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A look at three position battles ahead of the final Saints preseason game and roster cuts

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With the last preseason game and roster cuts looming, its time for the Saints’ coaching staff to make some tough decisions.

NFL: International Series-New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

The final preseason game is upon us, which means that final roster cuts are only a couple days away. Heading into the Thursday night match-up against the Miami Dolphins, the coaching staff still have some questions about depth and will have one last chance to see what some of these fringe players can do. For many players this is their last opportunity to showcase their talents and prove that they belong on the team.

While some positions are overflowing with depth forcing tough decisions to be made, one position’s starter could still be a question and another position is lacking depth altogether.

Wide Receiver 4/5/6

The battle for wide receiver depth started the day the offseason began and finally the time is near to see who will win one of two, or possibly three roster spots. Entrenched as the number one and number two receivers are the $100 million-man Michael Thomas and the veteran Ted Ginn Jr., respectively. Its safe to say second year wideout Tre’Quan Smith should have a spot as the number three and the direct back up to Ginn.

This leaves the number four and five open to competition with the possibility of a sixth, not including Deonte Harris.

  • Austin Carr: The most “experienced” based on snap count of the bunch, Carr recently received some praise from Drew Brees during a post game interview. Brees’s confidence in Carr and experience within the system could be enough to keep him on the team and possibly find a larger role than he had a season ago where he only managed nine receptions for 97 yards.
  • Keith Kirkwood: Kirkwood comes in as the only receiver other than Carr with actual NFL game experience. Last season Kirkwood wouldn’t get his first game action until week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but would go on to play more snaps than Carr in six of the next seven games. Though Kirkwood offers experience, he has missed a good amount of time this preseason and also exited the game against the Jets early with an injury, leaving the door open for another player to take his spot.
NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
  • Emmanuel Butler: The training camp breakout player, Butler finally showed up for preseason game three. He was able to haul in four receptions on five targets, with three of them gaining a first down. A solid day against the Dolphins could be enough to secure him a roster spot.
  • Simmie Cobbs Jr.: Cobbs started off as an UDFA for the Washington Redskins before failing to make the team at final roster cuts. He would eventually be signed by the Saints in December to the practice squad and later put on injured reserve. So far during this preseason Cobbs has been mostly quiet with four receptions for 33 yards. While his 6’3” frame and speed may be attractive, its hard to see him unseating one of the other receivers above him on this list.
  • Lil’Jordan Humphrey: Humphrey had the most hype of all UDFAs that signed with the team. His large frame and production from the slot reminded many fans of former Saint Marques Colston. But so far Humphrey has been unable to live up to the hype outside of his two receptions and one touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in the first preseason game. Humphrey could find himself on the practice squad if he fails to make the 53-man roster.
  • Cyril Grayson Jr.: The former track star out of LSU has bounced around a few teams’ practice squads and is trying make New Orleans a permanent residence. Grayson’s 4.33 speed makes him an attractive option as both a receiver and a returner, but his lack of polish as a route runner could keep him off the team. He led all receivers in snaps with 30 against the Jets which could indicate the coaching staff wanted to have a closer look at him on the field.
NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Nickel Cornerback

This could be considered a three-way battle between Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, and the rookie C.J. Gardener-Johnson, but the rookie will most likely start the season as depth and find a role in three-safety packages. This leaves the starting battle between the two veterans who both had less than stellar preseasons.

Coming back from a mostly lost 2018 season, Robinson looks to get back to 2017 form that saw him as one of the best slot corners in the NFL as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. In the three games he played as a Saint last season before going down with injury, Robinson did not seem to be meshing well with his new unit. So far this preseason Robinson’s play hasn’t indicated that he has returned to that 2017 form. His 31 snaps against the Jets fall in line with what Ken Crawley (31) saw versus the 14 snaps that Williams saw that were identical to Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple. This seems to indicate that Williams is currently penciled in as the starting slot cornerback.

And if Williams does win the starting job, it wouldn’t make sense to cut Robinson. Outside of Williams and Gardener-Johnson the team has no other players to fill that role. Aside from that, the team would not be creating any cap space with his release and would instead create $7,800,000 in dead money over the next two seasons.

And most importantly Williams could still be facing discipline from the NFL for an offseason DWI arrest that recently got resolved in court. If he has to miss anytime, Robinson will obviously get the nod to start in his place.

Backup/Swing Tackle

There’s no questioning the elite status of the team’s starting offensive line, even with rookie Erik McCoy replacing retired pro-bowler Max Unger at center. But the depth behind them, particularly at tackle is rather thin. Patrick Onameh and Michael Ola got significant snaps against the Jets, and neither were able to slow down the the second string pass rushers they faced.

As it stands now, were something to happen to Terron Armstead or Ryan Ramczyck, Andrus Peat would slide over to tackle and Nick Easton would take Peat’s spot. While this is serviceable, it isn’t ideal. The team could look to make a move before the season opener, either signing a free agent after roster cuts or possibly swinging a trade.

A couple names that are currently on the market are Ryan Schraeder and Jeremy Parnell. Both players were released early in the offseason but have yet to find a new team. Schraeder was most recently with the Atlanta Falcons, where he was considered a top tackle for a couple seasons. The Falcons rewarded him with a contract extension in 2015, but his performance dropped off each season after that, resulting in his demotion to backup and eventual release. Parnell has spent the last four seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting right tackle where he was a quality starter until this most recent season, where age and injuries seemed to catch up with him.

Other options include picking up a tackle off waivers once final roster cuts happen or possibly making a trade for someone by using a late round drat pick, much like the one that brought Teddy Bridgewater here last season.

Come this Sunday, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the roster will look like heading into the week one game against the Houston Texans. However the roster will still remain fluid as players are cut from other teams that the Saints may add. David Onyemata will not count against the 53 man roster until he comes back from his suspension, which means a corresponding roster move will need to be made once he returns.