The NFL and NFLPA continue to negotiate the start of season protocols and conditions and one of the newest agreements spells trouble for 320 or so players across the NFL. Usually, teams would carry 90 players into camp with cut downs to 53 taking place following the fourth and final preseason game.
This season, not only will there be no preseason, but teams will instead take only 80 players into camp. For the New Orleans Saints, it is pretty clear to see where those cuts may be made.
The Saints have 86 players on their roster + the four unsigned draft picks.— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) July 21, 2020
The Saints have 13 rookie UDFAs on the roster right now. Have to think they’re likely on the chopping block. https://t.co/XEwuUmUvFK
Usually, we look at the undrafted free agent (UDFA) list to try to predict what players have a chance to crack the 53-man roster. However with this unique, truncated, and ever-changing offseason, we look to see who is in danger of not even getting a shot in camp. However, that list could also include players not from the UDFA class.
Blake Gillikin, Punter, Penn State
Now everyone should know by name that I’m a big fan of special teams. But the Gillikin signing felt more like a personnel choice to allow Morstead some rest during camp. Now, I doubt the Saints will give up valuable real estate for someone not competing for a spot of providing the depth necessary for practice.
Tino Ellis, Cornerback, Maryland
Simply put, the Saints have a type when it comes to cornerbacks. Ellis is not that type. Listed on the Saints’ official roster at 5’6” in height and only 170 pounds, which may be a typo as he’s listed at 6’1” on his school website, but if that’s true that is well below the Saints usual threshold of the 5’10”/5’11” area. If not, he’s still a bit of a longshot. The Ellis signing felt like he was brought in by new Saints defensive assistant Cory Robinson, who previously coached at Maryland.
Gus Cumberlander, Defensive End, Oregon
One of three Oregon Ducks getting some love from this coaching staff, Cumberlander always felt like the one with the least favorable to make the cut. At 6’7”, he checks the tall box the Saints have looked to fill at his position this offseason. However, his unfortunate injury history may be the element holding him back most.
Tony Jones, Jr., Running Back, Notre Dame
Once listed as one of the UDFAs most like to make the roster, Jones’ fortunes turned when the Saints landed veteran running back and versatile chess piece Ty Montgomery. Not to mention that the Saints rarely go the direction most expected when it comes to running back UDFAs. Need I remind us all of the decisions made about fan favorites Boston Scoot and Devine Ozigbo?
Offensive Lineman: Adrian Magee (LSU) and Darin Paulo (Utah)
Magee’s versatility will certainly be each of these guys’ best attribute for contention, but the Saints simply have a log jam along the o-line and young players with no NFL experience whose contracts are still pending a physicals (as with UDFAs) are at a severe disadvantage.
Jordan Steckler and Calvin Throckmorton would be the only remaining O-line UDFAs in this case. For both, there’s some sliver of hope as they were both given large guarantees in their agreed upon deals. $110,000 for Throckmorton and $75,000 for Steckler. But as we’ve seen many times, monetary guarantees for UDFAs don’t often translate to active roster spots. If they don’t make the active roster, they could be fantastic practice squad options, especially if they expand either the number of spots or the frequency at which a team can elevate and send back down players if needed.
Juwan Johnson, Wide Receiver, Oregon
Some folks have Johnson as their top UDFA wideout over Marquez Calloway. I have it the other way around. Johnson is a big guy at 6’4” and 231 pounds, but has failed to do even big guy things at his position. He had only a 33% contested catch rate in 2019. Now, if he makes a transition to Tight End, it may increase his chances.
As of now, the Saints only have five tight ends on the roster with Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Adam Trautman, Jason Vander Lann, and Cole Wick. Those first three guys won’t be going anywhere, but Vander Lann, Wick, and Johnson could maintain a spot through camp allowing the Saints to work on two-tight end sets with first, second, and third teams up until the season begins. Johnson is in danger as a UDFA, but may be able to increase his chances with a change of position.
Tommylee Lewis, Wide Receiver, Northern Illinois
Lewis has a tainted history with the Saints fanbase, but the team tends to love him. He’s the first non-UDFA to make this list and with good reason. He would be so far behind the curve in the WR battle, there are many kick return options behind Deonte Harris on the roster that would likely end up ahead of him, and he came in as a late free agent add.
Taquan Mizzell, Wide Receiver, Virginia
A talented player who earned a Futures deal with the team after finishing up the 2019 season on the practice squad with New Orleans. Unfortunately, Mizzell is simply in a very crowded stable of wide receivers. His running back versatility also gets devalued now thanks to the exciting addition of veteran Ty Montgomery.
Chris Johnson, Safety, North Alabama
A name unfamiliar to many Saints fans, Johnson is actually quite talented. He also, like Mizzell, earned a Futures deal. Those deals are usually cordial invites to camp, but are not guarantees. In this instance, that’s of detriment to Johnson who falls behind Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins, D.J. Swearinger, Saquan Hampton, J.T. Gray and C.J. Gardner-Johnson at both safety spots.
Surely, in true Saints fashion, there will be surprises in this cut down to 80. But at present, these ten players look to be most in danger. Either because they still haven’t officially signed their deals, are brand new to team, or are latching on as undrafted free agents.
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