The New Orleans Saints franchise has seen its ups and downs since entering the NFL in 1967. They've endured multiple losing seasons in their history, became playoff contenders through the early 90s, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Steve Gleason's memorable blocked punt that led to a touchdown in their triumphant Superdome return, experienced a Super Bowl victory, and the Bountygate scandal.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the hiring of head coach Sean Payton and the free agent signing of quarterback Drew Brees following a forgettable '05 season turned their fortunes around. The Saints have since won three division titles during the Payton era with an explosive offense that boasted Brees, Reggie Bush, and Marques Colston, along with a defense anchored by Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma. The Saints marched to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami and claimed their first title against the Indianapolis Colts. But the team failed to clinch a playoff berth in 2012, as Payton earned a year-long suspension with four other players for their involvement in Bountygate, and has missed the playoffs for the last three years. Let's count down the eight best and seven worst Saints players since the 2000 season.
15 Best: DEUCE MCALLISTER
We start off with longtime Saints running back Deuce McAllister, who played his entire eight-year career in the Big Easy. A tough runner who could break through piles and elude tackles, the Saints drafted the Mississipi native in 2001. A fan favorite in New Orleans, he went on to become the franchise's all-time rushing leader, collecting 6,096 yards, was the NFC's rushing leader during the '02 season, and a two-time Pro Bowler. In January 2010, McAllister officially retired from the NFL during the Saints run to a championship but returned to the organization as an honorary team captain for the NFC title game and the Super Bowl. McAllister witnessed the Saints' first SB victory against the Colts and became a world champion for the first time. Since 2016, McAllister serves as a color analyst for the Saints Radio Network.
14 Worst: ROBERT MEACHEM
It seems quite surprising to think that Robert Meachem is one of the worst Saints players of the 21st century, but he had a pretty underwhelming career for a guy that had a combination of good hands and speed. Meachem played his rookie year in 2008, recording 12 catches for only 289 yards. His '09 season proved to be his best as a Saint, racking up 45 receptions for 722 yards and nine TD catches which netted him a Super Bowl ring. Meachem offered decent offensive production from 2010 to '11 until a forgettable one-year stint with the Chargers began his sharp decline as a wideout. He returned to the Saints and underperformed in his second stint, catching 23 passes for 338 yards over two seasons combined. The Saints chose not to re-sign Meachem for 2015. Out of an NFL job, he faced jail time for his failure to pay child supports last month.
13 Best: AARON BROOKS
Aaron Brooks is the seventh-best Saints player on this list because of the ups and downs he experienced throughout his six-year tenure. Brooks became a target of criticism by Saints fans for his tendencies to throw over 10 interceptions and take 30 to 40 sacks each season. But he earned some respect from Saints fans for the good things he did under center, as Brooks guided the team to its first-ever playoff victory against the "The Greatest Show on Turf" Rams in 2000. In addition, Brooks threw for 19,156 yards and 120 TD passes over his six seasons. Brooks once threw for over 400 passing yards against the Broncos in 2000.
A disappointing 2005 season for the Saints and their high-profile signing of Drew Brees spelled the end of Brooks' career in New Orleans. He played one more season for Oakland in 2006, then the Saints inducted him into their Hall of Fame.
12 Worst: DEVERY HENDERSON
Much like ex-teammate Deuce McAllister, former Saints receiver Devery Henderson also spent his entire NFL career with one team. Henderson provided decent offensive production with Drew Brees over the years they had regular season and playoff success, catching a personal best 51 passes for 804 yards in the '09 season.
By 2011, his role in the Saints' offense became diminished due to a stacked collection of offensive targets. They included TE Jimmy Graham, receiver Lance Moore, Colston, Meachem and RB Darren Sproles. To make matters worse for Henderson, he made 22 receptions for 313 yards during his 2012 campaign which spelled the end of his nine-year career. The one-time SB champion returned to LSU in order to finish his degree in 2014. Henderson currently holds free football camps for children in his Louisiana hometown of Opelousas.
11 Best: JONATHAN VILMA
A one-time Super Bowl champion for the Saints, Jonathan Vilma spent the early part of his career with the Jets until his New Orleans arrival by the '08 season. He made a strong impact on the Saints defense with his leadership and a desire to compete every week while establishing their winning culture. They named the veteran linebacker as a team captain in '09. Vilma recorded a career-best three interceptions while leading the Saints in combined tackles from 2008-10.
He helped the '09 Saints claim their first Super Bowl title with an impressive postseason performance, making 14 tackles and one fumble recovery. From 2012 to '13, Vilma was never the same player thanks to knee problems that basically ended his career, even though he returned one interception for a TD in December 2012. The three-time Pro Bowler retired from the NFL during the 2015 season.
10 Worst: REGGIE BUSH
Reggie Bush emerged as an explosive running back for the USC Trojans and really had the potential to become an NFL star. The Saints drafted Bush second overall in 2006 behind the Mario Williams, whom the Texans had selected as the first pick. Bush had a pretty good rookie season with 565 rushing yards, 742 receiving yards, and six TDs but struggled to become a dynamic threat. Bush failed to rush for 1,000 yards or more during his five seasons for the Saints, although his offensive contributions against Arizona and Minnesota in the NFC playoffs led to his first Super Bowl championship in 2009.
The following year turned out to a forgettable one for the versatile Bush thanks to a fibula injury that limited him to eight games. Bush joined the Miami Dolphins in 2011, where he recorded the first 1,000 rushing yard season of his career, then rushed for 1,006 yards for the Lions in 2013. However, he has been used sparingly over his last two seasons with the 49ers and Bills.
9 Best: PIERRE THOMAS
A one-time Super Bowl winner, running back Pierre Thomas came to the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2007. Thomas fared quite well as a kick returner during his rookie season with 865 yards, but no return touchdowns. In 2008, Thomas became a force in the backfield, leading the Saints with 625 rushing yards and nine TDs. But the '09 season proved to be his finest as a Saint, rushing for a career-best 793 yards.
Thomas contributed to a Saints victory in the NFC Championship game against Minnesota, scoring a rushing TD and a 38-yard TD reception off a Drew Brees screen pass. A fourth-quarter pick by Vikings' QB Brett Favre forced overtime, where Thomas returned the opening kick for 40 yards and would lead to a game-winning field goal by Garrett Hartley. He went on to score a 16-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XLIV after kicker Thomas Morestead executed an onside kick that New Orleans recovered to open the second half. Although Thomas last played in 2015, he played 105 games for the Saints and ranks fifth in team history with 28 rushing TDs.
8 Worst: GARRETT HARTLEY
Saints fans may remember kicker Garrett Hartley for his game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime to eliminate the Vikings in the '09 NFC Championship and for his clutch field goal kicking in Super Bowl XLIV. But the Saints' playoff hero had a rough 2010 season going 20 for 25 on FGs, missed all of 2011 due to a bad hip, then had an even worse 2013 with eight missed FG tries. A couple of field goal misses against the Rams a few years ago led to his departure following a messy six-year tenure that included a four-game suspension in '09 for using a banned substance.
Hartley joined the Cleveland Browns in 2014, but his time with the troubled franchise lasted only two games. Hartley's been out of the spotlight since his Browns departure, although he published an article for The Players' Tribune last year on what it's like to live as a free agent kicker.
7 Best: WILL SMITH
Will Smith had a terrific nine-year career as a defensive end for the Saints. But the success that Smith achieved under head coach Sean Payton made him a respected player and team captain for their team and local community. His best seasons came in '06 and '09, recording 10.5 and 13 QB sacks respectively and played an integral role towards their only Super Bowl win. Although his sack totals dropped following the '09 season, the NFL handed Smith a four-game ban in 2012 for his involvement in Bountygate which affected his professional life. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated his suspension, but he did not return for another season in New Orleans, ending his tenure with 457 tackles and 67 sacks.
Unfortunately, Smith's life was cut short last April at the age of 34. It is a shame that the NFL lost such an impactful player and person, and the Saints should honor Smith's legacy by retiring his #91.
6 Worst: JEREMY SHOCKEY
From 2002 to '07, Jeremy Shockey blossomed into a star at tight end for the New York Giants. Shockey had a monster rookie year with the G-Men, catching 74 passes for 894 yards and a pair of TDs. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the '07 Giants that famously beat the undefeated Patriots, but missed the playoffs due to a season-ending injury.
The Saints traded for the Pro Bowl receiver from the Giants in July 2008, but Shockey couldn't replicate the offensive production he had or stay healthy. He racked up 483 receiving yards on 50 receptions with no touchdowns and missed four games because of multiple injuries. Shockey rebounded the next season with 569 receiving yards and recorded a TD in the Super Bowl. The Saints prevailed against the Colts by 14 points, as Shockey earned his second title. However, the veteran receiver had a poor 2010 campaign, collecting 41 receptions for 408 yards and three TDs. By 2011, New Orleans cut ties with Shockey, who played one more season with the Panthers before his eventual retirement.
5 Best: JOE HORN
It is virtually impossible to exclude Saints legend Joe Horn on this list because of the career he had as a pass catcher. Throughout the mid-2000s, Horn became a fan favorite on the team for his competitive spirit and dedication, but he could not capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy. His accomplishments seem to outweigh the disappointment of not winning a Super Bowl, though. Horn lit up secondaries nearly every game, racking up 1,000-plus receiving yards in four of his seven seasons as a Saint and caught 50 touchdown passes.
Horn gained some notoriety for his use of a cellphone to celebrate a touchdown grab in 2003, which earned him a $30,000 fine from the league. They opted to release him following the '06 season after he refused to take a pay cut, but he's second in team history with 7,622 receiving yards gained and 50 touchdowns scored behind Marques Colston. He played one forgettable year for the Falcons, then retired as a Saint in 2010.
4 Worst: JOSH BULLOCKS
Some may remember former safety Josh Bullocks for his brief tenure with the Saints. Bullocks had the potential to become a key part of their secondary because of his '05 season, where he made 67 combined tackles as a rookie. But the next three seasons for Bullocks was a different story. His inconsistency with defensive coverages landed him on the Saints bench where he fell out of Sean Payton's favor.
The Saints allowed him to walk as a free agent after the 2008 season. The Saints were then able to shore up their secondary en route to their '09 Super Bowl title. Since his forgettable time in New Orleans, he played two more years with the Bears and hasn't played an NFL game since 2010.
3 Best: MARQUES COLSTON
A stellar wide receiver of his time, Marques Colston is the second best Saints player because of the impact he made on their team offensively in the post-Katrina era. Drafted by New Orleans out of Hofstra University in 2006, he quickly emerged as an explosive target for Brees's high-powered offense with 1,038 receiving yards and eight TDs as a rookie. Then in '07, Colston's production jumped to 1,202 yards with 11 TD receptions while playing a full season. Although Colston had a forgettable '08 that saw him miss five games due to multiple injuries, he returned to form with four consecutive 1,000 receiving yard seasons.
Colston fared decently in his lone Super Bowl appearance, catching seven passes for 83 yards against the Colts. The team released Colston last March for salary cap reasons but he remains the Saints' all-time leader in reception yards (9,759) and TD catches (72).
2 Worst: JASON DAVID
Former Saints cornerback Jason David takes his spot as the worst Saints player on the list. David came to the Saints following a Super Bowl title with the Colts the previous year. He signed a four-year contract in April 2007 with the hope that he would fix a hole in their secondary. Instead, David struggled mightily at times. Despite recording eight interceptions over two seasons, he was exposed by opposing offenses, allowing them to make big plays for touchdowns.
The free agent signing of cornerback Jabari Greer along with the return of defensive back Tracy Porter meant that the Saints wouldn't retain David for the '09 season, so they waived him during training camp. David found himself out of the NFL after 2009, although he founded his own sports training and rehab company based in Southern California called STARS in 2010.
1 Best: DREW BREES
Current Saints quarterback Drew Brees is unquestionably the savior of their franchise. Since the former Chargers QB signed a $60 million deal with New Orleans in 2006, he's established himself as one of the league's elite passers. What Brees has done in his 10-plus years as a Saint is prolific, becoming the first QB to throw for over 4,000 pass yards in 11 straight seasons.
He led the Saints to a shocking 10-0 start and 13 wins to cap off their magical 2009 season. Brees's signature performance came in Super Bowl XLIV, where he went 32 for 39 on completion attempts, threw 288 pass yards, and a pair of TDs. He took home a Lombardi Trophy and the game's MVP award with a ridiculous 114.5 passer rating. On top of his accomplishments, Brees does lots of community service work through his Brees Dream foundation. He earned the Walter Payton Man Of The Year Award in 2006. It's basically a foregone conclusion that Brees's #9 is retired by the Saints and he lands in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.