The New Orleans Saints roster will suffer some scheduled paring-downs this year, but knowing they’re coming won’t make it any less painful.
A little more than half of the players on the 90-man roster going into training camp will still be here come opening day against the Oakland Raiders in September.
The New Orleans Saints roster has fielded some bad safety play in spite of big investments at that position. Kenny Vaccaro’s young career has had its ups and downs, while Jairus Byrd has been one of the biggest free agent busts in recent memory. Hindsight vision is 20/20, but it’s plain now that letting Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins walk away in 2014 was a mistake.
Now the Saints are trying to get back to where they thrived. Here’s the five safeties I see them taking into the regular season:
The starters on paper are Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd, but I’ll be surprised if Byrd is the starter in September. He’s missed a ton of time to injury and is sitting out yet another preseason to continue rehabbing the wear-and-tear put on his body. First-year CFL import Erik Harris (6-foot-3, 215-pounds) has made a great impression so far in place of Byrd with the first-team defense through minicamps.
Draft pick Vonn Bell (Ohio State, 5-foot-11, 199-pounds) is almost a clone of Malcolm Jenkins. Bell came out of college with a well-deserved reputation as a ballhawk with great movement skills. He’s an ideal fit in a three-safety defense because he can range from one sideline to the other over top. He and Harris will spend the next few months and all of training camp learning the free safety role in Dennis Allen’s defense. Would Byrd really step into that starting job cold for a third year in a row?
Roman Harper returned and immediately got into his old role as a physical safety playing at the line of scrimmage. He had some great, highly-productive years in New Orleans in the past but those days are behind him. Harper shouldn’t be expected to play more than 20 snaps or so per game, but his real value comes from the example he’ll set for the many young players on the team.
An undrafted rookie I like is Trae Elston (Ole Miss) who has good range, strong tackling ability, and a high level of football IQ. Elston didn’t miss a start for Hugh Freeze’s Landsharks defense the last four years and is already doing his part to make the team by mixing it up on special teams. There just isn’t a spot for him on the Saints roster yet, but keep an eye out in case of injury or something unforeseen. I think he’s a strong candidate to develop on the practice squad.