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2023 Saints season awards: Team MVP, Rookie of the Year, and more

It wasn’t all bad for the New Orleans Saints in 2023. Some individual performances deserve recognition for doing their part to help the team end the year with a winning record.

Here are our picks for the Saints’ team awards:

  • Most Valuable Player

  • Rookie of the Year

  • Breakout Player of the Year

  • Most-Improved Player

  • Comeback Player of the Year

Most Valuable Player

Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

Demario Davis. It’s hard to go against Davis this season for being the Saints MVP. He played another season fully healthy through all 17 games, and had one of the best seasons of his career statistically. 121 tackles (2nd most of his career), 12 tackles for loss (3rd most of his career), 11 QB hits, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and 4 pass deflections? That’s the best player on the team no hesitation in my eyes. That type of production at 34 years of age, as the leader of the defense and in most cases the team, is exceptional, and it never ceases to be amazing year after year that he continues to play at this level. — Jeremy Trottier

Jameis Winston. If we’re talking about strictly the play on the field, it’s probably Demario Davis. But it goes deeper with Winston. The play on the field didn’t really amount to much so let’s dig into the locker room dynamics of this team. It was clearly a tumultuous year and I do believe Winston to be an integral piece of glue that keeps things right. Obviously, everything culminated at the end of the season when Winston and the offense made the decision to score that last touchdown for Jamaal Williams. The fact that every player immediately defended the decision and backed up Winston in a moment of defying the head coach, shows how important Winston is to that team. — Dylan Sanders

Demario Davis. There are three pillars of the Saints defense: Davis, Marshon Lattimore and Cameron Jordan. Lattimore and Jordan dealt with injuries. Davis led the defense as a tackler and also helped a struggling pass rush. Davis’ blitzing ability resulted in 6.5 sacks for the second season in a row. Davis is the heart and soul of the defense on and off the field. — Darrion Gray

Demario Davis. It can’t be anyone else. Davis is the heartbeat of the defense and the strongest connection left to the most successful era of Saints football; we talk a lot about how important the 2017 draft class was, but Davis arriving in free agency a year later was just as impactful in transforming the defense from a good unit to a great squad. He’s showing his age here or there but Davis is still one of the best linebackers in the NFL and the defense goes as far as he can lead them. — John Sigler

Rookie of the Year

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Bryan Bresee. To be completely honest, the Saints had a solid draft class in 2023 (at least compared to years prior). While Isaiah Foskey didn’t pan out yet, Kendre Miller looked solid in his playing time, Jordan Howden looked very good and could be the future starting safety, and A.T. Perry really ramped up near the end of the year. But Bresee just played at another level. He set multiple Saints official rookie records for the position (sacks, QB hits, passes defended) and was taking on substantial double team rates from opposing offensive lines. I was one of the more vocal advocates for Bresee coming into the 2023 draft, and watching him pan out at this level for the Saints has made this season fun to watch. — Jeremy Trottier

Bryan Bresee. Shoutout to Jordan Howden and A.T. Perry, but I think the answer is clearly Bryan Bresee this year. He set the rookie sacks record (dating back to when sacks were tracked) and looked the part of the player that the Saints drafted. He’s a very exciting player that could grow to being dominant in this league.

Bryan Bresee. This was clearly the option as Bresee was the only rookie who made constant contributions through the season. He broke a Saints record for most pass deflections by a rookie. His pass deflections are a sign of his football intelligence. He got to the quarterback for 4.5 sacks but had the awareness to get his hands when he couldn’t get there. — Darrion Gray

Bryan Bresee. It’s a sweep! I was concerned about Bresee’s durability coming out of college with such a long injury history, but he proved me wrong by playing all 17 games and performing at a high level. He won the team record for sacks by a rookie defensive tackle and nearly matched the total for passes defensed by a first-year lineman. He had a couple of other sacks wiped out by penalties. There are things he can work on in run defense but the Saints nailed this pick. — John Sigler

Breakout Player of the Year

 

Rashid Shaheed. To be clear, I heavily considered Carl Granderson here as well. Both players had exceptional seasons, but I give the edge to Shaheed for the pro bowl nod and for his production in a struggling offensive system.  Making the all-pro first team and a pro bowl in your second season is impressive, but averaging nearly 10 yards per target (not reception) at 9.6 is extremely impressive. Shaheed ended up with 719 receiving yards on 46 receptions (15.6 avg) and 5 touchdowns. The only knock on his game was his catch rate which was 46.7%, however many of those targets were either way over his head or uncatchable, so this is not all his fault. After a solid rookie year, Rashid broke out in a big way this season, and could be a major piece of the Saints going forward. — Jeremy Trottier

Carl Granderson. Granderson stepped up in his first year of starting on the defensive line. It may not be considered a breakout, because his performance was somewhat expected/hoped for, but he was just by far the best player on the defensive line in his first year in that big role. He had five more sacks than the next highest defensive end and also led the defense in tackles for a loss. — Dylan Sanders

Rashid Shaheed. Shaheed improved as a receiver and as a returner in 2023. Though he was scarcely used as a rookie on offense, the talent was obvious. This year he proved he could be more than a gadget player. Shaheed was a valuable part of the offense who connected with Derek Carr immediately. Shaheed’s contributions on special teams led to him being a first team All Pro as a return specialist. — Darrion Gray

Rashid Shaheed. I like the pick for Granderson here but I’ve got to go with Shaheed; winning All-Pro recognition in his second year in the league makes for a highly convincing argument. He’s developed into one of the league’s best deep threats while proving to be an asset in the return game. The sky is the limit for him if the Saints can find a play caller who will keep putting the ball in his hands. — John Sigler

Most-Improved Player

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Werner. There are a lot of options for most improved, but my pick is Pete Werner.  He improved in nearly every stat category, increasing his snap count on defense by 10%, with 13 more tackles than last season, 1 more QB hit, 1 more TFL, 0.5 more sacks, 2 more fumble recoveries, and 5 more games started. He also marginally improved his missed tackle rate on many more attempts, missing the same amount as last year on 13 more attempts (4.1% compared to last year being 4.8%). It is clear that Werner is going to be critical to the Saints long term plans, and he proved that this year without a doubt. — Jeremy Trottier

Issac Yiadom. It’s rare that you get a player that has an overhaul in terms of level of play in their fifth year in the league! Yiadom hadn’t even played 100 total snaps between 2021 and 2022. He stepped up after the injury to Marshon Lattimore and played the cornerback position very well in the latter half of the season, as the defense overall improved as well. He probably won’t be starting for the team next season, but will either get a bigger deal for someone else or come back and be a stellar depth piece with a healthy secondary in New Orleans. If the Saints do end up trading Lattimore, Yiadom could also start and the Saints could still be confident in that position. — Dylan Sanders

Zack Baun. FINALLY! The Saints actually used Baun at what he was good at towards the end of the year. He has spent the entirety of his career being an off-ball linebacker when he was a pass rusher in college. The skillset translated to the NFL. New Orleans may have stumbled into the situation, but luckily for Baun he was able to showcase his ability to rush the passer. He’s a free agent this year and may have made himself some money. — Darrion Gray

Isaac Yiadom. This is tough, but I had to go with Yiadom. For him to end the year as a starting-quality cornerback competing with the league’s best receivers given how his career started; that’s so impressive. He spent time on four different rosters before landing with the Saints, where he was only expected to play special teams. But Yiadom was receptive to coaching and earned an opportunity to turn his career around. You don’t see many guys be traded and cut multiple times before hitting their stride like this. — John Sigler

Comeback Player of the Year

 

Paulson Adebo. There are not many candidates for this award on the Saints, as most who were injured in 2022 were also injured in 2023. The other candidate here for much of the season was Michael Thomas, however he became injured again mid season and lost his production due to that. Paulson Adebo struggled pretty immensely in 2022, and it felt like many times he was targeted he ended up being on the losing end of the battle. However, this season he improved dramatically back to his rookie form, with 4 interceptions, a whopping 18 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles and recoveries, and 76 total tackles. He also looked great in coverage, only allowing a 55% completion rate on 100 targets, for 674 yards (6.7 yards per target), and only one touchdown allowed. His missed tackle rate also plummeted from 13.2% rookie year and 13% last year to 6.2% this season. Overall, a great return to form for Adebo, and hopefully one that sticks long term. — Jeremy Trottier

Paulson Adebo. Adebo played hurt last season and battled injuries, which led to a drop in quality. He bounced back this year and was playing on a level that went unappreciated by the country as a whole, but those who watched the games could see how good he was this season. It was a much needed improvement as the Saints try to find the next generation of leaders on this defense. — Dylan Sanders

Paulson Adebo. There was questions if Paulson Adebo would even be a part of the Saints defensive game plan in 2023. A year that started with him fighting for his job ended with him having the best season of all defensive backs. He doubled his ball production this year by setting highs in interceptions and pass deflections. This year felt like the step we expected from Adebo after a strong rookie season. — Darrion Gray

Paulson Adebo. Another sweep, and it’s well-deserved. Adebo was slowed down by injuries in 2022 and ended the year as one of the league’s lowest-rated and most-penalized defensive backs. Expectations were low for him going into training camp. But he outplayed Alontae Taylor (a very good corner when lining up outside) over the summer and held down this spot all season. It’s a very impressive bounce back for a player who had drawn a lot of criticism. — John Sigler

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire