skilled at creating things after absorbing contact, he’s also talented at avoiding it. He induced 21 missed tackles on 76 runs last season, or one per every 3.6 rushing attempts. Ingram induced 33 missed tackles over 226 attempts.

There’s no question that these numbers are skewed by sample sizes and workloads.

It’s debatable whether or not Robinson could have kept producing at the same rate over the course of an entire season, as the rigors of the season and hits accumulated. He also likely benefitted by having the bulk of his carries come against the Minnesota Vikings (25th in run defense) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19th).

Still, there’s no question that he is talented and the Saints would likely benefit if he logs more than 76 carries next season.

While all the attention has been on Ingram and Spiller, Robinson might be one of the better backup running backs in the NFL next year — even if the rest of the league is not yet aware of that fact.

NFL releases league schedule for 2015-16 calendar year

For most of the NFL, the big news on Wednesday surrounded a series of 11th-hour deals to get Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Justin Houston and Stephen Gostkowski signed to long-term deals instead of playing this season under the franchise tag.

But the NFL also released the schedule for the next calendar year Wednesday, setting several key dates in stone.

Key NFL dates for 2015-16

  • Sept. 1: Teams must cut roster down to 75 active players by 3 p.m.
  • Sept. 5: Teams must make final cuts to get active roster down to 53.
  • Oct. 6-7: Fall league meetings.
  • Nov. 3: Trade deadline. All trades must be made by 3 p.m.
  • Jan. 18: Deadline for underclassmen to declare eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft.
  • Jan. 23: East-West Shrine Game
  • Jan. 30: Senior Bowl
  • Jan. 31: Pro Bowl
  • Feb. 7: Super Bowl 50
  • Feb. 22: First day to designate franchise or transition players.
  • Feb. 23-29: NFL Combine
  • March 7: Deadline to designate players with franchise or transition tag.
  • March 12-15: Free agency contact opens.
  • March 15: Free agency begins with the start of the league  year at 3 p.m.
  • March 20-23: Owner’s meetings.
  • April 28-30: NFL Draft (No location given yet).

Wrapping up the week that was in Saints coverage

First things first: Putting together the wrapup post slipped through the Monday schedule, but things are slow enough right now on the NFL front that we can bring it back for Tuesday.

Team Advocate leaves for training camp two weeks from today — a fact that makes it seem like the so-called “slow time” of the year is passing faster than it seems — and then things will kick into high gear.

Until then, here’s a look at what we, and a few others, wrote last week.

The Advocate

Nationally

Steve Gleason commits to Ice Bucket Challenge 2015

Former Saints special teams ace Steve Gleason is back in for the 2015 edition of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.

Gleason released a statement and a video on his Team Gleason website, throwing support behind the second edition of the ice bucket challenge, which went viral and raised well more than $100 million for organizations that combat the disease.

Team Gleason got more than $1 million from 18,000 donors in 2014,  less than half of one percent of all the money raised during the Ice Bucket Challenge. The foundation used the money to donate more than $1.8 million worth of communications technology and equipment to people with ALS.

According to the statement, the organization plans to spend more than $600,000 more by the end of the year to donate more communications equipment, even though the organization’s funds are dwindling.

Team Gleason is also launching the “Give the Word” campaign in conjunction with the beginning of the Ice Bucket Challenge at the beginning of August.

Sean Payton presents Archie Manning with ring at Manning Passing Academy

Finally drawn in to the Manning Passing Academy by the involvement of his son, Sean Payton responded by hopping onto the field to coach and sitting in on meetings.

And he decided to surprise Archie Manning with a little extra something at one of those morning meetings.

Payton presented the legendary Saints coach with a ring commemorating his induction into the Saints’ Ring of Honor in 2013 according to the camp’s staff photographer.

Manning, along with Saints’ legends Rickey Jackson and Willie Roaf, was made one of the inaugural inductees into the Saints Ring of Honor at halftime of the Saints-Cowboys game in 2013.

Garrett Grayson might return to Manning Passing Academy in future

Garrett Grayson got a text from Archie Manning earlier this week, sent from somewhere on the Nicholls State campus.

“Missing you here.”

Grayson knew exactly what Manning meant.  A year ago, the Saints’ new quarterback was a camper trying to make a name for himself among the list of big names from bigger schools.

“I’m coming back next year,” Grayson replied.

Grayson, who has stayed in touch with the Saints legend since his camp appearance last summer, got a lot out of his trip to Thibodaux.

An old teammate of Manning’s, Jimmy Stewart, now works at Colorado State, and he tipped off Archie to invite Grayson last summer.

The passer made an impression.

“He had a little gleam in his eye,” Manning said. “He was a little anxious. He was one of those who wanted to see where he stacked up, and he did very well. I kind of kept up with him all year.”