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Saints may need big things from second year players for success in 2019

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Who will step up among the Saints sophomore players?

Washington Redskins v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints had one of the best draft hauls in memory with their 2017 draft class. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1st round), tackle Ryan Ramczyk (1st), and running back Alvin Kamara (3rd) are among the best in the league at their positions. Linebacker Alex Anzalone (3rd round) and safety Marcus Williams (2nd) have both flashes of potential rising stars. Lattimore and Kamara made the Pro Bowl as rookies, while both players were joined by Ramczyk and Williams as selections on the All-Rookie team. All five players are an important part of the nucleus of a deep championship caliber roster. The team's 2018 draft class had big expectations, following such a historic class. The Saints drafted seven players last season, but only 3 were able to make the deep New Orleans roster. (a fourth, running back Boston Scott, was on the practice squad for much of the year before being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles) Two undrafted rookies also made the final 53 last year, and although all five players had some moments of accomplishment, none of them were able to establish themselves consistently. The Saints continue to have a deep and talented roster as they enter 2019 in pursuit of a second Super Bowl title, but the team will undoubtedly need bigger contributions from their "sophomore" crew as they attempt to pursue their second Super Bowl championship.

Marcus Davenport, DE

(2018 1st round, 14th overall)

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans gave up a number of draft capitol, including this year's first round pick, to move up to number fourteen and grab Davenport. The rookie displayed freakish athleticism for his size (6'6, 265-lbs.), and both the ability to excel as a disruptive pass rusher as well as being a good run defender. Davenport's progress was stunted a bit by a midseason foot injury, but he still finished with 22 tackles, six tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and 12 quarterback hits as well as 4.5 sacks. With the free agent departure of veteran Alex Okafor this offseason, Davenport is expected to take a huge leap in his development and production this season to live up to his 1st round billing. He has certainly shown the physical ability and on-field skills to potentially be an elite defender. A toe injury has slowed him early this offseason, but expectations are still high that Davenport will combine with All-Pro Cameron Jordan to give the Saints one of the most lethal edge duos in the National Football League.

Tre'Quan Smith, WR

(2018 3rd round, 91st overall)

NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Tre'quan Smith had some huge moments in 2018, at times looking like a very capable potential number two wideout. Smith had a 3 catch, 111-yd. and 2 touchdown performance in a week four victory over Washington, including a 62 yard score that was not only his first career touchdown, but the pass that moved quarterback Drew Brees into the top spot on the NFL's All-time passing yardage list. Smith had an even better outing during a week 11 showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. He torched the Philadelphia secondary with 10 receptions for 157 yards and a score. Unfortunately for both Smith and the Saints, the 3rd round pick from Central Florida had only 15 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns in his other 13 games of action in 2018, often disappearing during long stretches of the year. He has the measurables and physical attributes to be a successful NFL wideout. He has good size and excellent speed in the open field, along with good extension for the throw on deep routes. Smith must learn to operate in traffic better and make the tough contested catches, while sharpening his routes to help him gain separation. He was drafted to at least compete for the number two receiver spot complimenting All-Pro Michael Thomas. There was little consistent receiving production outside of Thomas and Alvin Kamara a year ago, and Smith is among a handful of players who are expected to change those fortunes in 2019.

Will Clapp, OL

(2018 7th round, 245th overall)

Arizona Cardinals v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Clapp latched onto a backup role after a solid preseason a year ago. The rookie from L.S.U. can play either center or guard spots, and held up well during limited action last season. Clapp was expected to compete with Cameron Tom and Nick Easton for the starting center spot vacated by the retirement of Max Unger this offseason. With this year's 2nd round draft pick Erik McCoy now expected to assume that role, Clapp must now fortify the depth along the interior offensive line. He will have to win the top reserve job over Easton or Tom, a spot that has been pressed into duty often for New Orleans in recent seasons.

Keith Kirkwood, WR

(Undrafted, 2018)

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Kirkwood seemed to become a more trusted target for Brees down the stretch of last season than his drafted counterpart Smith. The undrafted rookie from Temple finished with 13 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns over the final eight games of the season after his activation. Kirkwood isn't a consistent deep threat, but he is a physical receiver that runs good routes and has excellent hands, along with making good adjustments to the throw. Kirkwood must show that he can do a better job of gaining separation from defensive backs to get open as he enters his second season, something that he and a number of other Saints wideouts struggled at doing consistently in 2018.

Taylor Stallworth, DT

(Undrafted, 2018)

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Stallworth had an outstanding preseason a year ago to not only grab a roster spot, but he became an important rotational player for the Saints defensive line. The undrafted tackle from South Carolina saw action in 14 games, and registered a sack as well as a forced fumble. The 6'2 305-lb. Stallworth proved to be a stout force in the middle. He was able to consistently push in the opponent's pass pocket and held up well versus opposing rushing attacks. Saints tackle Sheldon Rankins, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level, is expected to be out of game action until midseason due to an Achilles injury. Stallworth will be counted on for improvement in the middle, in hopes of keeping a solid interior rotation of he, David Onyemata, and Mario Edwards Jr. until Rankins' return.

The Saints 2018 rookie class will likely never live up to the already huge accomplishments of their 2017 counterpart. Marcus Davenport, Tre'quan Smith, Will Clapp, Keith Kirkwood, and Taylor Stallworth are all primed for important roles in 2019 though. Their ability to improve on their rookie performances may well play a major factor in whether the New Orleans Saints are able to finish a title pursuit that so narrowly eluded them over the last two seasons.

Poll

Other than Davenport, which Saints second year player do you expect the biggest improvement from in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Tre'quan Smith
    (333 votes)
  • 2%
    Will Clapp
    (11 votes)
  • 20%
    Keith Kirkwood
    (107 votes)
  • 12%
    Taylor Stallworth
    (65 votes)
516 votes total Vote Now