Sep 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (32) and rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) celebrate as they leave the field following a win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s face it, if you are a big Saints fan, you may be quite familiar with the team’s active roster. You may also be familiar with some of the 2013 rookie sensations to come out of last year’s draft class like Terron Armstead, Kenny Stills, Khiry Robinson, and Kenny Vaccaro.
What about the guys you haven’t heard or don’t know much about?
Today, we’ll look at a host of one and two-year players in our two-part mini series, and give some thoughts on their impact for the 2014 season. We’ll start with the offense, and bring you the list in no particular order.
#4 – Ryan Griffin, Quarterback (2nd year, Tulane)
Ryan Griffin may have went undrafted last year, but quickly found himself on the Saints roster. After spending most of the season on the practice squad, rumors heated up that outside teams were looking at potentially signing Griffin to their active roster. The Saints never gave those teams a chance, as Griffin became a permanent player on October 22, 2013. Griffin is a project that many might look to evolve into an eventual starter. He’ll remain the third option on the team’s depth chart this season behind veteran Luke McCown and of course, Drew Brees.
#11 – Chris Givens, Wide Receiver (2nd year, Miami-Ohio)
Chris Givens, not to be confused with the St. Louis Rams wide receiver, has actually been around the Saints system since 2012. Injuries have plagued Givens, and we’ve barely seen anything outside of training camp and preseason to suggest that Givens will do much for the team. He is more of a possession style receiver, and was a huge find out of school. If he can stay healthy, then he has a legitimate shot to make the roster, but will face plenty of competition.
#18 – Charles Hawkins, Wide Receiver (1st year, Southern University)
Back in December around Christmas, Hawkins joined the Saints as a result from safety Kenny Vaccaro being placed on injured reserve, and the Chicago Bears signing wide receiver Chris Williams to their active roster from the team’s practice squad. Hawkins is a local flavor from New Orleans, and could be a big answer to the team’s return game, which has not had a touchdown since the opening game against the Green Bay Packers in 2011 (Darren Sproles). Hawkins is a bit undersized as a receiver at 5’8″, so he’ll definitely need to impress as a returner.
#14 – Andy Tanner, Wide Receiver (1st year, Midwestern State)
Andy Tanner has been a member of the roster since 2010. Through repeated releases, waives, and signings, Tanner has still never seen action on Sunday. Who Dat Nation thought Tanner would finally crack the active roster last season, especially after the Saints decided to part ways with receiver/special teams gunner Courtney Roby. However, Tanner still didn’t get his chance to be on the active roster, remaining on the practice squad. The team locked him up on a reserve/future contract on January 14, 2014. This might be the final chance for Tanner to crack the team’s roster.
#89 – Josh Hill, Tight End (2nd year, Idaho State)
Hill went undrafted in 2013, but quickly found a home in New Orleans. Though he is the third option on the depth chart behind Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson, Hill did finish the season with 6 receptions for 44 yards, and caught his first career touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers. Josh Hill should continue to fill a need in run blocking for the 2014 offense, and may see more action on the field.
#84 – Kenny Stills, Wide Receiver (2nd year, Oklahoma)
Stills proved to be worth more than the fifth round selection the team used on him in the 2013 draft. He would make an immediate impact for the team, finishing the season with 32 receptions for 641 yards, and score 5 touchdowns. Stills made some amazing catches over the season (road game against the Patriots stands out as one of my favorite plays). Stills should see an increased workload in 2014, and is a weapon that opposing defenders will have to build a game plan for.
#88 – Nick Toon, Wide Receiver (2nd year, Wisconsin)
The Saints had high hopes for the fourth round selection in the 2012 draft, and so did fans. Sadly, Toon wound up on injured reserve for 2012, and despite making the active roster in 2013, Toon really became absent after some missed opportunities against the New York Jets. He was mostly inactive for the rest of the season. Toon comes from a great pedigree, as his father, Al Toon, played eight seasons with the New York Jets. This will be the ‘make it’ or ‘break it’ year for Nick Toon.
#72 – Terron Armstead, Tackle (2nd year, Arkansas -Pine Bluff)
Armstead was a phenomenon first discovered at the NFL Combine when he set a record for offensive linemen with a 4.71 second forty-yard dash. He patiently waited and learned while being on the active roster for the entire season. Armstead got a chance to start against the Carolina Panthers on December 22nd after Charles Brown was benched, but it didn’t go nearly as planned, as Armstead gave up three sacks. Despite the outing, the team showed their support, and Armstead became a vicious foe the rest of the way (ask Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Trent Cole). Armstead had a minor hand procedure in January, and should be 100% for the beginning of training camp. He will turn 23 in August, and has an extremely bright future ahead of him.
#70 – Marcel Jones, Tackle (2nd year, Nebraska)
Jones’ physical stature is one that is appealing (6’7″, 320 lbs) for the tackle position. The Saints used their seventh-round 2012 draft pick (#234 overall) on Marcel Jones. The very same thing that affected Jones at Nebraska to drop his draft stock reared its ugly head in 2012, as Jones spent the season on injured reserve. Jones didn’t appear in any games in 2013, but was a member of the team’s practice squad. With Zach Strief, Terron Armstead, and Bryce Harris being the primary players in front of Jones, it’s hard to suggest he has an immediate future with the 2014 Saints.
#68 – Tim Lelito, Guard (2nd year, Grand Valley State)
Lelito did go undrafted in the 2013 draft, but quickly saw action for the black and gold. He would start for injured veteran guard, Jahri Evans, against the Arizona Cardinals in the third game of the season, and would again be called upon to start on the road against the Atlanta Falcons for Evans. Lelito had one of the best stories of 2013. For the moment, Lelito is the front-runner for the team’s starting center position. Should the team bring in veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, it may mean Lelito has to wait for his chance to earn a starting gig.
#78 – Ty Nsekhe, Tackle (1st year, Texas State)
You’re probably not familiar with Ty Nsekhe, mainly because he has actually not played in the NFL since September 23, 2012. You’d likely know him from some controversy on Twitter. Nsekhe has spent the majority of his career playing in the Arena Football League, spending time with four different teams in four different seasons from 2009-2012. Nsekhe has tremendous size for a tackle, standing at 6’8″, and weighing in at 325 pounds. He was signed to a reserve/future contract on January 6, 2014. The team had to see something they liked in Nsekhe to give him a chance.
#65 – Senio Kelemete, Guard (2nd year, Washington)
A short time ago, Kelemete was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. In the final week of the regular season, Kelemete would make NFL history by being the first offensive lineman to catch a pass in his debut. The reception came off of a deflected pass attempt from quarterback Brian Hoyer, and Kelemete would take it 10 yards for a first down. Kelemete spent 2013 on the Saints practice squad. As for this season, Senio Kelemete should continue to learn from two of the league’s best guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.
#35 – Austin Johnson, Fullback (2nd year, Tennessee)
With the departure of veteran fullback Jed Collins and the signing of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Erik Lorig, Johnson’s role is fairly questionable. There’s a lot to like about Johnson’s size (6’2″, 240 lbs) and his ability to be a lead blocker. Austin Johnson played in all four preseason games in 2013 and was part of the team’s final cuts, but was brought back on to the Practice Squad.
#29 – Khiry Robinson, Running Back (2nd year, West Texas A&M)
Khiry Robinson made a huge impact for the Saints out of the gate throughout preseason, and in the season opener against Atlanta. Many had never heard of West Texas A&M prior to Robinson entering the picture. Last year, when I broke down the running back previews, I said ‘you just never know what will happen’ when talking about him. Robinson finished the season with 224 rushing yards and a score, sporting a 4.1 yards/carry average on 54 rushing attempts. Robinson’s lone touchdown came against the New England Patriots, but also scored against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs. Robinson will be called upon a great deal this season, and is likely to be splitting time with Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram and Robinson could be a nice one-two punch for the team.
Stay tuned for Part 2, as we preview the defense!
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