The New Orleans Saints face the Miami Dolphins this evening in the final preseason game for both teams. All NFL squads must then cut their rosters from 90 players to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday. While the majority of the Saints roster seems set, there are a handful of players with the opportunity to make one final push for a job this evening. Many of the top players on each team are expected to sit this one out, but here are a handful of position battles for New Orleans that perhaps are not yet fully decided.
Devine Ozigbo vs. Jacquizz Rodgers
Dwayne Washington may not play at all in this one after leaving last week's game against the Jets following a blow to the helmet. That likely leaves the bulk of the running back snaps to the undrafted rookie Ozigbo and nine year veteran Rodgers. Ozigbo is in a good position to make the team, nearly matching Washington in preseason production while running with both power and elusiveness. Rodgers knows the division well, having played his first four years in Atlanta and the last three with the Buccaneers. Although he possesses the versatility that coach Sean Payton covets in his backs, Rodgers hasn't shown much burst this preseason. Ozigbo on the other hand, has made plays out of the backfield as a receiver and has shown the ability to be productive either between the tackles or in open space.
Emmanuel Butler vs. Cyril Grayson vs. Simmie Cobbs vs. Lil'Jordan Humphrey vs. Austin Carr
This has been a close and fierce battle since OTA's. Carr has the trust of quarterback Drew Brees, Butler has had a spectacular training camp, while Cobbs, Grayson, and Humphrey have mixed in some good practices with a bit of in-game preseason production. Rookie Deonte Harris has likely secured one spot already, thanks to his spectacular return ability, also probably meaning that the Saints will carry six receivers into the regular season. Unless Tre'Quan Smith (trade candidate?) or Keith Kirkwood (injured) are moved, that means only one spot is left up for grabs here. Grayson is a world class track athlete who has shown intriguing skills as a wideout, but Butler, Cobbs, and Humphrey have the size that coach Sean Payton prefers in a wideout. Expect at least a couple of these players to resurface on the team's practice squad after initial cuts are made.
Dan Arnold vs. A.J. Derby
Seventh round pick Alize Mack could see quite a bit of action in this game too. Barring a monumental performance from him though, the third tight end spot is likely down to Arnold or Derby. The coaches love Arnold's athleticism and work ethic, but he has been highly inconsistent as a receiver, and adds little as a blocker. Derby is closer to a traditional in-line tight end, and is a solid blocker. Although a solid receiver, he isn't the down field threat that Arnold could potentially be.
Edge = Arnold
Wes Horton vs. Porter Gustin
Horton has had a few solid outings since signing with New Orleans at the beginning of camp, while the undrafted rookie Gustin has flashed some edge potential. Neither have been able to pass Trey Hendrickson on the depth chart though, thanks to Hendrickson's outstanding preseason. Mario Edwards Jr. was signed this offseason to provide depth at both end and tackle, but he has missed nearly two weeks with injury. Horton, a seven year veteran, has produced some good pressure off the edge and has proven he can be a capable run defender while with the Carolina Panthers. Gustin has some good athletic potential, but looks destined for a year on the practice squad.
Edge = Horton
Sylvester Williams vs. Ziggy Hood vs. Shy Tuttle
The Saints could keep two of these three, at least to start the season, for increased interior depth. Sheldon Rankins is well ahead of schedule on his rehab, and has been activated from the injury list. It will still be a number of weeks before Rankins is back in the lineup though. David Onyemata will miss week 1 because of league suspension, and Mario Edwards Jr. has been out of action due to injury. Williams, Hood, and Tuttle have all had some good moments in each of the team's three preseason contests. They have each shown the potential to be an interior disruptor against both the run and pass. Hood and Williams are a little more polished than Tuttle because of their veteran experience, and both may be kept into the season opener for that reason.
Edge= Williams and Hood
Darnell Sankey vs. Colton Jumper
The injury status of both Craig Robertson (leg) and Alex Anzalone (shoulder) could very well determine the roster fates of both Sankey and Jumper. Sankey started out the preseason strong, but has tailed off in recent weeks, while second year player Jumper has been active sideline to sideline. Jumper is also more of a special teams presence, should either Robertson or Anzalone miss extended time.
Edge = Jumper
Kayvon Webster vs. Patrick Robinson vs. Ken Crawley
Cornerback is another area of great debate as roster decisions come down to the wire. P.J. Williams looks to have an edge at a slot position, despite porous coverage on the outside. Justin Hardee probably has secured a spot at corner with some solid play and his special teams importance. With rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson looking ready to assume a role in slot coverage as well, the team may look to keep outside depth behind Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple. That could leave Robinson on the outside looking in. He has always performed better in slot coverage, but like Williams has struggled a great deal outside. Crawley has proven starting experience on the outside, but has regressed badly from his 2017 performance that has carried over into this preseason. Webster has had a couple of solid preseason outings, despite a few questionable penalties. He's a proven NFL starter as well, and can play either inside or out. Look for Webster, Crawley, Robinson, and Williams, to be given snaps both outside and from the slot this evening as the coaches watchful eyes are closely on them.
Edge = Webster (but cringe and toss a coin)
Chris Banjo vs. J.T. Gray
Both Banjo and Gray were quickly passed on the depth chart this preseason by rookies Saquan Hampton and Gardner-Johnson. Hampton though, has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury after a terrific start to training camp. Depending on the severity of his injury, the Saints could choose to place him on injured reserve, likely securing spots for both Gray and Banjo. If it does come down to choosing between them though, Gray has played slightly better defensively than Banjo, who has been mistake prone over the last two games. Each are quality special teams players though, meaning that this competition could be decided on making plays on the back end tonight.
Edge = Gray
A handful of New Orleans veterans, many of whom have been instrumental in the team's recent success, have failed to secure roster spots this season due to inconsistent performance. The Saints are considered one of the deepest teams in the NFL, one heavily favored to contend for a championship. For many players though, tonight's contest against Miami is their final opportunity to show coaches that they can contribute to the Super Bowl chase.