Sunday, March 13, 2016

New Orleans Saints All Career-Year Team

By John Turney
We at Pro Football Journal are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the New Orleans Saints. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Drew Brees’s best two seasons and use both QB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:

Kickers were fun because we went with two old-school selections on the Second-team, Tom Dempsey and Julian Fagan. It's not that they had statistical seasons that could stand up to today's standards, but at the time they were considered outstanding because they were equal or above most of their peers and were selected All-Pro or All-NFC. Fagen, for example, had two punts blocked and in this series, he will likely be the only selection with more than one blocked in a season. The First-team spots were easy, Andersen's best year and Morstead's booming season of 2012. Mitch Berger, 2004, led the NFL in net punting and he gets an HM for that season.

The Saints returners were particularly prolific in their seasons with Reggie Bush returning three punts for touchdowns, Hughes was both a kick- and punt returner and in consecutive seasons was outstanding. Michael Lewis with his underdog story was amazing in 2002. Mel Gray's 1986 would make the top two on most teams but with those ahead of him on the Saints, he has to be an honorable mention.

McAfee and Thompson (18 tackles in 1991) were Pro Bowlers and McAfee was also All-Pro for his coverage abilities. Steve Gleason gets an honorable mention for his 2006 season when he had a career-high 15 tackles and a blocked punt. Another honorable mention is Guido Merkens for his 1981 season when he had 11 tackles on special teams, though there were several years that would qualify and the same is true for Rich Mauti but we went with 1978 for Mauti for an honorable mention.

The Saints have had quite a few All-pros on their line and made the First-team simply. On the Second-team it was also based on honors, but there were several players close to making the list, but will have to be an honorable mention. Jake Kupp was a Pro Bowl replacement player in 1969 but also had a solid 1971 season that should be remembered. Jonathan Goodwin was a Pro Bowler in 2009. Brad Edelman in 1987 was Second-team All-NFC.

Stan Brock never got any honors, but he was very good, especially in late-1980s and early 1990s. He has several seasons that are honorable mention-worthy. John Stinchcomb was an ESPN All-Pro in 2009. Ben Grubbs also garnered a Pro Bowl for an HM spot as did John Hill who had a fine season at center in 1979.

In 1979 Conrad Dobler came to Saints and his leadership and skills helped the Saints cut their sacks allowed from 37 to 17, tied for second-best in the NFL. Steve Korte's 1988 season also deserves a mention. Derek Kennard, a road grader, was a Second-team All-Pro in 1992 and both Turley and Bushrod were First-team All-Pro but their seasons take a back seat to Roaf and Jamaal Brown's best years.

Jimmy Graham was chalk for the First-team and Henry Childs have several nice seasons, 1979 he was All-NFC and a Pro Bowler. Hoby Brenner, 1987, a great blocker is honorable mention.

For fullbacks we went with Mike Karney, a Second-team All-Pro in 2006 and Lorenzo Neal, whose name has been on a couple of lists already. Honorable mentions go to the FBs who carried the ball in this instance, Tony "Touchdown" Baker in 1969. Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, 1990 and Ray Zellars, 1997, we very good as well. Also an HM is Hokie Gajan's 1984 season when he averaged 6.0 yards a carry, blocked, caught passes and was a good special teams player.

George Rogers's 1981 season, which was his rookie season, set records at the time and McAllister was special, too. Chuck Muncie was as talented as any running back in the NFL, he was large for his era and fast for his size, he could catch and block. Personal problems limited his career achievements, but, in 1979, he put it all together. Mayes was very solid for a good Saints team in 1986.

The Saints have long used third-down backs, in Sean Payton's era Sproles had the best season and in 1980 Galbreath caught 57 passes, playing in pass situations. Pierre Thomas, 2013, would be an honorable mention in this slot.
Drew Brees's stats look like they come from Madden '06, but they are real. Manning was the NFC Player of the Year in 1978 and earned it as Saints came within one game of being .500 for the first time that year. Aaron Brooks and Jim Everrett get honorable mention as does Bobby Herbert.
The receivers were based on honors and then stats, not the other way around. Wes Chandler, upon review, may eventually be moved to the First-team, it was very close. Eric Martin, and his 1988 Pro Bowl season, gets one honorable mention.

For 3rd receivers, the Saints had a lot of choices, we went with Moore and Turner. Devery Henderson deserves some notice with two seasons averaging over 23 yards a catch, a rarity for a WR in this current era. If we picked a 4th WR slot Robert Meechum's 2009 would get that, and Quinn Early gets an HM as well.

The Saints have yet to have a defensive end named First-team All-Pro. But, they have had some good seasons by several players. Doug Atkins had 12½ sacks to go with 56 tackles in 1968. At the time, he was being considered for Defensive Player of the Year before he got hurt. As it was he was voted to the Pro Bowl but did not get credit for it due to his broken kneecap that ended his season. Back then, the NFL didn't name players and then replace them like they do today. If they knew of the injury they just replaced him and didn't announce it (The same thing happened to Lee Roy Selmon in 1978).

Joe Johnson was Second-team All-Pro and was credited with 13 sacks (though we contend he had 14). However, it was a close call with 1998 when he had fewer sacks but a lot more stuffs (12.5 to three). If we ever revisit we might go the other way and make 1998 the career year. The truth is he was very consistent whether playing right end, left end or like in 1996 playing closed end and open end. He did it all. Honestly, any one of two or three seasons could be the choice. 

Bruce Clark and Will Smith were Pro Bowlers in 1984 and 2009. Smith had another season in the running and Clark was underrated and his 1984 was called out by his coach as being one of the best he'd ever seen. Cameron Jordan was narrowly left out for his 2013 and 2015 seasons, he'll have to settle for honorable mention but he has already shown the talent to jump higher on this list. We'll see.

Don Reese, in 1979, had 54 tackles, 12 sacks and 5 passes deflected. He, too, is an honorable mention. Wayne Martin was a Pro Bowl DE in 1994 and had 15.5 sacks in 1992 and we may be shorting him here by picking Clark over him. But Clark was so stout versus the run it was hard to leave him off, so we went with him. He'd often move inside on passing downs with rookie Jumpy Geathers playing left end. Starting in 1986 Geathers would play inside on passing downs.

Reasonable people could disagree here, as the seasons for most of these were very similar. In fact, the honorable mentions for the Saints are so strong we have to leave our Richard Neal's 1971 season (36 tackles, 8 sacks) and Billy Newsome's 1974 season (53 tackles, 6½ sacks), as well as good seasons as 3-4 defensive ends Jim Wilkes (1983) and Frank Warren (1989). Darren Howard was effective in 2000 and 2001, making a lot of big plays.

However, Jim Wilkes does get the top nose spot for his 1991 season when the Saint's run defense was outstanding and for the same reason, Elliot gets the Second-team spot. In 1986 the Saints allowed just 3.2 yards per rush and Elliot was a big part of that. Pig Goff is an honorable mention as he manned the nose position in 1990 quite well. Some of the names for the Saints were simply terrific, Pig, Duece, Hokie, Jumpy, Hoby, Pierre, L'Roi, Junior, Roman, and Ironhead. All are candidates for any All-Name team.

And Wayne Martin's snub is mitigated since he is the First-team defensive tackle with L'Roi Glover. Martin was a 3-4 end until 1995 when the Saints moved to a 4-3 defense and Martin played 3-technique. Glover had several outstanding seasons, but in 2000 he was First-team All-Pro and averaged a sack a game.

We really liked the Second-team picks. Derland Moore could have had his 1976 season selected or his 1983 when he was a nose tackle, selected as well. In 1976 he had 91 tackles and 8 sacks. He, again, had 8 sacks in 1980 and he just played hard during a miserable Saint season and we went with that one. Bob Pollard is one of the great unknown names of the NFL. In the 1970s, when the Saints would play the 3-4 Pollard was an end, and he would slide down to defensive tackle when they went to the 4-3. In 1975 he had 104 tackles and seven sacks. He was always "flashing" in their highlight films. A tough, unsung player in our view. Mike Tilleman's 1970, when he was the team MVP and had 84 tackles, 5.5 stuffs, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two recoveries himself is an honorable mention.

The designated pass rusher on the First-team was Joe Owens, one of the first players to play that spot regularly. When the Saints used a 3-4 defense in 1974, which they did quite a bit, Owens would be on the bench, but when they went nickel he was the "rush guy" and had 9½ sacks in that role. In 1975 he didn't start a game but had 6½ sacks. Jumpy Geathers had 9 sacks in two starts, he was an inside rusher when he came into the game in 1986. He played a similar role for the Washington Redskins later in his career.
Joe Federspiel
Linebackers, lots of linebackers. The Saints strongest position, year in and year-out. We went with 1992 for Sam Mills at one 3-4 ILBer position and backing him up is Vaughan Johnson. For the 4-3 MLB position is Joe Federspiel. In 1978 he had 157 tackles, 13 stuffs, 10 passes deflected. The Second-team MLB was hard, Johnathan Vilma was a fine player in both 2009 and 2010 but we went with Charlie Clemons's 2001 season. Very few players play MLB in base defense, and then play the defensive end position in the nickel. The Dolphins/Bear Bryan Cox did it, Brian Urlacher did it and Clemons did it and there may be a couple of others but it is an exclusive club. Clemons had 93 tackles, 13.5 sacks and even deflected 6 passes. Well done. Winfred Tubbs, 1997, is an honorable mention for 'backer.
Pat Swilling.
Pat Swilling, 1991's Defensive Player of the Year and Ricky Jackson, 1992, though many seasons would have worked, are the easy outside 'backers with Turnbull (an All-Pro in 1993) and Junior Gallette on the Second-team. However, we may end up re-thinking the final one and move HM Keith Mitchell, 2000, ahead of Gallette. A tough choice.

Eric Allen and Dave Whitsell were Pro Bowl selections and Whitsell was Second-team All-Pro. In 1967 he intercepted 10 passes, returning two for touchdowns deflected 21 passes and blocked 4 kicks (3 field goals and one PAT). Wayner and Poe were both Second-team All-Pro in their respective seasons and also unsung players. The nickelbacks were the most productive in terms of picks and pass deflections for players who didn't start.

Sammy Knight was fun to watch, always seemingly making a tackle, picking off a pass, and even getting a sack. His Pro Bowl year of 2001 narrowly edges Roman Harper's 2010. Harper's 2009 and 2011 seasons were also worthy. In 2011 he had 7.5 sacks (second-most for a DB in history) in his SS/joker position, and he was a Pro Bowler in 2009. In 2010 he had 6 forced fumbles, 3 sacks and a pick to go with his 98 tackles.

The free safeties are not as stellar, but very good. Tommy Myers gets the Second-team selection, he was a solid player many years, but he was part of the Saints making good strides in 1978 and 1979. In 1979 he was All-NFC made 131 tackles, picked off seven passes and returned one for a touchdown. However, we had to give the First-team selection to Darren Sharper's 2009 season. The less said about him the better.

As always, as we look at more film, do more research, we reserve the right to "revise and extend our remarks". Thanks, U.S. Senate, we like to cover our tracks, too, when we've erred.

Agree or disagree? Post in the comments section below.


  1. Dave Whitsell had one of those careers where he just kept on playing well no matter the position. From safety in Detroit, to right corner with the Bears & Saints, and finally moving back to free safety at the end of his career. He also blocked one hell of a lot of field goals and extra points.

  2. Curious how many years did Mills and Rickey Jackson have graded as blue at PSI?

  3. A wonderful walk down memory lane. My three siblings and I sat in the end zone at Saints games for $1.50 each at old Tulane Stadium. My fondest memory remains 1973, when the Saints defense stopped OJ in his 2000-yard season on 4th and 1 and beat the Bills 13-0 and the Redskins 19-3. Reality soon set in, as it always did back in those days.