Here are 6 players who need to step up for New Orleans Saints in 2021 | Detillier

Mike Detillier
Special to The Courier

Here is a look at some of the players the New Orleans Saints are counting on for more production and playing time in 2021.

Cesar Ruiz, offensive guard

The Saints used their first-round draft pick on the talented center from Michigan in 2020, but he really struggled during his rookie season.

Veteran Nick Easton was the better player in 2020, but he struggled with a series of concussion issues. The Saints released Easton in February and are counting on Ruiz to be the best guard he can be.

The initial plan was to move Ruiz back to the center spot in 2021, but Eric McCoy has developed into a top NFL center. The Saints are counting on Ruiz to become a better pass protector and a more consistent run blocker at right guard.

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Adam Trautman, tight end

Like Ruiz, Trautman did not have the usual rookie camps and preseason games to hone his skills. The Saints’ staff was impressed with the size mismatch skills down the field and his ability to find the open spots in a defense.

With veteran Jared Cook signing with the Los Angeles Chargers, the tight end spot can belong to Trautman. With Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints loved to pump the ball to tight ends such as Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas, Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson and Cook.

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That style shouldn’t change after Brees’ retirement. If you look back at Jameis Winston’s time in Tampa Bay, he also got the ball to his tight end tandem of O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate quite a bit.

From 2017-19, Howard caught 94 passes for 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns. Brate caught 114 passes for 1,191 yards and 16 touchdowns.               

Tre’Quan Smith, receiver                 

With Winston as starting quarterback, no player should benefit more than the speedy Smith.

Early in his career, Smith struggled in developing his overall route running and becoming more confident in getting open down the field on a consistent basis.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (10) is tackled by Las Vegas Raiders safety Johnathan Abram.

The former 2018 third-round selection started to show his skillset in 2020, catching 34 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns. I have always felt that Smith’s vertical game was a big strength, but it couldn’t be utilized due to Brees’ arm strength.

Coach Sean Payton has always praised Smith’s toughness as a player, his ability to throw a key block down the field and go over the middle for a difficult catch. The Saints are counting on him to be the guy opposite Michael Thomas.

Marcus Davenport, defensive end

The 2021 season will be a huge opportunity for the 2018 first-round pick defensive end Marcus Davenport. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end has a lot of talent, but injuries and some inconsistencies in his overall game have made him a disappointment for the Saints, who paid a high price to move up to select him in the draft.

With Trey Hendrickson moving on to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, the Saints need Davenport to be that dominating player coming off the edge as a pass rusher. He has flashed those type skills from time to time, but he needs to stay healthy and develop into a more consistent player.

Davenport has been a good set-up player for others to make plays, but he needs to turn into being less of a football carpenter’s helper and become the finished carpenter player the Saints need upfront.

Shy Tuttle, defensive tackle

With the trade of defensive tackle Malcolm Brown to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tuttle takes on a bigger role upfront for the Saints. Brown did an excellent job stopping the run and that is what the Saints need from Tuttle.

Tuttle was one of the top high school defensive linemen in North Carolina and was heavily recruited by a former North Carolina State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, who is now the defensive line coach for the Saints.

New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (99) runs after intercepting a pass thrown by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) (left) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Nov. 28, 2019.

Tuttle struggled with injuries after signing on with the Tennessee, but he has always been a favorite of Nielsen. This season will be his chance to show up big in doing the dirty work inside and also being part of a rotation crew with defensive ends kicked inside at times including  rookie Payton Turner and free agent defensive end/tackle Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Zach Baun, outside linebacker

The Saints used a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft on Baun, a speedy edge rushing outside linebacker. The former high school quarterback finished his final season at Wisconsin with 76 tackles, 19 ½ tackles for losses and 12 ½ sacks.

Payton said after the Saints selected Baun that he would play inside at middle linebacker, but most of his work last season came at the strongside slot.

The Saints have moved him to the weak side position.

Baun, like Ruiz and Trautman, had limited practice time last season, but when he played he seemed out of step, took bad angles to the football and he also struggled in the pass coverage part of the game.

Now the very athletic Baun is being moved again and the Saints are counting on him to be a starting outside linebacker and someone that can play all three downs on defense.

NFL analyst Mike Detillier is based in Raceland.