The 2022 NFL season will begin a new era for the New Orleans Saints. This will be the first season, since 2005, the Saints will play without either former quarterback Drew Brees, who retired after the 2020 season, or head coach Sean Payton, who stepped down after the 2021 season.
The Saints are not too far removed from success, making the playoffs in 2020 with a 12-4 record. Even in a semi-rebuilding year in 2021, New Orleans was able to muster a 9-8 record.
Major inconsistency on offense is a key reason for the Saints' mediocrity last season. With Brees and Payton at the helm, the Saints fielded one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Last season, the team struggled on offense, finishing in the bottom five for total offense.
Last season, quarterback Jameis Winston played well, leading the team to a 5-2 record before suffering a torn ACL. From there, the Saints had a revolving door at quarterback with Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemien, each getting a chance to start.
The Saints have never been big on rushing the ball, but even running back Alvin Kamara had a disappointing season. As one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, Kamara registered a career-low 47 receptions for 439 yards.
Wide receiver Marquez Callaway led the team with 698 receiving yards and herein lies the problem. The Saints have three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas on their roster but he has not played a full season since 2019.
The Saints have a lot to figure out this season and seeing if Thomas fits into their future is one of them.
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Saints player with the most to prove at training camp: Michael Thomas
The 29-year-old Thomas was considered one of the NFL's best receivers not too long ago. In 2019, he rewrote the record books with a monster season. He finished the season with an NFL-record 149 catches to go along with 1,725 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. His stellar performance won him the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
Unfortunately, Thomas has been hampered by nagging ankle injuries in the years since. In 2020, he only played in seven games and he missed the entire 2021 season. After having ankle surgery during the 2021 season, it was expected that Thomas would be ready in time for training camp but that will not be the case.
While Thomas is starting training camp on the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform), there is optimism that he will be cleared to participate in team activities soon.
Thomas and the Saints seem to be in a better place now. Last season, there was trade speculation and reports of unhappiness on both sides.
Now that Thomas is on track to step back onto the field for the first time in two years, one has to wonder how he will fare. He has only played with Winston for a handful of snaps. The combination of a new quarterback and head coach will force Thomas to undergo an adjustment period.
The aforementioned Callaway showed flashes last season and the arrivals of wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave will take some of the pressure off of Thomas. If Thomas struggles to return to form, it will not be long until the rumor mill starts churning. NFL teams are already viewing receivers as replaceable and Olave has shown promise thus far.
Thomas still needs to prove that he is still one of the top receivers in the league.