With the 2016 Preseason in the books, it’s time to start looking at final roster projections. Final cuts have to be made by Saturday at 4 pm, and the Saints have a number of tough decisions to make. Fans are going to pay close attention to the final offensive and defensive line groups, but key cuts will have to be made at running back and corner back as well. So, without further ado…
Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson
Yes, I’m keeping Grayson. Granted, I’m not convinced that it will work out this way. The Saints have substantial roster decisions that make keeping the struggling QB difficult. He played well on Thursday, but he’s been horribly inconsistent. His play against Pittsburgh was particularly worrying. If anything I’d guess the Saints will try to sneak him onto the practice squad. I think the Saints keep him on, but don’t be surprised if he’s cut. At this point in time, he is not looking like the heir-apparent to Brees.
Running Back: 5
Ingram, Spiller, Lasco, Murphy, Hightower.
By far, in my opinion, the most difficult roster position to finalize. Ingram and Spiller are sure things. Payton’s got to be excited about a healthy Spiller. Lasco brings value as a runner and in special teams. And Murphy is too explosive of a return man to miss out. He’s popped in the run game as well, particularly last night. If anyone is the odd man out here, it’s Hightower. But I think he makes the roster. He ran well against Baltimore, and saved the team last year when injuries hit.
Austin Johnson is a good player. But while the Saints insisted that he was still battling for a roster spot, you don’t bring in a player like Kuhn only to cut him. Either way, the Saints can’t go wrong here. Both players are solid.
Wide Receiver: 5
Cooks, Snead, Thomas, Coleman, Lewis.
Coleman has done enough to solidify his spot. He’s simply got too much upside to let go. We saw it in flashes last year. He is a more-than-serviceable WR4. The team is high on Lewis as well, though, in my opinion, his roster spot is less secure.
Tight End: 3
Fleener, Hill, Manhertz.
After watching the injury, I’d be surprised if Michael Hoomanawanui doesn’t end up on IR. It looked bad. In his place, I think Manhertz is the obvious option. He’s been solid, as a blocker and route runner. The Saints could certainly do worse. Also worth considering is Garrett Griffin, the TE/Long snapper. The versatility means an additional roster spot for the Saints. But I think Griffin is headed for the practice squad. I remain underwhelmed by Josh Hill, but the Saints have expressed their commitment to him. He’s making the team.
Offensive Line: 8
Armstead, Peat, Unger, Lelito, Kelemete, Streif, Hills, Fullington.
The much-maligned O-Line. The staff has some tough decisions here. Six of these guys are locks. The question is behind them: do the Saints keep Barnes, their new signing, despite his poor play against Baltimore? UDFA Jack Allen has disappointed—many had him pegged as a possible contributor before the preseason began. Marcus Henry hasn’t been much better. There’s a case to be made for Landon Turner, but he’s shown inconsistency, and is slow for his position. I gave the nod to Fullington, who’s played well enough in his time with the second team. Hills is not a good backup tackle, but the Saints are desperately thin at that position. Payton recently said that Barnes was not in shape for the Baltimore game. For now, I’m guessing that the Saints keep him on for some more evaluation. I’d expect some more moves at this position: the Saints are surely looking around the league for help here.
Breaux, Williams, Harris, Finnegan, Dixon.
The Saints have at least one tough cut to make at this position. I’m going to go with a somewhat controversial opinion here: I think Ken Crawley is headed for the practice squad. Beaux, Williams, and Harris are all locks. Dixon brings special teams talent, and with Payton’s belief that kick returns are going to increase, I think Dixon makes the roster. He forced a fumble on a kick return last night. Finnegan simply brings more to the defense that Crawley does at this point. I think Crawley can develop into a fine player, but the Saints are in trouble if he sees meaningful minutes so early in his development. Overall, this position is looking like a strength of this Saints defense.
Byrd, Vaccaro, Harris, Harper, Bell.
This is, by far, the easiest position to project. No question about any of these players; this is the safety group. Safety looks to be another strength of the roster.
Defensive End: 5
Jordan, Kruger, Edebali, Gwachum, Tapp.
There are a lot of players at this position. Jordan and Kruger are locks. Edebali is a good bet as well, although Kruger may have supplanted him as the starter. Gwachum has been inconsistent, but his arrow is pointed up. I think the Saints hold on to him for at least another year. This final spot is a close battle between Tapp, Chris McCain, and Bobby Richardson. McCain making the roster might mean one less draft pick next year, and the signing of Kruger may have eased some of the concern for pass-rush. Richardson, a solid contributor last year, is looking like an unfortunate cut here. Tapp has shown too much in-game production for the Saints to let him go.
Defensive Tackle: 4
Rankins, Davison, Fairley, Onyemata.
All four of these guys are making the team. The question is, what about John Jenkins? He’s missed the entire preseason with a bone bruise, and played well in his only game against Baltimore. But with the emergence of Davison and the development of Onyemata, the Saints may be ready, finally, to cut ties with the disappointing Jenkins. I’d be surprised if a roster spot opens up, considering the Saints are, if anything, likely looking to add players in the coming week. But if a spot does open up—if, for example, Rankins goes on IR—Jenkins might be back. Regardless, the Saints can feel good about this position.
Ellerbe, Laurinaitis, Anthony, Robertson, Stupar, Mauti
The Saints may choose to only keep five guys here. Ellerbe, Laurinaitis, and Anthony are locks. Robertson and Stupar are good bets. I’d like Robertson to possibly step in for Laurinaitis as the year progresses—Robertson hasn’t been perfect, but Laurinaitis has struggled to shed blocks and has been a liability in coverage. I think Mauti makes the final roster; he’s looked solid in the preseason, and is a special teams contributor. Encouragingly, he seems to have improved from last year.
Morstead, Drescher, Barth.
Morstead has looked phenomenal so far in the preseason. Drescher is in an interesting spot; he had a bad snap on a FG against Baltimore, and if TE Garrett Griffin has looked solid enough at he might be an interesting look as a dual position long snapper. But as I mentioned, I’m pegging Griffin as a practice squad candidate. I’m giving Barth the nod here, but it could go either way. Let’s just hope the Saints make the right pick this year.