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New Orleans Saints 53 man roster projection

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A handful of tough decisions are just a few days away for Saints head coach Sean Payton and his staff.

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Saints at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL 53 man roster deadline is just days away. On August 31st, all teams must cut down from 90 players to 53, possibly ending the professional football dreams for many young men. The New Orleans Saints, maybe more than most teams, have some particularly difficult decisions to make in the next few days. The Saints have one of the deepest rosters in the league, one that is expected to be among the top contenders for the Super Bowl. While there haven't been many spots up for grabs, some players have surprised in their push for a job, while others have disappointed. The Saints take the field against the Miami Dolphins Thursday night in their preseason finale. Many of the team's spots are all but locked up, but there are some who still have a chance to grab a job with one of the league's championship favorites. Here is my prediction for what the Saints 53-man roster will look like on opening night against the Houston Texans.

* = rookie

QUARTERBACK (3)

New Orleans Saints v New York Jets Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill

Maybe the simplest roster projection in the entire NFL. Both Bridgewater and Hill had some good moments during the preseason, but whether either of them are the successor to Brees is both debatable and a conversation for another day. This is still No. 9's team for now though, and the future Hall of Famer is still playing at a high level. Hill will continue to be coach Sean Payton's swiss army knife on offense, while Bridgewater will man the number two spot for perhaps the most stable and deepest quarterback situation in the league.

RUNNING BACK (5)

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Devine Ozigbo*, Dwayne Washington, Zach Line (fb)

(Notable cuts = Jacquizz Rodgers)

Kamara showed last season that he is capable of shouldering the duties of a number one running back, and looks primed for another huge season. Murray, who was signed in place of free agent departure Mark Ingram, saw little action during the preseason but will assume backup duties. Washington had an extremely good training camp and was productive in all three preseason outings, while Line is one of the better fullbacks in the league. Rarely have the Saints carried more than four backs, unless one of them is a kick returner. Ozigbo may force the issue this year though. The undrafted rookie from Nebraska has run with authority and elusiveness, and would likely not clear waivers if New Orleans tried to sneak him onto the practice squad. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers fits the versatile profile of what Sean Payton likes, but hasn't done nearly enough this preseason to overtake Washington or Ozigbo.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Keith Kirkwood, Tre'Quan Smith, Emmanuel Butler*, Deonte Harris* (KR)

(Notable cuts = Cyril Grayson, Austin Carr, Lil'Jordan Humphrey*, Simmie Cobbs Jr.)

Harris probably solidified his roster spot with another outstanding return performance against the Jets on Saturday. He punctuated what has been an electrifying preseason with a 78-yd. touchdown return, but also showcased his potential as a receiver with two nice receptions. Butler finally showed what had so many training camp observers excited in game action on Saturday, catching 4 passes. Butler's 6'4 frame, sharp routes, sticky hands, and open field skills that made him a training camp darling may very well give him the roster edge over a vet like Austin Carr or Simmie Cobbs, each of whom have also been inconsistent. I would love to see Cyril Grayson find a spot on this squad, and in most other years he probably would. Grayson has world class speed, and showed some bonafide NFL receiving skills in both camp practices and preseason contests. Perhaps his only drawback is his size (5'9), because Sean Payton has usually preferred bigger wideouts. This is a position battle that will go right down to the wire though, with Grayson, Butler, Carr, Humphrey, and Cobbs each with a legitimate chance to emerge. Whomever doesn't grab a spot among Butler, Humphrey, and Grayson could be added to the practice squad if they manage to clear waivers. One potential "hot take": second year receiver Tre'quan Smith, after an outstanding preseason a year ago and a couple terrific games through an erratic regular season had an up and down camp this year. Don't be shocked if the Saints look to move him to a receiver needy team to open up a spot for one of the players named above. Kirkwood, also entering his second season, has been slowed by injury most of the preseason, which could also open up a spot for Carr or one of the promising young receivers.

TIGHT END (3)

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold

(Notable cuts = Alize Mack*, A.J. Derby)

Some fans are a bit disappointed to see so little of offseason addition Cook this preseason, but he is still expected to team with Thomas and Kamara to give Brees a lethal trio. The prediction here is that the athletic but inconsistent Arnold barely holds off Derby, who is a good in-line blocker but limited in the passing game. Mack has missed a good chunk of time with injury, but is an athletic project who seems destined for the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Saints at Jets Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy*, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Cameron Tom, Nick Easton, Michael Ola

(Notable cuts = Will Clapp, Marshall Newhouse)

It's a toss-up between Easton and Will Clapp, neither of whom has played particularly well. The more concerning area has been backup tackle, where nobody in a Saints uniform has performed adequately. Ola gets the nod slightly over Marshall Newhouse because of his experience with the Saints, but expect New Orleans to audition several other players here. The team may also elect to keep both Clapp and Easton for added versatility inside, with the plan of moving Peat outside to tackle if needed to replace Armstead or Ramczyk.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Cameron Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, Marcus Davenport, Mario Edwards Jr., Malcom Brown, Taylor Stallworth, Sylvester Williams, Ziggy Hood, Sheldon Rankins

(Notable cuts = Wes Horton, Porter Gustin*, Shy Tuttle*)

SUSPENDED LIST= David Onyemata (1 game)

The Saints decision to activate Rankins from the injured/PUP list on Monday was both surprising and encouraging. The 24-yr. old Rankins appears well ahead of schedule from his Achilles injury suffered in last year's playoffs, but there is no timetable for his return to the field. Rankins' activation will now count as a roster spot, so expect the Saints to carry nine defensive linemen into the season opener. Adding to complications is the status of offseason free agent addition Mario Edwards Jr., who has been limited with injury over the past two weeks. Onyemata will not count as a roster spot in week one, while he is serving a 1 game suspension, so there is sure to be more movement here into the year. Hendrickson has had a monstrous preseason, and was easily able to hold off undrafted rookies Porter Gustin, Corbin Kaufusi (likely practice squad candidates) along with veteran Wes Horton. Given the status of Rankins and possibly Edwards, expect New Orleans to keep both vets Williams and Hood to begin the year inside, with undrafted rookie Shy Tuttle possibly headed to the practice squad.

LINEBACKER (6)

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, Kaden Elliss*, Vince Biegel

(Notable cuts = Darnell Sankey, Colton Jumper)

Another position where the decisions for the season opener could be affected by injury. Anzalone (shoulder) and Robertson (leg) have both been shelved since the Chargers game. Anzalone looks like he could be ready for the season opener, but Robertson's injury appeared to be more serious. Rookie 7th round pick Elliss has played well in the middle, and looks to be a lock. An extended absence by Robertson could open the roster position for either Sankey or Jumper, each of whom have had some good moments this summer. Biegel has provided decent pass rush, and plays well on special teams, pushing him past the rookie Gustin.

CORNERBACK (5)

NFL: New Orleans Saints-Minicamp Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee, Kayvon Webster

(Notable cuts = Patrick Robinson, Ken Crawley)

Perhaps the biggest shocker would be if the Saints moved on from former starters Robinson and Crawley, as is the projection here. Crawley has never been able to recapture his 2017 form after last season's abysmal showing and benching, and has been inconsistent through camp. Robinson, who missed all but three games in 2018 with an ankle injury, has often been a step slow this preseason and looks to have fallen behind Williams on the depth chart. Both Robinson and Williams perform best in the slot, and each have struggled greatly this preseason when moved outside. Webster, a member of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion defense in 2015 and former starter with the Rams, would provide outside depth, can play inside, and has outplayed Crawley.

SAFETY (5)

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson*, Saquan Hampton*, J.T. Gray

(Notable cuts = Chris Banjo)

Hampton's injury status, he has been out of action since week 1, may affect this group. He looked to be a sure bet due to his play early in camp, but could now be on the bubble because of an undisclosed injury. If the Saints were to place Hampton on injured reserve, then Banjo and Gray would both surely stick. Both players are solid special teams contributors, but Banjo has had a rough preseason defensively, and has been outplayed by the more active Gray.

SPECIALISTS (3)

New Orleans Saints v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

Wil Lutz, Thomas Morstead, Zach Wood

(Notable cuts = Marcus Sherels, KR)

The Saints have one of the most stable kicking situations in the NFL. The offseason signing of Sherels to upgrade the return units has been a disappointment though. He has missed most of the last three weeks of action, while Harris dazzled and even Grayson had moments in return duties. Two of a handful of players that seemingly came out of obscurity to push for a job on a Saints team that didn't look to have many spots available.