Best Saints Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary New Orleans Athletes, According To Fans

New Orleans is one of the party capitals of America, and it’s also home to one of the most popular National Football League (NFL) teams – the Saints. The franchise was awarded to the city of New Orleans by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in January of 1967. Since then, the Saints have been the top professional sports team in New Orleans. Until recently, the Saints were the only professional sports team located in the great city of New Orleans. Undoubtedly, there have been some amazing players to come through the organization over the years, but only a select few can be called the best Saints players of all time. 

Before we dive into the top players in Saints franchise history, let’s take a moment to appreciate the fans. The Saints have some of the most passionate fans in the entire league. However, according to a recent study, fans prefer championship teams comprised of homegrown talent as opposed to teams stacked with pricey free agents. Researchers at the University of Kansas surveyed 1,500 Americans. They found that sports fans prefer championship teams comprised of drafted or ‘homegrown’ players as opposed to teams with rosters comprised of expensive free-agent players. Apparently, sports fans appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to build a championship team from the ground up. 

While we’re on the topic of serious fandom, another study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. A trip to New Orleans to watch the Saints definitely sounds like a great way to spend a vacation

So, which are the top players to ever suit up in the black and gold? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and football-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus best Saints players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed Saints players across these sites. Think one of your favorite players was snubbed? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! 

New Orleans Saints football helmet
New Orleans Saints football helmet (Photo by Steve Cukrov on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Saints Players, According to Sports Experts

1. Drew Brees (2006 – 2020)

Easily topping the list of the best players in Saints franchise history is none other than legendary quarterback, Drew Brees. He is not only the best player in Saints franchise history but he’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. 

“I mean, what do you say about Drew Brees that hasn’t already been said[?] The addition of Brees simply changed the course of the franchise forever, delivering New Orleans their first and only Super Bowl Championship and shattering countless passing records in the process. A certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, Brees will enjoy a whirlwind of career accolades now that he has retired. Brees was simply an electric passer, remarkably accurate and stacked NFL record-breaking numbers in virtually every measured passing category,” explains Canal Street Chronicles

Brees helped lead the Saints to their first and only Super Bowl championship over legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Together, Brees and coach Sean Payton were one of the winningest head coach-quarterback combos in the history of the NFL. But, Brees and Payton did more for the great city of New Orleans than simply win football games. The duo helped revitalize the struggling city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and that’s part of what makes Drew Brees a legend, an icon, and an inspiration in the city of New Orleans. 

“For decades, the Saints were the laughing stock of the NFL, something that Brees helped to turn around. Brees has played 14 seasons with the Saints, starting 216 games and leading the team to a 133-83 record. Brees has thrown for 65,068 yards, and has 467 touchdowns compared to just 184 interceptions. He also led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts, which will forever make him one of the most popular people in the city of New Orleans. There is no doubt once Brees does decide to hang up the cleats he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Canton, Ohio,” explains Clutch Points

Brees was originally drafted by the San Diego Chargers, now the Los Angeles Chargers, in the second round of the NFL Draft. Brees had a great start to his career in San Diego, but a shoulder injury made Brees a free agent and helped open the door for new quarterback Phillip Rivers to take over for Brees in San Diego. He was being courted by two teams – the Saints and the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were scared that Brees’s shoulder wouldn’t hold up much longer and clearly, they were wrong. Brees led the Saints to the NFC Championship game in his first season, losing to the Chicago Bears and their nasty defense led by Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. Brees and the Saints quickly rebounded and won a Super Bowl only a few years later.   

“Brees came to New Orleans in 2006 after suffering a career-threatening shoulder injury that caused his five-year San Diego Chargers (now known as Los Angeles Chargers) tenure to end. Brees led the Saints to an NFC championship game appearance in his first year in New Orleans. The former Purdue Boilermaker led the Saints to their first Super Bowl appearance and victory in Super Bowl 44 by defeating five-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts. Brees throughout his fifteen-year Saints tenure led New Orleans to three NFC championship game appearances, seven NFC South division titles and nine playoff berths,” furthers The Game Haus

2. Rickey Jackson (1981 – 1993)

Next up on the list of the best players in Saints franchise history is none other than linebacker Rickey Jackson. He is beloved in the city of New Orleans for his contributions to the Saints defense in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Jackson helped form the Saints’ “Dome Patrol” defense, and he’s a big reason why that unit was so dominant during his time. 

“The ‘Dome Patrol’ consisted of four linebackers who brought that sense of aggressive nature [to] the Saints defense. Jackson, Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson and Pat Swilling were part of one of the best defenses in NFL. Jackson would go on to a have a 13-year career with the Saints and he held the team career record of 115 sacks, until last season when Cam Jordan would break the long-time record. In his rookie season with New Orleans in 1981, Jackson led the team with eight sacks, recorded 125 tackles, and 10 passes defended. There really can’t be any argument that Jackson is the best Saints defensive player in the history of the franchise. He would be one of the key reasons why the Saints were able to make the playoffs for the first time,” writes Defiant Takes Football

Jackson went after opposing quarterbacks with tenacity and purpose. He sought to not only sack the quarterback but strip the ball and create turnovers. Rickey Jackson set countless records for the Saints franchise, and he’s easily the best defensive pass rusher in the team’s history.  

“As a player during the 1980s and 90s, Rickey Jackson was a member of the Saints when they were considered the most threatening. Jackson was a superb linebacker for the team. Alongside other linebackers, such as Sam Mills, Jackson is part of the reason why the Saints developed such a strong reputation. By the time he finished his tenure as a Saint in 1993, Jackson was the player who participated in the most games. He participated in a massive 195 games. He broke records for the most sacks and fumbles recovered,” adds Scioto Post.

Jackson was also a consistent and energetic defensive player who only missed two games while he was with the Saints – and that was due to a severe car accident. Jackson was one of the standouts on Jim Mora’s 3-4 defense that featured the likes of Sam Mills and Pat Swilling. The 3-4 defensive scheme opened up plenty of opportunities for Jackson to make big plays off the edge, and that’s exactly what he did. 

“Jackson played the game with real energy and was a big hitter in defense. Together with other fearsome linebackers, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson, he formed the backbone of the unit destined to become the Dome Patrol, Jim Mora’s famed linebacker corps of the 1980s and early 1990s. Under the tutorage of defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell, Dome Patrol was to form the key component in one of the most formidable 3-4 defenses in NFL history, and Jackson used to thrive in it,” writes Sportskeeda

3. Willie Roaf (1993 – 2001)

The third spot on the list of the best players in Saints history belongs to one of the best offensive linemen the NFL has ever seen – Willie Roaf. He was a nasty blocker and pass protector who quarterbacks could count on to keep them upright. 

“The nine years Roaf gave New Orleans were highly decorated — just look at his seven straight Pro Bowl nods. If that’s not enough, his two listings as a first-team All-Pro and bust inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame should provide clarity. Roaf was a shutdown blocker at the most important position along the offensive line, and gave the Saints real consistency on the left side for the better part of a decade. Roaf’s friendship and role as a mentor for Saints left tackle Terron Armstead has only done more to help build his legacy,” explains Saints Wire

Willie Roaf was another reliable and consistent player in the Saints’ history. Unlike some of the other players on this list, Roaf was selected high in the draft and had a lot of expectations. Roaf delivered as he went on to start all but 13 games during his time with the Saints.  

Alabama native Willie Roaf is a true legend in Louisiana. After four years at Louisiana Tech, Roaf was selected eighth overall by the Saints to fill a huge void in their offensive line. In nine seasons with the Saints, Willie Roaf became the backbone of the offense and one of the biggest idols in New Orleans. Roaf became a Saints legend thanks to his reliability and durability, as he only missed 13 regular season games in his nine years in Louisiana,” adds Rookie Road.  

Roaf was a great blocker in both the run game and the passing attack. His presence anchored the left side of the Saints’ offensive line for nearly a decade before finishing his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Although he didn’t retire a Saint, Roaf is revered in the city of New Orleans for his contributions to the franchise. 

“Willie ‘Nasty’ Roaf is not only the best offensive lineman in Saints history, he is one of the best in NFL history. Roaf was selected eighth overall in the 1993 draft. During his career, he was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times thanks to his elite play in both the run and pass game. Roaf was also named to the 1990s and 2000’s All-Decade team. After an injury and a falling out with then-coach Jim Haslett, New Orleans moved on from Roaf. He did end up playing four more years with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring. Roaf was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” adds Clutch Points

4. Jahri Evans (2006 – 2016)

The fourth spot on the list of the best players in Saints franchise history takes us over one spot on the offensive line to legendary guard, Jahri Evans. He was as solid and reliable as they come across the offensive line, and he helped protect Drew Brees for nearly a decade.

“Evans was the first draft pick from Bloomsburg College in 13 years, and he was an immediate starter at Right Guard.  He never missed a game as a rookie, and this was a trend that he kept for the entirety of his Saints career, which lasted from 2006 to 2016. Evans went to his first Pro Bowl in 2009, and he would repeat that honor in the next five seasons.  From 2009 to 2012, he was a First Team All-Pro, and he also finished in the top ten in Approximate Value twice, a rarity for an Offensive Lineman,” writes Not in Hall of Fame

Evans was yet another great draft pick in the later rounds for the Saints. He was drafted the same year that Drew Brees signed with New Orleans and the two went on to help lead the Saints franchise for the next decade plus.  

“Left guard Jahri Evans was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2020. The New Orleans Saints took Pennsylvania’s Bloomburg University product off the board in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Evans would go on to represent the Saints in six Pro Bowls (4x All-Pro) and was named in the NFL’s All-Decade Team (2010-2020). He was also a part of the New Orleans Saints team that won the Super Bowl in 2010. As a player, Evans was big and athletic. He offered Drew Brees incredible pass protection and was a real force in run-blocking plays for over a decade,” explains Sportskeeda

Evans helped solidify the offensive line and provided star quarterback Drew Brees with much-needed comfort and protection in the pocket. He should have played his entire career in New Orleans but finished his career as a Packer. Still, Evans is considered one of the best interior offensive linemen in NFL history and when fans think about him, they think of a Saints uniform. 

“Jahri Evans was first drafted into the Saints in 2006 and remained with the team until 2016. As a guard, Jahiri Evans helped the team achieve victory in 2009. In fact, many people consider Evans to be the top guard in NFL history. In 2010, he became the highest-paid guard in the history of the NFL thanks to his sensational skill level. With a contract that was worth $56 million, Evans was worth every penny. Jahri Evans was voted as a First-Time All-Pro 4 times,” adds Scioto Post

5. Marques Colston (2006 – 2015) 

Rounding out the list of the best Saints players of all time is an unlikely wide receiver in Marques Colston. He was drafted in the later rounds of the 2006 NFL Draft and instantly became one of Drew Brees’s top targets in New Orleans. 

“At some point, Michael Thomas will probably pass him, but right now Marques Colston is still the best wide receiver to ever play for the Saints. Colston had a physical style of play that was a problem for defensive backs. Colston was Drew Brees’ favorite target when the two played together. He finished his career playing 146 games and catching 711 passes for 9,759 passes and 72 touchdowns. He was a big reason why the Saints were able to win the Super Bowl in 2009. Colston isn’t praised as much as he should be, despite how much success he had during his career,” explains Clutch Points

The 2006 NFL Draft yielded two of the players on this list of all-time Saints players – Colston and the aforementioned Jahri Evans. Both of these players were drafted in the later rounds and went on to have two of the best careers in Saints franchise history. 

“Colston put together a remarkable career and currently sits as the Saints’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. A Super Bowl Champion and Saints’ Hall of Famer, Colston was described by NFL Coach John Gruden as the greatest player in NFL history to never be elected to a Pro Bowl. The ‘Quiet Storm’ was a true professional and well respected; a refreshing change from the prototypical attention-seeking wide receiver,” furthers Canal Street Chronicles

Colston is one of the best wide receivers ever taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Brees connected with Colston immediately, and the two went on to win a Super Bowl together and win numerous playoff games. He is the Saints’ all-time leader in just about every major statistical receiving category, and he never made a Pro Bowl. 

“The Saints drafted wideout Marques Colston in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL draft out of Hofstra University. Colston stood at 6-foot-4 225Ibs and was the Saints’ top receiver for most of his tenure in New Orleans. Colston is the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards (9,759), receiving touchdowns (72), total receptions (711) and has the most seasons with 1,000 receiving yards in team history (6). The former Saints pass catcher never received an all-pro or a pro-bowl nod, but he did contribute to aiding the Saints to a victory in Super Bowl 44. In the Super Bowl, Colston garnered seven receptions for 83 yards,” adds The Game Haus

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