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Weekend Content: predicting the opening day 53-man roster

What could the season-opening New Orleans Saints team look like in four months?

MIAMI - A Delta Airlines pilot waves a Saints flag after  landing with members of the New Orleans Saints at Miami International  Airport prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIV.
MIAMI - A Delta Airlines pilot waves a Saints flag after landing with members of the New Orleans Saints at Miami International Airport prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIV.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are looking to field a balanced roster in 2018, and that’s what I’ve come up with: this way-too-early 53-man roster projection carries 25 players on offense, 25 on defense, and the obligatory three on special teams. It also has nine players over the 30-years old threshold, and nine rookies - but just six of their seven draftees. I didn’t plan on finding such great symmetry, that’s just how it shook out. Honestly.

You can find earlier entries in my carnival barker-style Weekend Content series (or #WeekendContent, if you’re especially daring) by following these links:

So here’s the list. I’ll be taking my nine-year old on her first trip to Disney World by the time this hits publication, so leave your hottest takes for me to get to when I check in next Wedneday. Don’t disappoint me:

Quarterbacks (3): Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, J.T. Barrett

Drew Brees is king, but the Saints have some interesting pieces for consideration down the road in Hill and Barrett. Tom Savage is just a speed bump for Hill to overcome in training camp.

Running backs (4): Alvin Kamara, Boston Scott, Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds

Mark Ingram is banished to the Suspended list, so the Saints have a month for Williams and Edmunds to audition for long-term work. I like Williams’ chances better - 41 of Edmunds’ 48 yards came on one game-ending play, and he lost ground or gained none on four of his nine attempts.

Tight ends and fullbacks (4): Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill, Deon Yelder, Zach Line

It’s no secret that the Saints need a pass-catching tight end, and Yelder presents that option. Watson and Hill can do enough as blockers to make Michael Hoomanawanui obsolete, but all three of them are just a year removed from season-ending injuries in 2016. Ryan Yurachek is an interesting undrafted free agent, but Zach Line played well enough to hold onto the job.

Wide receivers (5): Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr, Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, Brandon Coleman

Coleman has pretty weak job security though his resume is stronger than the guys competing with him. Travin Dural, Paul Turner, Tommylee Lewis, and Austin Carr each have a shot at dethroning his spot at the bottom of the depth chart. I imagine the Saints would love for any of them to prove too good to cut.

Offensive tackles (4): Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, Jermon Bushrod, Rick Leonard

Returning Bushrod isn’t as inspiring as keeping Senio Kelemete would have been, but it’ll do. He’s an adequate reserve tackle-guard who can fill in pretty much anywhere. I don’t expect Leonard plays in 2018. Michael Ola is a name to watch for the Saints to re-sign after Week 1, protecting his salary from a year’s guarantee and saving some pennies against the salary cap.

Offensive guards and centers (5): Andrus Peat, Larry Warford, Max Unger, Cameron Tom, Will Clapp

Get on board the Cameron Tom hype train while you can. The Saints have a few veterans who could displace him or Will Clapp - Josh LeRibeus, John Fullington, and Andrew Tiller lead the pack - but I’m buying into Zach Strief’s endorsement of Tom’s talents.

Edge defenders (6): Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Alex Okafor, Mitchell Loewen, Trey Hendrickson, Al-Quadin Muhammad

This position group features the toughest roster cuts on the team, and I’m not sure I made the right ones. Hau’oli Kikaha could stick around (or even move to strongside linebacker), while Loewen may not be the same after his early-season ankle injury. Muhammad looked like a sky-high talent in the preseason but there’s even more competition here now. That’s what you want to see.

Defensive tackles (4): Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Tyeler Davison, Henry Mondeaux

The top three guys present a solid, but not yet great rotation. Rankins and Onyemata seem prepped for a huge third year. I like Mondeaux’s upside as a reserve interior pass rusher (he had 37 total pressures last year, including 6 sacks - tied for fifth-most in the draft class), though he probably won’t see the field much as a rookie.

Inside linebackers (2): Demario Davis, Manti Te’o

The Saints usually go with two linebackers designated as signal-callers in the middle; last year, that was A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o. Previously it was James Laurinaitis and Michael Mauti. Te’o proved his worth in limited reps last year and should flourish in that role again, but Davis looks to command the defense moving forward.

Outside linebackers (3): A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson

Klein played better for the Carolina Panthers as an on-the-line strongside linebacker than filling in for Luke Kuechly in the middle, so the Saints probably go that route. But it’s a position they rarely use, so if he goes down to injury they can just play the more-natural two-linebacker sets with Anzalone or Robertson on the weakside.

Safeties (4): Marcus Williams, Kurt Coleman, Vonn Bell, Chris Banjo

This group is pretty well set, though we could see some flexible designations on safety versus cornerback. Coleman and Bell should compete for the starting title, but they’ll both play often given Coleman’s skills as more of a deep-fielder and Bell’s success as a Roman Harper-style blitzer.

Cornerbacks (6): Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee, Natrell Jamerson

This position is arguably the strength of the defense. Lattimore is one of the three or five best cornerbacks playing football right now, at any level. Crawley is a solid sidekick (though penalty-prone) and Robinson finished the season as an elite slot defender. I don’t think anyone’s spot is safe after those three. Williams will have to play hard to hold off the likes of Arthur Maulet and De’Vante Harris, while the two third-day draft picks will have to show they offer something their competition doesn’t to stick around. To that end, Jamerson’s position flexibility (he played best at single-high safety for the Wisconsin Badgers) stands out, though the Saints initially see him as an outside corner. I have a tough time fitting Kamrin Moore onto the roster.

Special teams (3): Thomas Morstead, Wil Lutz, Zach Wood

Zach Wood should hold his own against a challenger in A.J. Hantak, but last year’s offseason carousel at long snapper means nothing is certain. Morstead looks to continue his streak as one of the best punters in the game, ensuring awful starting position for opponents - among the 29 punters with 60+ attempts, Morstead had the fifth-best rate of downed punts inside the 20-yard line, and the third-fewest touchbacks (two). As for Lutz, he had the eighth-best conversion on both field goals (84.1-percent) and extra points (94-percent), and tied for the fourth-most field goals of 40-plus yards (17). Does any team have a better punter-kicker combination than New Orleans?


So there we go, obviously it’s early but which picks do you disagree with most? Which roster long shots do you think have the best chance at hanging around come September?

Also, I’m curious to see how far I can take this barely-useful series. Hit me with your ideas for hard-hitting, amusing content.