July 28, 2009

Are the Saints really old?

In ESPN's preseason Power Rankings, the Saints are referred to as "one of the NFL's oldest teams."

There's another article here ripping the Saints for being old.

Lets take a deeper look though, by position group, at the Saints and the top teams in the NFL.

Lets look at the average age of the Saints' starting offensive line: 27.2 years. That compares near or far younger than the Steelers (26.4), the Patriots (29.8), the Giants (29.4), the Ravens (26.4), the Eagles (26.8) and the Cardinals (27.2). The Saints will be anchored by two young guards for years to come and neither tackle is over 29. Jonathan Goodwin is 30 but he only emerged as a starter in 2008, he has only 28 career starts and hadn't been a full-time player before then.

As for the top five skill position players (top 2 RB's and top 3 WR's in most cases, though I counted Todd Heap for the Mason-less Ravens), the Saints are quite spry: 25.2 years old compares favorably to the Steelers (27.2), the Patriots (30.8), the Giants (25.8), the Cardinals (24.2), Eagles (27.0) and the Ravens (26.2). I counted Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore for that average.

I don't really mark the Saints down for age at quarterback. Brees is only 30 and has played only seven seasons, plus he's in the prime of his career. I'm not sure what the point is to criticize the age of the Saints' backups at the position, since pension years accumulated would be the least of the Saints' problems without Brees under center.

So when they say the Saints are old, they really mean that their defense is old, right?

But are they?

With Will Smith and Charles Grant in a projected starting front seven alongside Ellis, Clancy, Shanle, Vilma and Fujita, the Saints average 28.3 years in the front seven. With Spicer and McCray in the lineup in the first four games, it's 28.6 years old.

Lets look around the league. The champion Steelers front seven averages 29.4 years old, led by 31-year old James Harrison. The Patriots are 28.7 years on average without Junior Seau in the lineup. The Cardinals front seven are at 29.4, the Ravens 28.7. The Giants are 28.1 on average and the Eagles are insanely young at linebacker, average 25.7. So the Saints' aren't looking ancient at all in comparison to top teams around the NFL.

In the secondary, the Saints' starting lineup is young, skewed by Darren Sharper's age (33). With Greer, Porter and Harper on the field with Sharper, the secondary averages 27.0 years old. Roman Harper may be prematurely graying, but he's not Abe Vigoda. Needless to say, getting Randall Gay (27), Usama Young (24) or Chip Vaughn (23) on the field would lower that average.

But the Saints aren't Favresque in this category either: the Steelers' projected starting four in the secondary average 29.8 years old, the Cardinals 27.0, the Ravens 27.5. The Giants at 25.0 average age are starting four players with four years of experience or less in the league. Patriots' number at 25.5 doesn't include Shawn Springs, instead Jonathan Wilhite who played in four games as a rookie last year.

But before a quick-hit assessment of these Saints becomes "they're old", take a look at the facts. Their age is at worst on average if not younger in key position groups.

I'm not debating the merits or detriments of age in the NFL (though there is some good thought put into it here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Counting the Saints' backup quarterback (38), long snapper (37), and blocking tight end (33) in a team-wide average doesn't meaningfully describe the team's youth or age.

Also keep in mind also the laundry list of age 30+ players the Saints have let go, just this offseason: Mike McKenzie (33), Brian Young (32), Kevin Kaesviharn (33), David Patten (35), Hollis Thomas (35), Deuce McAllister (30), Mark Campbell (34), Aaron Glenn (37), Antwan Lake (30), Aaron Stecker (33), Matt Lehr (30), Eric Johnson (30).

The problems the Saints will face this year will not be because of age, but rather a new defensive scheme, lack of quickness at outside linebacker, lack of speed at safety and a potentially problematic locker room, what with a sudden vacuum of veteran leadership and some burgeoning egos on offense. To bring up their average age is irrelevant and far down on their list of problems.

[Ages are for the 2009 football season. Starting projections are in my approximation.]

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