The New Orleans Saints, perhaps more than any other team, has had a large amount of success with undrafted rookies. This has been particularly true since Sean Payton took over as the team's head coach in 2006. Pierre Thomas (undrafted, 2006) and Lance Moore (undrafted, Browns, 2005) are both recent inductees into the Saints Hall of Fame, putting together magnificent careers despite not being selected during the NFL draft. More recent undrafted successes for New Orleans have included running backs Chris Ivory (2010) and Khiry Robinson (2013), wideouts Willie Snead (Browns, 2014), Brandon Coleman (2014), and Tommylee Lewis (2016), cornerbacks De'vante Harris (2016) and Ken Crawley (2016), tight end Josh Hill (2013), along with running back Trey Edmunds and cornerback Arthur Maulet last season. The reigning NFC South champion Saints have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, one that makes them a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of many, but it isn't a roster made up of only high draft picks or free agent acquisitions. Today we take a look at a few rookies who weren't respected during the draft, but could join franchise history as under hyped players who snatch a roster spot from established veterans.
Keith Kirkwood, WR
Kirkwood looks to crack a receiving corps that has had alot of success with undrafted free agent rookies. Michael Thomas, one of the league's best, free agent signee Cameron Meredith, rookie 3rd round pick Tre'quan Smith, and veteran deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. may turn out to be the most talented receiving foursome that quarterback Drew Brees has had over his career. Coleman and Lewis are considered the early camp favorites to hold on to what figures to be the only one or two available spots at the position, but they will certainly face heavy competition to keep them. Austin Carr, Travin Dural, and Dan Arnold, three undrafted free agent wideouts from a year ago, have turned heads early in camp with their improved play. Kirkwood joins fellow undrafted receivers Eldridge Massington and Josh Smith in hopes that they can add to a Saints receiving corps that lacked productive depth a year ago. Kirkwood is a bigger wideout (6'3, 210-lbs.) with good speed that has strong hands and uses good body positioning near the goal line. He will have to prove his value on special teams, in addition to turning heads in limited opportunities as a receiver to stand out in this crowded unit.
Taylor Stallworth, DT
Stallworth could add a potential disruptive interior presence to a deep Saints defensive front. At tackle, former number one draft choice Sheldon Rankins teams with an improving David Onyemata and run-stopper Tyeler Davison to give New Orleans a solid inside rotation. Jay Bromley was added as an offseason free agent to provide veteran depth, and swingman Mitchell Loewen returns after impressing the coaching last season. Stallworth and fellow undrafted rookie Henry Mondeaux join Woodrow Hamilton and Devaroe Lawrence, practice squad players from a year ago, hoping to cement the interior depth of the Saints defensive line. Stallworth has a short and powerful build, and possesses a devastating initial step to grab the advantage over opposing offensive linemen when rushing the passer. He must drastically improve as a run defender, a weakness in college at South Carolina, to have a shot for a roster spot in a highly competitive New Orleans defensive front.
Linden Stephens, CB
Stephens is competing at a crowded cornerback position that looks to be one of the team's strengths. Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore, last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Crawley form one of the better starting duos in the NFL. Offseason free agent signee Patrick Robinson will likely be the third corner, while the final 2-3 spots will be up for grabs among a number of talented players. Maulet, a favorite of many to make a big jump in his second season, along with P.J. Williams and special teams standout Justin Hardee are young veterans who helped the Saints turn around this position from a team weakness just a year ago. Natrell Jamerson and Kamrin Moore, 5th and 6th round draft picks this past spring, will compete with Stephens to try and pry the roster spots away from last year's established talents. Stephens excelled in man-to-man coverage in college at Cincinnati, and has good size, along with the athleticism and aggressiveness that coordinator Dennis Allen and secondary coach Aaron Glenn prefer for their aggressive coverage packages. He lined up primarily as an outside corner during OTA's and mini-camp, but Stephens will have to show that he can also cover effectively from the slot, along with playing well on special teams, to grab a spot in this talented defensive backfield.
Deon Yelder, TE
Yelder has been anointed by a few already as the Saints next great tight end, certainly a bit premature so early into the career as an undrafted player. However, he has impressed onlookers with his combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability. Yelder is fortunate to step into a tight end position that is both lacking depth and has underachieved for the Saints over the last two years. The team did bring back veteran Benjamin Watson in free agency to man the starting role, and mentor the talented but inexperienced Yelder. Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui return to provide depth. Both are valuable assets in the running game, but neither have proven to be consistent receiving threats. Yelder burst onto the scene during his final year of college at Western Kentucky with 52 catches for 688 yards and a team high 7 touchdowns. He is a load for defensive backs to bring down in the open field and has the ability to outrun most linebackers. He is more inexperienced than even the average rookie however, and had not recorded a single reception before his final collegiate season. Yelder will likely see plenty of snaps to earn a roster spot at a thin tight end position with a proven veteran starter like Watson, who won't need a high number of reps during preseason games.
The odds of an undrafted rookie making an NFL roster are long, and the chances that they make an immediate impact are even more rare. The Saints are a team that sits above that historical trend, with a number of players during the Sean Payton era having made a significant impact despite not being drafted. Ken Crawley is the most recent example of this, being thrust into the lineup because of injury during his rookie season, and becoming a solid starter on one of the NFL's most improved secondaries a year ago. Who among the current group of unheralded and undrafted rookies could make an impact for the 2018 New Orleans Saints.
Who do you expect will be the next undrafted gem for the New Orleans Saints?
This poll is closed