Kyle Riviere

After three straight seasons of wallowing around in mediocrity and looking like the Saints teams New Orleans grew accustomed to seeing prior to 2006, the black and gold is back.

The new year will not bring a fourth straight 7-9 record. The Saints will not be sitting at home watching other teams compete for a Super Bowl title.

This season, they’re back in the dance, and with backup quarterbacks leading the top two teams in the NFC, they have as good of a chance as any other conference squad to be playing on Super Sunday.

Going from 7-9 to winning 11 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years is no small task. It doesn’t just happen overnight.

I’ve been saying it for years now. The Saints’ problem wasn’t Sean Payton. It wasn’t Drew Brees. It was General Manager Mickey Loomis.

His big swings and misses through the draft and free agency translated into a Saints roster that was filled with subpar personnel. This collection of players simply was not good enough to put together consistent wins.

From 2010-2015, New Orleans drafted 30 players. Out of those 30 players, only 14 developed into consistent starters, and only two became Pro Bowlers.

Letting go of Malcolm Jenkins, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham was costly. The acquisitions of Jairus Byrd, Brandon Browner, Darnell Ellerbe, James Laurinaitis and C.J. Spiller were all mammoth-sized busts.

However, now that the Saints have put it all together, it’s not all Payton. It’s not all Brees. A lot of it is Loomis.

Over the past two off-seasons, Loomis has been able to get out of his funk and totally redeem himself.

I’ve been one of his biggest critics over the past few years. I’ve written multiple columns second-guessing his moves, and I’ve even said that it was time for the Saints to fire him.

Well, I’m man enough to eat crow now.

He has done a superb job as of late. This Saints’ turnaround would not be possible without the additions he has made—especially this past off-season.

Last season, he made two big pickups in the draft when he brought in Michael Thomas and Sheldon Rankins.

Rankins spent much of last season injured, but he has returned to full strength in 2017-18 and been a key cog in their defensive line.

Thomas proved to be a diamond in the rough.

He is the biggest reason why Brandin Cooks has become all but an afterthought as he catches passes from Tom Brady in New England.

Thomas has snagged more than 90 passes for more than 1,000 yards in both seasons with the Saints.

In the 2017 draft, Loomis struck gold once again.

With his first pick, he selected a guy that has been the MVP of their defense in Marshon Lattimore.

With his five interceptions and tremendous coverage ability, he has helped completely turn around a Saints secondary that was one of the worst in the league just last season.

He has certainly proven me wrong. During the draft, with only one year of starting experience at Ohio State under his belt, I thought they should have drafted Tre’Davious White instead.

Though White has had a very good rookie season in Buffalo, Lattimore’s addition has certainly made more impact.

With the Saints’ second first-round draft pick, they brought in Ryan Ramczyk—who has become a starter on a much-improved offensive line.

And of course, in the third round, they came up with the steal of the draft by picking up Alvin Kamara. He’s become one of the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The guy has single-handedly revitalized the Saints’ offense. Payton finally has a player he can use as he did Sproles and Reggie Bush during those glory years.

Kamara produced well over a 1,000 total yards and more than 10 touchdowns in his rookie season.

The signing of Ted Gin, Jr. has also been a help to the offense. Gin has far exceeded expectations with more than 50 catches and 700 yards.

Defensively, the additions of linebackers Manti T’eo and A.J. Klein have been enormous in their ability to sure up the run defense.

Unfortunately, Klein had to placed on IR for the rest of the year, but T’eo has played well in his absence all season.

Sure, championships are won on the field. But championship teams are built in the draft. They’re built in free agency.

Loomis has constructed a nice foundation over the past two years. Now it’s up to the players to take advantage.