Over the last two months, the New Orleans Saints have added eight free agents, seven new draft choices, and a dozen undrafted college free agents to a roster that has gone 7-9 for three years in a row. Between now and the time training camp begins in late July, NFL teams will have some opportunity to further tweak their rosters. Most notably, after June 1, when there will be a number of veterans released due to salary cap reasons.
For now however, let's take an early stab at what the Saints opening day 53-man roster could look like, using the players currently under contract with the team. Beside each position is noted the number of roster spots that I project the team will keep, along with a few notable cuts, and a brief overview of the position.
*Denotes 2017 rookie
Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
Notable cuts: Garrett Grayson
Outlook: Brees is still among the best there is, and New Orleans re-signed old friend Daniel as "just in case" insurance. The Garrett Grayson Project has obviously not paid dividends. It wouldn't be a complete surprise if the Saints kept him around as insurance, but unless he shows marked improvement over the previous two preseason performances, I'd expect the team to use this roster spot somewhere else.
Running Back (6)
Mark Ingram, John Kuhn (FB), Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara*, Daniel Lasco, Travaris Cadet
Notable cuts: Marcus Murphy
Outlook: One of the top storylines for the Saints coming into summer will be how much does Peterson have left in the tank, and how he and Ingram are going to be used. Kamara could be dynamic in a Sean Payton/Drew Brees offense, and if he develops quickly then Cadet most likely will not make this roster. Lasco is a rugged runner that showed flashes in the 2016 preseason, and could earn a roster spot based on preseason carries and special teams performance.
Wide Receiver (5)
Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, Ted Ginn, Jordan Williams-Lambert
Notable cuts: TommyLee Lewis, Jake Lampman, Corey Fuller, Rashad Lawrence, Travin Dural*
Outlook: Usually, the Saints like to keep 5 receivers most of the season, and stash one or two on the practice squad. Thomas and Snead will form one of the top duos in the league. Since New Orleans did not draft a wideout to add to the mix, chances are both Ginn and Coleman have sure roster spots. Rapid development by the speedster Lewis, Williams-Lambert, or UDFA Dural could change that outlook, since both Ginn and Coleman have proven somewhat inconsistent over their careers.
Tight End (3)
Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
Notable cuts: John Phillips, Jake Stoneburner
Outlook: Fleener will look to increase his production from a year ago. Hill was on his way to the best season of his career before derailed by a broken leg. Hoomanawanui missed 2016 with injury, but is a coaching staff favorite because of his blocking abilities and underrated receiving skills.
Offensive Line (8)
Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Zach Strief, Ryan Ramcyzk*, Senio Kelemete, Landon Turner
Notable cuts: Jack Allen, John Fullington
Outlook: The additions of 25-year-old free agent Warford and 1st Round draft pick Ramcyzk look to make the New Orleans offensive line a position of strength heading into the future. Of course, recent news of an Unger injury could jeopardize some things. Strief will likely open the season as the starting right tackle, and Armstead hopes to put his recent injury struggles behind him on the left side. The versatility of Peat, Kelemete, and Turner to play multiple positions is invaluable. The Saints did add five undrafted linemen once the draft concluded, more than any other position, that could have a major role in determining how this group could shape out.
Defensive Line (9)
Cam Jordan, Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, Hau'oli Kikaha, Trey Hendrickson*, David Onyemata, Tyeler Davison, Al-Quadin Muhammad*
Notable cuts: Darryl Tapp, Obum Gwachum
Outlook: The ability of Okafor, Kikaha, and even the rookie Hendrickson to rush from a stand up edge position should allow New Orleans to carry an extra body or two here. Kikaha looks to bounce back from another serious knee injury that caused him to miss 2016 after a promising rookie campaign. Look for a rotation opposite Jordan in hopes that a capable pass rusher emerges. Rankins and Fairley will be one of the most formidable defensive tackle tandems in the NFL, while Davison and Onyemata provide quality depth. The choice of inexperienced sixth-round pick Muhammad over the steady Tapp and disappointing Gwachum is purely made because of the explosive potential Muhammad showed in college.
Dannell Ellerbe, A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, Stephone Anthony, Alex Anzalone*, Travis Feeney
Notable cuts: Manti T'eo, Nate Stupar, Adam Bighill, Sam Barrington
Outlook: The addition of Mike Nolan to coach the linebackers may prove to be the biggest offseason acquisition for the Saints. Robertson and the oft-injured Ellerbe were both dynamic at times last season, and Klein could be the best middle linebacker New Orleans has had since Vilma. Feeney brings good pass rush abilities to this corps, and 3rd Round draft choice Anzalone has the ability to be a draft steal if he can stay healthy. Former first-round pick Anthony should be given one more chance to develop under Nolan's tutelage. His pure athletic ability, along with potential shown in his rookie year, give him the nod over Stupar or T'eo.
Delvin Breaux, Marshon Lattimore*, P.J. Williams, Sterling Moore, Ken Crawley, Anthony Gaitor
Notable cuts: Damian Swann, DeVante Harris, Taveze Calhoun
Outlook: Lattimore likely became the immediate No. 2 or 3 cornerback from the moment his name was announced as the 11th selection of the first round for New Orleans. The Saints cornerbacks were so ravaged by injury in 2016 that their starters for the bulk of the season were an undrafted college free agent (Crawley) and a free agent signee not picked up until after the start of the regular season (Moore). Both players actually performed fairly well at times, given the circumstances that they faced. Each will likely be in competition for the No. 3 cornerback duties. Breaux looks to bounce back to top form from an injury-riddled 2016 campaign. Williams opened the year as the Saints starting CB opposite Breaux, but a concussion and neck injury ended his season before halftime of Week 2. Despite playing in less than six quarters in his 2-year career, Williams will be in the thick of the competition for snaps at corner. Competition for the remaining 3-4 spots behind Breaux and Lattimore will be fierce between Moore, Crawley, Williams, Swann, Gaitor, Harris and Calhoun and undrafted free agent Arthur Maulet. This looms as the most entertaining battle of training camp.
Kenny Vaccaro, Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams, Rafael Bush, Erik Harris
Notable cuts: Shiloh Keo, Chris Banjo
Outlook: The Saints released colossal free agent bust Jairus Byrd early this offseason, New Orleans then brought back former Saint safety Rafael Bush after a year with Detroit. The Saints then added Utah free safety Marcus Williams in the second round of last week's draft. Williams and Bush will team with Vaccaro and Bell to give New Orleans the strongest group of safeties they've had in quite some time. After these four, there is a significant drop-off in talent, with former CFL star Erik Harris likely to emerge over Keo and Banjo.
Wil Lutz (K), Thomas Morstead (P), Chase Dominguez (LS)*
Outlook: Morstead remains one of the best punters around, and at the moment Lutz is the only placekicker on the roster. Dominguez will battle with Jesse Schmitt for longsnapper duties, and the team could add more competition for the position, perhaps even re-signing veteran Justin Drescher.
Amazingly, only 13 of the 90 players currently projected to go to training camp are over the age of 30. This is a young team, full of hungry players eager to prove themselves for a franchise that has fallen short of expectations for three years.