Heading into the 2021 preseason, the New Orleans Saints have a lot of ongoing position battles. Cynics might call them “roster holes,” but we deal in optimism here. There is a lot of young talent on the Saints’ roster, but it’s going to need time to fill out. The Saints’ first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens gave us an idea of where players stand, but there’s a lot of preseason left.
The major position battles ongoing are at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. Some players fared well, others not so much. It’s a bit of a mess, so here is where some key players stand.
Taysom Hill: C
The Saints first three offensive drives with Hill at the helm could have been worse, but they could they have been better. There were three turnovers in the first quarter: An interception via Hill and fumbles from Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman. In addition, Hill was nearly picked off once more after misreading a Ty Montgomery route. The offense moved the ball well but never had any sustained momentum. Hill finished with the lowest passer rating of the three quarterbacks who played in this game for New Orleans.
On the bright side, Hill didn’t fumble, which is already an improvement from last season. It may not have been pretty, but he definitely inherited a rusty offense and was able to make it go a little, even if it sputtered and popped along the way. There is room for improvement here, it wasn’t good, but it seemed like Hill was surrounded by a lot of players struggling to find a groove.
Jameis Winston: B-
Inconsistency remains a bugaboo for Jameis Winston and he didn’t do a ton to dispel this in this game. He was helped along by Tony Jones Jr., who is making a play for a running back spot for the Saints. Winston, however, couldn’t seem to find a rhythm until an immaculate two-minute drill that would have brought a smile to Drew Brees’ face. In an 80-yard effort in which Winston hit five difference receivers, he punctuated it with a touchdown to Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Unfortunately, that only makes the Winston experience more maddening. This drive was clearly the best the Saints had all game, but Winston struggles to find true consistency at QB. Perhaps playing with the second unit makes that more challenging, but Winston is battling with his past as well as current perception.
Marquez Callaway: A
Callaway made a strong case for himself as de facto WR1 in this game. With Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith out, it’s Callaway’s time. He caught three passes on four targets for 61 yards and he looked comfortable feeling out his own route tree. Wide receiver is going to be extremely competitive for the Saints given the unknown status of the roster, and Callaway is doing what he can to separate himself from the pack.
Hill looked comfortable throwing to Callaway as well. It’s clear that he’s on a mission to prove last year’s breakout game against the Panthers wasn’t a fluke. So far, mission accomplished. Now Callaway just needs to keep on playing with this fire, and he’ll be seeing the field long after Thomas and Smith return.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey: B
Humphrey had a solid game for himself, his lowered grade literally only comes by virtue of not being Callaway. The receiver certainly didn’t lose any reps against the Ravens, which is what you need to do in the preseason. Humphrey had the lone receiving touchdown for the Saints, but he still struggles to make a difference downfield.
With that being said, Humphrey seems to have an understanding with his quarterback and that could make all the difference. Brees was famous for being able to give prior-unknown receivers traction. Perhaps Hill or Winston can do the same with Humphrey in the right situation.
Chris Hogan: Inc
There’s not much to say about Hogan, who had just one reception for five yards in his Saints debut. It will be interesting to see if he gets more run in the coming weeks.
Zack Baun: B+
Baun looked incredibly impressive for the Saints in his preseason opener. With five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, it felt like he was all over the field. With Baun playing in a linebacker room that has somehow become surprisingly deep, he was able to set the tempo for Kwon Alexander and Pete Werner.
Baun is an aggressive linebacker looking to make his mark after hardly playing in his rookie season. Now that he’s getting a chance, he certainly appears to be making the most of it. The onus is now on Alexander and Werner to catch up to where Baun is at. That’s good news for the Saints.
Prince Amukamara: F
This obviously comes with the benefit of hindsight, as Amukamara was cut after the game. The Saints tried to kick the tires on him, but Amukamara couldn’t catch the corners already on the roster.
Paulson Adebo: B
For his first game, Adebo looked OK outside for the Saints. You have to think that they’re looking for a reason to give him reps early and he’s not giving the coaching staff reasons to stay away. In a rapidly thinning cornerback room, Adebo may have to step up. He’s the most exciting name in that room, so the Saints may be forced to thrust their rookie cornerback into action before they’re comfortable.