Who is Nick Easton? Here’s all you need to know about the new Saints’ new man in the middle."With the sudden news of center Max Unger retiring Saturday Trey Hendrickson Jersey 2019 , the New Orleans Saints immediately had an unexpected hole in the middle of their offensive line. There were many thoughts about how New Orleans would look to fill the large void that Unger left after a spectacular four years in the big easy. So who was going to replace him? Will Clapp? Cameron Tom? Would they check the trade market?The Saints seemingly put everything to rest Sunday by signing former Vikings G/C Nick Easton after the free agent took a few days to make his final decision. Easton is expected to play center upon his arrival, his reported natural position.So who exactly is Nick Easton? And what can the Saints expect?Easton is a four-year pro who played his college ball at Harvard where he was a 2x first-team Ivy League All-American in both 2013 and 2014 as a junior and senior. After college, Easton went to the Baltimore Ravens and first caught the eyes of many teams with an impressive preseason where according pro football focus, he finished with the highest grade of any center.However, Easton would soon be traded to the San Francisco 49ers and wouldn’t earn his first start until the 2016 season where he was then apart of the Minnesota Vikings. Easton started five games to end that season, leading into his first opportunity the next as a full-time starter —but this time at guard.In 2017 Easton started 12 games for the Vikings before fracturing his ankle in Week 16.The following season Easton was penciled in again as a starter looking forward to showing consistency in his play, and a clean bill of health. Here’s a scouting report from The Athletic’s Arif Hasan on Easton, done in August of that year.That healthy season as mentioned above never arrived for Easton however, as a neck injury forced him to injured reserve in training camp —ending his season.The tools are available for Easton if healthy to thrive next to an extremely talented offensive line in the big easy. Knowing Sean Payton, Easton won’t be handed the job, but the early odds are definitely in his favor. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY SportsHis ability to pass block at a high level to go with his overall athleticism should pencil him in as an upside addition to the Saints’ philosophy offensively. As for Easton’s run blocking issues, we should expect the Saints to have a vision on how to not trap him in consistent problematic situations and matchups (His training camp battles versus Malcom Brown will be something to keep an eye on). We’ve seen New Orleans plug in various players at the center position and thrive before. Jonathan Goodwin White Sheldon Rankins Jersey , and Brian de la Puente immediately come to mind. Nick Easton arguably possesses more talent than each from an eye test perspective alone. He should be able to fit right in longterm —if he can stay on the field. Recent history would indicate that the NFC South is among the NFL's strongest divisions.Three of its four teams — New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina — made the playoffs last season. The Falcons are only two seasons removed from an overtime loss in the Super Bowl.Yet, in today's NFL, fortunes have been known to vacillate widely from one year to the next."Obviously, there is parity in our league," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "What I mean by that is, teams very quickly can improve themselves in the division. You see that each year."Payton has urged his players to take the approach that they are "starting from square one and it's an entirely different year."But it's tough to entirely drown out the expectations surrounding a club that won 11 of its last 14 regular-season games and beat the Panthers in the playoffs before nearly advancing to the NFC title game. Only an unlikely 61-yard touchdown pass play by the Vikings as time expired prevented the Saints from going to Philadelphia.Much of New Orleans' success stemmed from young players — namely running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the 2017 offensive and defensive rookie award winners. Many other key players— Pro Bowl receiver Michael Thomas, right guard Ryan Ramczyk, safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams, defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, cornerback Ken Crawley Sheldon Rankins Jersey 2019 , and linebacker Alex Anzalone — have been in the NFL two or fewer years.That gave the Saints the luxury of approaching the past offseason with the mission of refining rather than overhauling."We probably feel like we have fewer holes," general manager Mickey Loomis said. "Overall, we've got a young team ... and I'm anxious to see how those guys develop and get better — and I think we feel good about that."Here are some other NFC South story lines in 2018:ELDER STATESMAN: For all of the Saints' promising youth, their most important player still might be their eldest: 39-year-old Drew Brees.There's little evidence of a drop-off yet. Last season he completed an NFL-record 72 percent of his passes and his eight interceptions were his lowest since throwing seven with the Chargers in 2004.But he might have to throw more this season than last — at least early on. Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram is suspended the first four games for use of a banned substance.The good news for New Orleans is the entire offensive line is intact after strong showings in both the running and passing games in 2017."If they're playing well, then you're able to open up the offense in a way that makes us very dangerous," Brees said. "This group is one of the best we've had."Brees also has two of his top receivers back in Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., along with two promising new targets in free-agent acquisition Cameron Meredith and rookie Tre'Quan Smith.STAR TREATMENT: The Falcons have taken measures to make sure two key playmakers, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, are healthy to start the season. Neither played in a preseason game.Jones said he was focused on his health when he missed mandatory minicamp. He had minor surgery on his left foot after the 2016 season and had two ankle injuries, plus injuries to his back, ribs, thumb and knee last season. Even so White Sheldon Rankins Jersey , he had 88 catches for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns.Last year, Freeman had two concussions and was slowed by a knee problem.The Falcons led the NFL in scoring in their 2016 Super Bowl season but fell back to the middle of the pack last year.Quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't sound worried whether Jones or Freeman will be in form when it counts"Not with those two," Ryan said. "They both have played so much football and they both practice so much that I don't really see them missing a beat."ANOTHER GEAR: The Panthers sought to get faster in the offseason to compete with the Saints, who beat them three times last season, including in the wild-card round. They've added speed at wide receiver, trading for Torrey Smith, signing free agent Jarius Wright and drafting D.J. Moore from Maryland in the first round. Coach Ron Rivera is also hoping 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel can stay healthy, unlike last season. Those receivers and versatile running back Christian McCaffrey could give QB Cam Newton a lot of reasons not to run himself.Carolina also went in the Saints' backyard to get help on defense, drafting LSU cornerback Donte Jackson — considered one of the fastest players in college a year ago — in the second round.TAKING ON WATER: The Bucs lost 10 of 13 following a 2-1 start a year ago, missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. Their chances of escaping the division cellar and ending the long drought will be impacted by how they play without QB Jameis Winston, who'll miss the first three games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.After opening on the road at New Orleans Sheldon Rankins Jersey 2019 , home games follow against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An 0-3 start could be difficult to overcome, even if Winston plays well when he returns.PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers.AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall, Charles Odum, Steve Reed contributed to this report.
|Powered by Social Robotics|