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New Orleans Saints’ initial 53-man roster is set, but changes are on the way

Seven linebackers, three boundary corners, and more surprises throughout.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL’s 53-man roster cutdown deadline now having come and gone, we get our first glimpse at what the 2021 New Orleans Saints will look like. With this being only the initial roster further shuffling is anticipated. But for now, this is the roster, let’s talk about why.

For some extra entertainment, you can revisit my projections from Monday.

Quarterbacks:

Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, and Ian Book

No surprises here, though an earlier report suggested that Trevor Siemian was in line to be the QB2 behind Jameis Winston with Taysom Hill playing his multiple roles on offense. Ian Book looked to have the better performance throughout camp. Siemian could potentially end up back with the team at some capacity or another.

Running Backs:

Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington

Second year in a row that New Orleans has kept four running backs, though last year this group included Ty Montgomery who was used as a wide receiver early in the season (more on him later). This year, Tony Jones Jr. stole the show throughout the preseason rushing seven times for 82 yards and a touchdown in his first appearance. I initially pumped the breaks n him because if the Saints’ track record with young running back standouts, but Jones also showed his value in pass blocking, pass catching, and special teams. Plus a year of practice squad experience under his belt didn’t hurt. Washington continues to make the team as a core special teamer in a season where New Orleans lost some key contributors to that unit. Alvin Kamara is in for a big season.

Initially, the Saints will not carry a fullback, but that’s almost certain to change. Alex Armah was released, but as a vested veteran, he is not subject to the waiver claim process and can choose to sign where ever he likes. It seems likely that another player in the roster will move to injured reserve, and that Armah will fill that newly opened roster spot.

Wide receivers:

Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Ty Montgomery, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey

Michael Thomas will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list keeping him off the field through the Saints’ week 6 bye week. Until then, second-year receiver and PFF’s highest-graded preseason player Marquez Callaway will lead the way after an explosive exhibition season. Behind him, Tre’Quan Smith is expected to return soon after battling injury throughout camp. He’ll be a great complement as long as he can keep healthy. Deonte Harris may be able to escape the early season suspension expected to follow his offseason arrest. That would be great news for the Saints who are sure to look for production from this unit and their strong-armed QB.

Ty Montgomery and Lil’Jordan Humphrey round out the unit unsurprisingly after both having strong preseasons with some ups and downs in camp. The only surprise here was Easop Winston not being retained, though he could find his way back to the practice squad at least as the roster continues to be in flux. Same could be possible for seventh-round selection Kawaan Baker.

Tight Ends:

Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Nick Vannett, Garrett Griffin

Adam Trautman avoided major injury this preseason after being carted off the field at home against the Jaguars. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t miss time. The second-year tight end is a candidate to move to injured reserve if he’s expected to miss a few games at the top of the season. IR only requires a minimum of three games again in 2021.

Juwan Johnson took the position by storm with a successful transition from wide receiver. With three catches for 80 yards in his two preseason games, he looks ready to contribute in 2021.

Nick Vannett is navigating injury himself, hurt in the same game as Trautman. Not going on IR would indicate he’s expected to be ready sooner than later. And Garrett Griffin gives the Saints some versatility as a player who can line up in-line and out of the backfield should there be any issues at the fullback spot. He may be the player that gets trimmed once the top tight ends are all healthy.

Offensive line:

Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz, Ryan Ramczyk, James Hurst, Will Clapp, Calvin Throckmorton, Landon Young

This was the only combination. That truly made sense to me. The top five on this list form one of the best offensive lines in football. By some accounts the best, and I won’t disagree. But the depth here is very valuable. If you watched any preseason matchups, you can see that offensive line depth is not commonly present in the NFL. Though there is a difference between plugging a single backup in with four starters and looking at the workings of an entirely second or third team O-line.

For the Saints, this combination of depth gives them everything they need. James Hurst is a better sixth man than Nick Easton was last season. Will Clapp gives them interior depth but specifically has experience at center, Calvin Throckmorton has played every position in the line but center, and Landon Young can play both tackle spots while boasting an impressive resume as a full-time left tackle in the SEC.

Defensive line:

Cameron Jordan, Malcolm Roach, Christian Ringo, Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, Carl Granderson, Shy Tuttle, and Tanoh Kpassagnon

A thin unit on the interior, but the ascension of Christian Ringo this offseason could be a g benefit for New Orleans who will be without too defensive tackle David Onyemata until after the week seven Seattle Seahawks matchup. Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle have had their promising moments, but consistency will be key for them.

The edge rushers looked to be set through most of the offseason. But the addition of Tanoh Kpassagnon could be underrated find thanks to his versatility and ability to play both inside and out.

Linebackers:

Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, Zack Baun, Pete Werner, Kaden Elliss, Chase Hansen, and Andrew McDowell.

The conversation here looked like it would center around whether the Saints would keep Andrew Dowell or Chase Hansen. Instead, they chose both. This could be an indicator that Kwon Alexander may not be ready for week one, which wouldn’t be terribly surprising considering the timetable. Either way, this unit impressively went from one that looked to be possibly depleted, to expanding the usual position size with talented players.

Secondary:

Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Paulson Adebo, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins, P.J. Williams, and Jeff Heath

Slim pickins when it comes to traditional boundary cornerbacks. Only three currently on the roster for the Saints. Though some players, Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams pack some versatility from their roles. Jeff Heath looks to be a solid backup safety option allowing P.J. Williams to back up the slot if necessary. The cornerback lineup looks like a unit ripe for further changes.

As for safety, Marcus Williams gets to play 2021 with an eye toward a new contract, likely one topping Harrison Smith’s newest deal. Another contract to keep an eye on is Marshon Lattimore’s to see if any extension happens to be agreed upon ahead of the opening week of the season where he’ll match up with one of the NFL’s best receivers in Devante Adams.

Special teams:

Wil Lutz (K), Aldrick Rosas (K), Blake Gillikin (P), and Zach Wood (LS)

Wil Lutz is another player that could be a candidate to head to injured reserve to start the season as he recovers from an offseason surgery. In the meanwhile, the Saints will turn to Aldrick Rosas to handle kicking duties until the apple of Saints fans’ eyes Jake Verity happens to be claimed after his being waived by Baltimore on Tuesday.

Blake Gillikin outright won the punter role weeks ago and Zach Wood ran unopposed as the incumbent long snapper in New Orleans.

As waiver claims process over the coming days and the Saints continue to jostle their roster, the wide receiver, tight end, cornerback, and special teams units look to be the ones most likely to see a shakeup.