Attention is rightly paid to the players with the biggest reputations – the high draft picks and expensive free agents. But NFL teams take all kinds to build their rosters. In this series, I’ll be studying players who are primed to break out for the New Orleans Saints. Previous entries feature receiver Willie Snead and end Kasim Edebali.
Senio Kelemete has had an interesting journey in the NFL. The former Arizona Cardinals late-round draft pick was cut and picked up by the New Orleans Saints, who kept him on the bottom of the roster until he started to show out in the 2014 preseason. He went on to hone his skills as an interior lineman, playing both guard and center.
Emergency struck the New Orleans Saints in the hours before their season-closing road game against the Atlanta Falcons. The team’s prized left tackle, Terron Armstead, was unsuspectedly sidelined with an injury. With rookie Andrus Peat held out with a concussion and right tackle Zach Strief suffering from a bum ankle, Kelemete was the only possible replacement.
He filled in well against an admittedly-anemic Falcons pass rush. Kelemete lost a couple of battles but on the whole played very well, and didn’t allow a pressure all game. A two-year contract extension worth at least $2.7-million was his reward in the offseason.
Re-upping Kelemete has been one of the smartest moves the Saints have made this offseason.
Now in his third year with New Orleans and his fourth in the NFL, Kelemete embodies many of the qualities valued by Sean Payton throughout the recent roster overhaul. Kelemete is a good dude who spends much of his time off the field with his young family. Head coach Sean Payton and the team brass doesn’t have to worry about what part of town he’s in after midnight. Re-upping Kelemete with a low-risk, high-reward contract has been one of the smartest moves the Saints have made this offseason.
Kelemete has developed into a good player despite his early struggles. Now he’s on the cusp of winning a starting job in 2016 at either left or right guard.
But how does Kelemete look in a real game situation? Well, the first thing to note is that there are some warts to his style of play. He doesn’t pick up defenders well at the second level and struggles to play strong; too often would defenders disengage from a block and evade his reach before he could recover. Kelemete’s play strength has to improve if he’s going to start this year.
The good news is that Kelemete moves very well for a man his size. He’s listed at 300-pounds on the team website which is good size for a zone-blocking guard like what the Saints prefer, but may be light for more conventional schemes. Kelemete accelerates uphill in a hurry and typically doesn’t struggle to navigate traffic around the line of scrimmage, but changing direction on the move is difficult for him.
What’s frustrating is that we won’t know how Kelemete is progressing until midway through training camp next month when pads come on. It’s nigh-impossible to tell anything from how linemen are playing in practice before full-contact is allowed, especially at the most-physical position in football on the interior line.
On the whole, Senio Kelemete is a versatile lineman who can fulfill most of his responsibilities with competence. He’s proven in the past that he can be solid in the starting lineup in a pinch, and his experience at every line position (tackle, guard, and center) gives him added value.
Think of Kelemete as someone you can win with, and probably not be hurt by. Whether or not he’s a difference-maker when playing with a higher snap count remains to be seen. He’s definitely making the team in 2016, but where he ranks on the depth chart will be something to track.