The New Orleans Saints have completed half of their preseason games, and have officially broken training camp. The team is 1-1 in the games that don't count, with games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams to close out the exhibition schedule before their September 9 season opener against division rival Tampa Bay. With most of the Saints starters likely to see much more playing time in the team's next preseason contest, the chances of many players fighting to make the roster are now extremely limited before the league's main cutdown date over Labor Day weekend. With the exhibition period over halfway concluded, here is my 53-man roster projection for the defending NFC South champs.
Drew Brees, Tom Savage, Taysom Hill
(Practice Squad = J.T. Barrett)
Not much has changed here during training camp. Barrett looks like a project, perhaps with enough potential to keep on the practice squad. Hill and Savage have both moved the offense at times, but neither has played well enough to give Saints fans much confidence should Brees miss any length of time. The guess here is that Hill just hasn't been consistent enough for Sean Payton to have the confidence to promote him to the number two quarterback over Savage, a player who has NFL starting experience. It's possible that New Orleans could make a move for a player like Teddy Bridgewater, who is reportedly being shopped for a trade by the New York Jets. The more likely scenario is that Savage opens up the year as backup, while Hill serves as the holder on kicks, possibly used on some gadget plays and as a special teams gunner like a season ago.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Mark Ingram*, Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Williams, Boston Scott, Shane Vereen, Zach Line (fb)
(Practice Squad = Trey Edmunds)
Notable Cuts = Terrence West,
*(Mark Ingram will not count as a roster spot while he serves a four game league suspension to start the season)
Williams has seemingly grabbed the top running back spot behind Ingram and Kamara with his performance through the first two exhibition games. Scott has flashed some ability as a runner, and will be a factor in the team's return game. Vereen may have the slight edge over West because of his versatility and pass receiving skills, but could be expendable upon Ingram's return to the lineup. Edmunds has been used at fullback a bit, and is a rugged inside runner, but doesn't look like he's done enough to overtake Line or grab one of the top running back spots.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith, Brandon Tate
(Practice Squad = Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr)
Notable Cuts = Tommylee Lewis, Josh Huff, Michael Floyd
Meredith put to rest some recent rumblings that he would not be ready for the start of the season when he made his first game appearance against Arizona last week. Smith has the look of a potential 3rd round steal, Thomas is one of the best wideouts in the league, and Ginn continues to be a deep threat at 33-yrs. old. If the Saints keep six receivers, something they rarely do, then Kirkwood would almost certainly get the call, and he has been impressive at times. Otherwise, the veteran Tate gets the final receiver spot, primarily because of his kick return ability.
TIGHT END (3)
Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold
(Practice Squad = Deon Yelder)
Notable Cuts = Michael Hoomanawanui
The return of Watson gives New Orleans a solid blocker that they have lacked in a starting tight end since his departure following the 2015 season. Arnold, a converted receiver, is a fundamentally solid blocker despite being undersized and can give Drew Brees another short range weapon in the passing game. Yelder, a raw project, has done little through training camp, but has enough physical ability to possibly land on the practice squad. Hoomanawanui becomes expendable because of Watson's return, a likely increased role for Zach Line, and the ability of Rick Leonard or Josh Leribeus to be a sixth lineman in short yardage packages.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Josh LeRibeus, Rick Leonard, Will Clapp
(Practice Squad = Cameron Tom)
Notable Cuts = Jermon Bushrod, Michael Ola
There aren't many fourth round draft picks that don't make the team in their rookie season, and while Leonard is certainly a project, he has shown good enough footwork that the Saints figure to keep him for development. Ola or Bushrod could be brought back for veteran insurance if Armstead or Ramczyk were to be injured. Leribeus played fairly well for New Orleans down the stretch of last season, and will likely be the first offensive lineman used off the bench, a role filled by Senio Kelemete over the past few seasons. It appears to be a toss-up between Clapp and Tom for the other interior line position, with the odd man out hopefully clearing waivers for a spot on the practice squad. Both are capable of playing either guard or center, and have received a large amount of reps throughout the preseason.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Ends: Cam Jordan, Alex Okafor, Marcus Davenport, Trey Hendrickson
Tackles: Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Devaroe Lawrence, Taylor Stallworth
(Practice Squad = Al-Quadin Muhammad, Mitchell Loewen, Alex Jenkins)
Notable Cuts = Tyeler Davison, George Johnson, Mitchell Loewen
This is perhaps the toughest overall unit to project. Davison and Johnson have given the team some good play, and Loewen has had a very good camp. Muhammad led the team in sacks last preseason, but has done little to stand out this year despite increased reps. Hendrickson has played some outstanding football this summer, and could be a breakout performer on the Saints defense. Lawrence and Stallworth have each had some fine moments in each of the Saints preseason games, and may have done enough to overtake Davison and Loewen. Johnson, a journeyman throughout his career, is a player who could be re-signed (if available) and contribute immediately if injuries hit the line as they did last year.
Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson, A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o, Nate Stupar, Jayrone Elliott
(Practice Squad = Colton Jumper)
Notable Cuts = Hau'oli Kikaha
Elliott burst into prominence with an impressive 2.5 sack performance against Jacksonville in the preseason opener, forcing two fumbles. He played little last week against the Cardinals, but has shown excellent explosiveness off the edge to the passer, giving him the edge over the injury-prone Kikaha. Stupar has starting experience at multiple linebacking spots, and solidifies the special teams. Despite some early summer rumors to the contrary, Robertson, Klein, and Te'o all appear to be safe.
Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Patrick Robinson, Arthur Maulet, Natrell Jamerson, Linden Stephens, Justin Hardee
(Practice Squad = Kamrin Moore)
Notable Cuts = P.J. Williams
Maulet has had an outstanding training camp, and will likely receive alot of regular season snaps in the defensive backfield. Jamerson's versatility and special teams abilities should give the rookie 5th round pick a spot, while Hardee is one of the team's best special teams players. I've been high on Stephens, an undrafted rookie, to make this team from the start, and I'm standing by that feeling. The call to keep him over the veteran Williams is perhaps the most controversial of this list, but Stephens has gotten increased defensive snaps over the first two weeks, and plays an aggressive coverage style that coordinator Dennis Allen prefers. Williams has been nicked up by injury, causing him to miss some time, and struggled with consistency a year ago.
Marcus Williams, Kurt Coleman, Vonn Bell, Chris Banjo
With the exception of Williams, who has had an outstanding camp, the New Orleans safeties have been unspectacular this preseason. Still, Bell and Coleman have both been solid NFL starters, and Banjo is a good special teams player. The ability of Jamerson to play safety as well as cornerback allows the team some additional versatility in the secondary.
Thomas Morstead, Wil Lutz, Zach Wood
The Saints boast one of the better punter/kicker duos in the league with Morstead and Lutz, along with a steady and consistent long snapper in Woods. Tate and Scott have emerged from the pack as solid potential kick returners this preseason, solidifying their roster spots. With an extremely limited number of opportunities left to make an impression on coaches, the chances for some players to keep their NFL dreams alive could lie in a single offensive or defensive snap, or with a standout special teams performance in each of these final two games.