In 2020, the New Orleans Saints came out on top of the NFC South for the fourth straight year with a 12-4 record in the regular season. However, the Sean Payton-led squad failed to carry over the same level of success in the playoffs as they lost to division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round.
With longtime quarterback Drew Brees now retired, the Saints will be entering a new era in the 2021 season. The new QB1 has yet to be named but he will definitely need help from the team’s marquee players along with their role players in order to bring the Saints back to title contention moving forward.
Here are two under-the-radar players who could make a valuable impact for New Orleans in 2021:
1. Zack Baun
After concluding a three-year stint with the Wisconsin Badgers, linebacker Zack Baun became one of the more notable prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, he somehow slid to the third round where he was nabbed with the 74th pick by the Saints.
Baun didn’t see much action in his rookie campaign as he spent the majority of his time with the special teams. He finished the 2020 season with a total of 12 combined tackles in 15 games played. Despite seeing limited minutes on the field, Baun still showed glimpses of his potential to be a productive player for the Saints.
Heading to his second season in the pros, he is expected to have a larger role as notable veteran defenders in Alex Anzalone and Trey Hendrickson have already relocated during the offseason. Even though the Saints added another young talent in defensive end Payton Turner with the 28th pick in this year’s draft, Baun will still be counted upon to serve as a valuable piece in the Saints defense next season.
After gaining a year of experience playing in the NFL, Zack Baun should be ready to make valuable contributions and emerge as one of the headliners of the team’s defensive unit in 2021.
2. Deonte Harris
Wide receiver Deonte Harris previously went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft but he managed to ball out for the Saints who gave him an opportunity to have a career in the pros. He primarily served as a kick return specialist and recorded a league-leading 982 returning yards on 60 touches in 14 appearances to earn Pro Bowl honors.
Certainly enough, his breakout rookie campaign turned heads as he was given an elevated role in his second season in 2020. Unfortunately, he suffered a neck injury which limited his contributions as a member of the receiving corps and special teams.
His numbers dipped as he appeared in nine games with tallies of 186 receiving yards on 20 receptions and a touchdown along with 643 returning yards on 33 catches. Despite encountering setbacks in his sophomore year, Harris remains to be one of the Saints’ more intriguing young prospects as of the moment.
Last season, it was evident how the Saints didn’t have a true backup for WR1 Michael Thomas who missed several games due to injuries. With veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ recent departure, Harris has a chance to carve a more significant role and make a greater impact on the team’s scoring attack moving forward.
With the promising potential that he showed during his first two seasons in the league, it won’t be a surprise if Deonte Harris finally breaks out into a bigger threat on the field next season for the Saints.