Try to not explode out of your chairs or lose your cell phone, but the NFL season draws closer! The New Orleans Saints are set to kick off their three-day organized team activities (OTAs) and offseason workouts beginning on May 26. Each season tends to bring more excitement than the previous one, and we’re more than eager to see what this year’s squad brings to the table.
As we face a brand new season, it makes me think about the state of the New Orleans Saints. Here are some of my biggest questions for the team as we roll through three sessions of OTAs.
How is the health of players?
Jairus Byrd, Brandin Cooks, Vinnie Sunseri, Rafael Bush, and Glenn Foster are just some of the names from the New Orleans Saints injured reserve list from last year. Also, Jahri Evans elected for offseason wrist surgery.
Newcomers Dannell Ellerbe and Max Unger are coming off of injury riddled seasons where they missed significant time, and both C.J. Spiller and Brandon Browner each played in nine games last year.
If there’s anything that will kill the Saints chance for a postseason run, and ultimately chasing a Super Bowl, it will be injuries. You can get a sense for why the Saints may have drafted some depth for competition at respective positions, because they need the absolute best 53-man roster to go to battle.
Which undrafted rookie free agent will ‘wow’ everyone?
It’s no longer a secret, but the Saints have had some of the best success with undrafted rookie free agents over the years. This season is no different, as the Saints have once again landed some spectacular talent. I really love the stuff I see from the two University of New Hampshire products, R.J. Harris and Harold Spears, so they’d be my immediate ‘ones to watch’. Also, look for offensive tackle Sean Hickey and defensive lineman Ashaad Mabry to make some noise during practices.
Which players are on the roster bubble?
Unless you are someone like Drew Brees, your roster spot is not necessarily safe. Players like Nick Toon, Bryce Harris, David Hawthorne, Brodrick Bunkley, and Erik Lorig are just some of the names that come to mind when questioning their future with the Saints. We already saw that long-time fan favorite Andy Tanner was cut (again), but he was once again brought back to injured reserve. The feeling continues to build that this year’s squad has a heightened sense of urgency unlike previous seasons, and Sean Payton won’t hesitate to play ‘the best player’.
Some younger players to keep an eye on who might need to worry about a roster spot: Brian Dixon, Kasim Edebali, John Jenkins, Pierre Warren, and Edwin Baker.
Which names should you become more familiar with?
Honestly, where do you start? There’s a lot of great players we have covered with amazing backstories. Outside of the obvious selections of Andrus Peat, Stephone Anthony, and Hau’oli Kikaha, I would tell you to keep an eye on rookies on defense like Tyeler Davison, Kaleb Eulls, and Davis Tull.
Davison has a real opportunity to be a ‘monster’ in the middle for the Saints, and his highlight reel showed that the team acquired a player that has a really good motor coupled with a bit of a mean streak. You can’t tell me that that’s not exciting for Rob Ryan’s defense.
As for Tull, he’s coming off of labrum surgery, but his progress is on track. The small school project from Tennessee-Chattanooga was a fairly unanimous second or third round draft pick prior to surgery. He could be a real sleeper for the Saints defense, as Nick Underhill of The Advocate points out.
I’d also implore you to subtly root for running back Tim Hightower and safety Kenny Phillips. These are two veterans who are attempting comebacks after suffering bad injuries. Those stories are ones to follow, and should these guys return to their once pro form, then the Saints really got themselves steals.
Which position battles are going to be the most entertaining to watch?
In this particular order: wide receiver, cornerback, backup quarterback, outside and inside linebacker, kicker. Be sure to check out my write-up on the most intriguing positional battles. I think we’re in for some real treats this year.
Who will emerge in the kicker battle?
The Saints released Shayne Graham, which came as a shock to some. Just a couple of days before his release, Graham was playing golf with the team, and mentioned that he was not fazed by three kickers battling it out.
In my opinion, it’s a good sign that the Saints are finally going to commit to a long-term option at kicker. I firmly believe that the Saints have merely put a band-aid on the kicker position over the years, and they’ve just managed with what they’ve had. It was a real shame that Derek Dimke couldn’t beat out Graham last year, and now we’re faced with two younger options, Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker. I fully expect that the Saints will bring in a kicker or two for tryouts to potentially give the younger guys some competition at some point if they are not sold on their early production.
In addition to the first set of OTAs, two others will occur from June 2-4, and June 8-11. As a reminder, live contact is not permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.
What are you most concerned about with these OTAs? What do you want to see most out of the Saints?