There isn’t a real midseason with a 17-game schedule, but the New Orleans Saints are at a natural bridge point after their first eight matchups. The NFL trade deadline is a nice milestone on the calendar. They’re 3-5 on the year so far with nine more games to play, plus their bye week, so it’s a good time to take stock of their season and highlight some of their top performers.
So with that in mind, here are our picks for the Saints’ Most Valuable Player, Breakout Player of the Year, Most-Improved Player, Comeback Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year:
Most Valuable Player: LB Demario Davis
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Davis is one of two defenders to play every single snap this year (the other being Tyrann Mathieu), and there isn’t much to critique about his performance. He’s been steady in run defense and effective in coverage (breaking up two passes), but his real strength has flashed as a pass rusher. Davis has already tied his career high with 5 sacks on the year so far (in just 8 games), with Pro Football Focus charting crediting him with 11 pressures on just 36 snaps on blitzes. He’s aging like fine wine and has been their most valuable player.
Breakout Player of the Year: LB Pete Werner
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Impressive as Davis is now, Werner is doing a lot to build confidence in the future of linebacker play in New Orleans. He’s taken a huge step forward in his second year with the Saints, his first as a full-time starter, and he ranks among NFL leaders in solo tackles (52), making plays all over the field. He’s also broken up 3 passes (which led to a Tyrann Mathieu interception) and forced a pair of fumbles. His arrow is trending up.
Most-Improved Player: RG Cesar Ruiz
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Ruiz is becoming a joy to watch each week, which is wild given how poorly his season started. He’s moving with confidence and executing his assignments and paving the way for some big gains on the ground, all while holding up strong in pass protection. It’s too soon to say he’s someone the Saints can lean on, but we’re well past the point where he was considered a liability. Credit to Ruiz for learning from his mistakes and adjusting to life in the NFL.
Comeback Player of the Year: S Justin Evans
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There’s a lot of people who would be stunned to learn Evans is even playing in the NFL right now. An Achilles injury in Sept. 2019 ended his season before it began, and complications afterwards cost him the entire 2020 and 2021 campaigns. He last suited up for an NFL game on Dec. 2, 2018 and didn’t get back on the field until the Saints kicked off with the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 11, 2022. That’s a 1,369-day drought.
We can criticize how effective Evans has been with New Orleans (he’s totaled 298 snaps on defense, missing three tackles and drawing two penalties while allowing 17 of 25 passes thrown into his coverage to be completed for 178 yards, breaking up a pass) but it’s honestly impressive that he’s worked his way back to this point.
Rookie of the Year: WR Chris Olave
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No doubt about it: Olave is the best rookie on the Saints’ roster, and one of the best first-year players around the NFL. He’s certainly the best rookie wide receiver. Olave leads the league in receptions (37) and receiving yards (548). He’s consistently making plays on third down and deep downfield, looking like a complete receiver just seven games into his career. There are things he can improve upon (like developing a stronger body to play through contact and win on contested catches) but that’s honestly picking nits. He’s going to be a very good pro for a very long time.