With rookie minicamp now concluded, the training part of the NFL off-season has begun. The Saints are loaded with talent at all positions yet again and there are a lot of players vying for a chance at the 53 man roster. Some positions are set in stone; others have many questions to be answered. We all know the main position to watch for is at wide receiver. Michael Thomas is the top guy and is line for a major payday being that this is his final year of his rookie contract. The new few years also will have several draft class players also needing knew deals such as Alvin Kamara, Eli Apple, Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell to name a few. Here is an early breakdown of the roster and where the team may stand currently. The number in parentheses is an estimate on how many may be kept on the final roster.
Locks: Drew Brees | Teddy Bridgewater | Taysom Hill
Outsiders: J.T. Barrett
Breakdown: Probably the least concerning of all positions, quarterback is set in stone. Brees is the guy, Bridgewater is the potential successor and Hill is the team’s Swiss Army knife, which is a luxury. Barrett is essentially Andy Tanner 2.0 after being cut and re-signed from the practice squad multiple times last year. The same could happen again this year with next year, barring a Brees retirement (knock on wood), being his chance to stay on the main roster. May see someone else signed closer to training camp just to be a camp body if necessary.
Running Backs (3-4)
Locks: Alvin Kamara | Latavius Murray | Zach Line (FB)
Outsiders: Dwayne Washington | Devine Ozigbo | AJ Ouellette | Michael Burton
Breakdown: The days of Boom and Zoom are over with Mark Ingram signing with the Baltimore Ravens this off-season. But the Saints were quick to replace him by signing Murray from the Minnesota Vikings. Kamara has shown he is capable of being the #1 running back. Line has been a solid player at a position that is rarely used in today’s game. The only question is if the Saints will keep a third back on the main roster and actually utilize him in the offense. Washington showed some flashes late last season which gives him a slight advantage. Ozigbo and Ouellette are similar in size and abilities who can benefit the team in multiple ways, especially in the screen game. It is possible that one of these three could end up on the roster depending on their versatility on special teams. Burton signed on after rookie minicamp and may use this to audition for other teams.
Wide Receiver (5-6)
Locks: Michael Thomas | Tre’Quan Smith | Keith Kirkwood
On The Fence: Ted Ginn, Jr. | Cam Meredith | Austin Carr
Outsiders: Simmie Cobbs | Travin Dural | Lil’ Jordan Humphrey | Deonte Harris | Emmanuel Butler | Cyril Grayson | Micah Wright
Breakdown: Thomas is the main target at receiver and everyone knows that. It is the spots behind him that raise the most questions. Smith was inconsistent in his rookie season but showed potential of what he can become. Kirkwood also showed flashes in the second half the season and was talked about a lot during training camp. Ginn, Meredith and Carr are considered on the bubble given the amount of potential in the outside guys looking in. Ginn is a deep threat and veteran leader but what makes him expendable is at times he may not fight for the ball. Meredith has struggled with his knee injury, even so that he took a pay cut this off-season but his performance will ultimately decide his fate. Carr is a good route runner but has not shown a lot of capability outside of that.
As for the outsiders, Cobbs was signed late in the year but never played a down and we have yet to see what he brings to the table. Dural broke his arm before camp last year and sat out the year on injured reserve. He gets a chance to prove his worth but is likely a practice squad candidate at the least. Humphrey was a big playmaker for Texas last year and was a surprising prospect that went undrafted. He has the potential to be a steal and excel in the slot but the climb is very steep. Same can be said for Butler, Harris and Grayson, although with the latter two guys, they could earn a spot as a returner if they can also show their value in the receiving game as well.
Tight End (3-4)
Locks: Jared Cook | Josh HIll
Outsiders: Dan Arnold | Garrett Griffin | Alize’ Mack
Breakdown: Hill has been a mainstay on the Saints for several years, so much the team gave him a contract extension. The signing of Cook gives the team the receiving tight end they have lacked since the Jimmy Graham trade. Cook’s size and speed makes him a reliable option in the red zone and up the seam. Arnold got playing time and had some moments but ultimately was inconsistent in his first year of action. There is still room for improvement but it has to show up real soon. Griffin has been a practice squad holder the last few years and finally got to play in the playoffs when Ben Watson was inactive and got a touchdown out of it. The same could be in line for him this year to develop him more. Mack was a seventh round pick this year and plans to be on this team. He has shown a lot of positive character and has embraced the culture instantly. The Who Dat Nation only hopes that he brings that same energy on the field and becomes a viable third option for the future.
Offensive Line (8-9)
Locks: Terron Armstead | Ryan Ramczyk | Larry Warford | Andrus Peat | Erik McCoy | Nick Easton | Will Clapp | Cameron Tom
Outsiders: Nate Wozniak | Michael Ola | Marcus Henry | Mike Herndon | Ethan Greenidge | Ulrick John | Derrick Kelly | Derek Newton
Breakdown: Max Unger took us all by surprise and retired right when free agency started. The Saints made sure they didn’t skip a beat by drafting McCoy. The rest of the starters are in place with Peat’s future in question in the final year of his contract. They signed Easton to be the swing guard and may eventually be Peat’s replacement. Clapp and Tom played late in the year due to injuries and filled in nicely. To make it sweeter, all three players are capable of playing center and guard. It was be hard for me to see the Saints part with any of them come cut down day. For the most part, in my opinion, the offensive line is set with maybe one more spot available. Wozniak would be an intriguing add to the main roster given that he is a converted tight end. Ola, Newton and John are veterans looking to stick to a roster and may have a better chance to play well enough to jump on somewhere else or be a phone call away if an injury occurs, heaven forbid. Henry, Herndon, Greenidge, and Kelly are all prime candidates for the practice squad.
Defensive Line (8-10)
Locks: Cam Jordan | Sheldon Rankins | Marcus Davenport | David Onyemata | Malcolm Brown | Trey Hendrickson | Mario Edwards, Jr. | Taylor Stallworth
Outsiders: Carl Granderson | Geneo Grissom | Corbin Kaufusi | Shy Tuttle | Kenny Bigelow Jr. | Sylvester Williams
Breakdown: The defensive line was much improved last year with the consistent production of Jordan, breakout seasons from Rankins and Onyemata and solid production from Davenport. He will see more time on the field after splitting snaps with departed Alex Okafor, who signed with Kansas City. Hendrickson took a redshirt for most of last season and hopes to become a solid rotational piece. Stallworth earned his spot last year as an undrafted rookie and play a solid role on the inside rotation. Brown and Edwards were signed given that Rankins will miss a good portion of the season coming off an Achilles injury and Onyemata potentially facing a suspension for an off-season arrest. All of the outsiders have a chance to be on the main roster to start the season because of this but also the young guys have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being on the practice squad.
Locks: Demario Davis | A.J. Klein | Alex Anzalone | Craig Robertson
On The Fence: Vince Biegel | Kaden Elliss
Outsiders: Colton Jumper | Chase Hansen | Darnell Sankey | Darrell Williams | Porter Gustin
Breakdown: The linebacking core was much improved last season and stayed healthy all season long. Davis was a huge factor in the improvement. Klein was solid after a groin injury plagued him late in 2017. Anzalone became a force after a shoulder injury only allowed to play four games his rookie year. Robertson has become a fan favorite seeing a major role as a special teamer but also can fill in wherever if injuries occur. Biegel was signed early last year from Green Bay and hung on as a core special teamer which earned him another year with the team. The only reason he’s on the fence is because of the addition of Elliss, who is the Taysom Hill of the defense as he played multiple positions at Idaho. It is possible for both of them to make the team but guys like Jumper, Hansen and Gustin will give them a run for their money. Gustin, in particular, could also earn a spot as an edge rusher given his size. Nonetheless, the outsiders will be practice squad talent that may be hard to stash.
Locks: Marshon Lattimore | Eli Apple | Patrick Robinson | Justin Hardee
On The Fence: P.J. Williams | Ken Crawley | Marcus Sherels
Outsiders: David Simmons, Jr. | Jordan Wyatt | Chris Campbell
Breakdown: Lattimore and Apple are locks at the top two corners. Robinson returned to the Saints after winning a ring with the Eagles but had a very short lived season with an ankle injury in Week 3. He was brought in to serve as the nickel corner and was doing a great job of it. Hardee is a special teams monster and even so played some at corner during the season and played solidly. Williams, Crawley and Sherels are in the middle given that Williams, although much improved last season, still had some bad moments and is also facing a possible suspension for a DWI arrest. Crawley lost his starting spot after poor performances and even when he got time afterwards still was not improving. Sherels was brought in to be a returner but on this team you have to be versatile so his defensive back skills need to be on point in order to secure that spot. Don’t be surprised by these outsiders if they somehow make the team because of special teams play as we saw last year with J.T. Gray.
Locks: Marcus Williams | Vonn Bell | Chris Banjo | Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
On The Fence: Saquan Hampton
Outsiders: J.T. Gray
Breakdown: Williams took a step back last season mainly because the team took a single high safety approach given the teams they faced. Bell had a breakout season and is due for a new contract so he must continue his play from last year. Banjo is another special teams ace who can also fill in when called upon. Gardner-Johnson was another steal for the Saints and has already shown promising signs after rookie minicamp and can also play in the nickel spot. The only question mark is on Hampton who was taken after Gardner-Johnson in the draft. If he his able to show how well he can be on special teams, he could be this year’s J.T. Gray, who in turn is also fighting to get back on the main roster after being shelved on the practice squad halfway through the season.
Special Teams (3)
Locks: Wil Lutz | Thomas Morstead | Zach Wood
Outsiders: Nick Moore
Breakdown: Nothing to see here
Once again, the Saints are fully loaded with a bunch of talent and not enough spots to go around. This is a reason why the league needs to invest in a minor league system or expand the practice squad with restrictions on claiming players. If we have learned anything over the last few seasons it’s that versatility is a key factor that determines who makes the team and who does not. It should be another exciting off-season because the entire world knows we want nothing short of a Super Bowl victory.
Follow Dom Lewis on Twitter @BigFella122