This is an extremely difficult season to be a camp body on an NFL roster. For a team like the New Orleans Saints, any player can contribute, but the cancelled 2020 preseason is going to make it a lot harder for players to show their stuff. Where players usually have three games to make their way onto the roster (the third preseason game is usually a regular season dress rehearsal), COVID-19 has essentially taken that away and replaced it with a training camp — if that even happens.
For the Saints, the battles will be especially fierce. We’re in uncharted preseason territory here, and it’s hard to tell how coaches are going to manage their rosters.
With that in mind, here are the tiers for how things are looking for the Saints’ roster as it stands. Who’s a lock, who controls their future, and who’s on the bubble?
QB: Drew Brees, Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Tommy Stevens
It’s wild to have a roster where all of the QBs are locks, but the Saints are in a unique situation here. Hill does too much in the Saints’ offense to not make the roster, Winston is actually a full-time quarterback and at Brees’ age that’s essential to have as a contingency, and Stevens is a rookie who Payton can treat similar to Hill. With that in mind, it’s really three quarterbacks locked in, with Hill and Stevens counting as a half a QB each.
RB: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray
Kamara and Murray formed quite the one-two punch for the Saints last season, but a lack of depth hurt the running back situation at times. These two will continue to get the lion’s share of touches no matter what, and Murray really came into his own as last season went on. Kamara will need to stay healthy for the Saints to get the most out of their offense, but there are a lot of running backs looking for work if it becomes a necessity.
WR: Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris
The Saints have a plethora of options at wide receiver, but precious few top options. Where some teams have corps of 3-4 viable targets, Thomas and Sanders should be the safest two picks while Harris’ special teams prowess and versatility locks him in. With any preseason games at all, Tre’Quan Smith likely would have had to earn his spot due to some up and down performances the past few seasons. However, now that there’s no preseason at all, the Saints will likely go with what they know and go with Thomas and Sanders base with Smith and Harris rotating in. The other players on the roster are going to have to fight it out if they’re going to make it on.
TE: Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Adam Trautman
Cook became a No. 2 receiving option in spite of himself last season, and Hill’s ability to block and, according to Sean Payton, catch screens keeps him around. Hill has been a rock for the Saints for a long time, but third-round pick Adam Trautman could supplant him early next year if he starts to play well.
T: Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk
One of the best tackle tandems in the league last season. Not a lot to add here.
G/C: Andrus Peat, Cesar Ruiz, Erik McCoy
The Saints’ interior line is also looking pretty set, with the three of these players either being on big contracts or key young contributors. Larry Warford’s departure further locks them in, and if they gel these three could continue the Saints’ excellence up front.
DE: Cameron Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, Marcus Davenport, Zack Baun
Baun should be an immediate contributor for the Saints, at least in a rotational capacity. Jordan and Davenport have been a force for the Saints on the edges, and Hendrickson has more than earned his spot. It’s realistic to think Hendrickson will get more snaps while Baun slots into the role Hendrickson has had the past few seasons. Either way, the Saints have a lot they can do with just these four up front.
DT: Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle
Where Rankins and Onyemata are clear picks, Tuttle may be a bit of a surprise. He stormed onto the season and became an every-game contributor for the Saints last season, perhaps most infamously obliterating Matt Ryan with a stiff arm on Thanksgiving. His season was much more than that one highlight, and the Saints will likely want to see what else he can offer this season.
LB: Demario Davis, Kiko Alonso, Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson
Really the only thing stopping players like Alonso and Anzalone is health. For both of them, however, health is a big obstacle. Alonso has played very well for the Saints when he’s been healthy, but even before joining the Saints health was an issue. The Saints may end up looking externally for help here, if need be, but they would like to have these three on the field at once. Robertson, meanwhile, is here for his special teams.
CB: Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee
Williams has been a terrific ripcord for the Saints in recent seasons, but Lattimore and Jenkins are the stars for the Saints. Gardner-Johnson, meanwhile, is the future of the Saints. The DB has been one of the Saints’ most hyped-up players this offseason. Calling him a CB is reductive, as he’s willing to play anywhere. Expect big things out of him this year. Hardee, like Robertson, is uncuttable due to his special teams skill.
S: Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins, J.T. Gray
If all goes well, the Saints’ safety tandem will be extremely hard to go downfield against next season. Williams has been an outstanding ball hawk for the Saints, while Jenkins more than made his mark with the Eagles. Gray is, of course, a special teams option.
K/P: Wil Lutz, Thomas Morestead
No one is touching these two.
LS: Zach Wood
Locked-in players: 38
Control their own fates
RB: Ty Montgomery
The Saints signed Montgomery for good reason. An excellent route-running RB with supreme confidence himself and a resume that more than justifies that confidence. Montgomery has had his ups and downs in recent years, but Sean Payton rewards versatility. Montgomery will have every chance to spell Kamara and Murray and even get some sets set up around him, if he performs well enough. But that will come with patience with the staff — You can’t come into a roster like this acting like Adrian Peterson if you want to succeed.
DT: Mario Edwards Jr.
It would be a shame to see Edwards Jr. go, but if Rankins is able to stay healthy and it comes down to Tuttle and Edwards Tuttle would likely get the nod. However, if Edwards Jr. plays at the same level he did last year during the preseason, the Saints would undoubtedly be loathe to let him go. He’s an interesting case, but he’s by no means a lock given the fact the Saints can only carry 53 players and you can only have so many of them on the interior DL.
On the bubble
WR: Austin Carr, Tommylee Lewis, Emmanuel Butler, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
It’s not unreasonable for the Saints to try to try to carry five receivers this season. Carr and Lewis have experience, while Butler and Humphrey have had some hype. If we assume that Smith does make the roster, realistically two of these guys could make the cut. In that case, expect some mix-and-match of experience and hype.
OL: Nick Easton, Will Clapp
Both of these two are likely going to be locked in for a sixth man on the OL battle, so they control their own fates to some degree. However, it’s not that simple for them, as both are experienced and both could make it in.
DE: Carl Granderson, Noah Spence
Granderson and Spence have both shown glimpses in the past, but with the DE position being so busy already, they’re by no means a sure thing. It would take a lot for one of these two to get a spot on the roster.
DT: Taylor Stallworth
Like Granderson and Spence, Stallworth could be a casualty of depth if Edwards makes his way onto the team. Stallworth went from seeing the field in 14 games two years ago to four last season, so there may not be space on the roster for him moving forward as other positions become more pressing.
LB: Anthony Chickillo
The Saints picked up Chickillo this season, and his special teams skill might be the best thing he can bring to the roster. He’s in limbo between controlling his own fate and being right on the bubble, but if he plays well enough in punt coverage he has a good chance of making it on.
CB: Patrick Robinson
With the emergence of other corners for the Saints, the star play of Robinson with the Eagles is getting further and further in the rear-view mirror. Injuries have hampered Robinson the past few seasons, so he could still play his way on, but he’s looking at a DB room with less and less room for him.
S: D.J. Swearinger
Swearinger was a late addition to the Saints last season, but much like Robinson the DB room has shrunk for him. Gardner-Johnson does what Swearinger does as well, but at best we may see Swearinger as a depth piece for the Saints next season.
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