Grading the Saints’ Undrafted Rookies


The New Orleans Saints have a history of finding gems in the UDFA pool. Whether that will hold true for 2016 remains to be seen.

From Lance Moore to Pierre Thomas to Chris Ivory and Junior Galette, the New Orleans Saints have consistently had success in the UDFA market. They’ve found players that have and will last years in the league. And that’s on top of the special teams contributors that they’ve added after the draft.

The team owes that success to Sean Payton’s doctrine on training camp and the offseason: it doesn’t matter how a player makes it to camp. All that matters is that they’re here, and competing. That’s what allowed standout players like Willie Snead to make the roster, and it’s what entices UDFAs to make their way to New Orleans.

When the team announced their UDFA crop in 2016, many outlets, including, had it pegged as the best haul of the year. From a strong group of offensive lineman to some intriguing options at WR, the Saints seemed to have pulled together a promising group of guys.

Among the nineteen players signed immediately after the draft, only a few managed to stick on the roster in some capacity. Throw in some UDFAs that the Saints picked up after NFL roster cuts, and we’ve got our list of guys.

So how did the bunch turn out? Let’s take a look. And remember, these are UDFA additions, and I’ll grade them as such. If they were drafted rookies, their grades would be much harsher.

B-. . CB. New Orleans Saints. KEN CRAWLEY

When the Saints entered training camp, two UDFA CBs turned a few heads. Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris. Between the two of them, reporters touted Harris as the more promising cover corner.

Yet as the season began, and the Saints’ CBs were decimated by injuries, Crawley was the one to step up.

Both Crawley and Harris saw plenty of field in the team’s Week 1 matchup vs. the Raiders. Harris got the start as the nickel corner, and Crawley came in to replace Delvin Breaux after his injury.

Well, Harris struggled in his role. Crawley, on the other hand, shined. He gave up some plays, but that’s to be expected of an UDFA rookie in his first NFL game. But overall, he looked more than capable of developing into an NFL-caliber player.

As the season progressed and the Saints found some free agent gems in Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb, Crawley saw his snap count drop. But the coaches didn’t shy away from plugging Crawley in when needed. He typically was the third CB on the depth chart. And while he continued to give up plays as the season drew on, he also continued to flash talent and potential.

There’s every reason to believe that Crawley can take the next step forward as a sophomore, and continue to compete for defensive snaps even after the Saints starters at CB return from injury.

D. . CB. New Orleans Saints. DE'VANTE HARRIS

De’Vante Harris was altogether a disappointing prospect in 2016. After the promising reports of his coverage ability in the preseason, Harris fell off the depth chart and was relegated to special teams, where he’ll be remembered for a comically frustrating blunder.

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As I mentioned, Harris got the season start as the nickel corner against the Oakland Raiders.

Well, the coaches didn’t like what they saw from Harris. Already in Week 2, Harris saw his snap count drop by more than half, while Ken Crawley emerged as the team’s prospective backup on the outside.

In Harris’ defense, he was never slated to play on the outside, and the injuries to the starting CBs forced Crawley into the lineup. When the Saints made free agent additions in Moore and Webb, it pushed Harris out of the rotation.

That landed Harris on special teams, where he played a big part in the team’s woes. Against the Falcons, Harris contributed to a fumble on a punt return that gave ATL momentum. It was an embarrassingly bad play, and Harris will unfortunately have a hard time living it down.

Sean Payton expressed optimism for Harris’s development during the season, so it’s entirely possible that he makes the team in 2017. He’ll likely be competing with Damian Swann for the nickel CB role, and may need to earn his keep on special teams again.

B+. . Kicker. New Orleans Saints. WIL LUTZ

Wil Lutz wasn’t technically an UDFA for the Saints. He signed with the Ravens after the draft, but was unable to beat out incumbent kicked Justin Tucker. No wonder, as Tucker established himself as possibly the best kicker in the league in 2016.

The Saints got incredibly lucky with Lutz. Sean Payton had allegedly heard about Lutz from members of the Ravens’ coaching staff, and brought him in for a tryout once they cut him. According to Payton, Lutz gave the best kicking performance that he’d ever seen.

The Saints promptly released Kai Forbath, who had seemingly won the kicking job from Connor Barth after a back-and-forth preseason competition.

The move was met with a fair amount of speculative doubt. But Lutz turned out to be the right choice.

Lutz struggled with the trajectory of his kicks early in the season. That led to a series of blocked kicks that cost the team in crucial situations. But he seemed to have fixed his mechanics once the Saints brought in kicking specialist Kevin O’Dea.

And beyond those mechanics, Luts appears to have every necessary tool for a successful kicker in this league. He’s got an accurate leg, he’s got the strength in it, and most importantly he has the mental makeup. Payton gushed over his thick skin and professional mentality all year.

It looks like the Saints may have finally found their long-term kicker, assuming he can keep his trajectory right.

B-. . Guard. New Orleans Saints. LANDON TURNER

Out of all the offensive lineman the Saints brought in, only Landon Turner managed to eek out a role in the offense. That doesn’t mean the others won’t pan out—they’re rookies after all. But it’s a promising sign for Turner.

Turner, out of North Carolina, is a power-first type guard. He doesn’t move very well, and may have a hard time finding a spot in the starting lineup for that reason. But if he can keep developing, he may make it on talent alone. Even if he’s not a schematic fit.

Turner saw the field mainly as a 6th OL in the Saints’ jumbo packages. On occasion, he came off the bench before Tim Lelito. That’s a good sign. Turner generally played well, and was a strong force at the point of attack.

Chances are he wouldn’t have seen the field so much if the Saints hadn’t had such a rash of injuries at tight end. But they did, and Turner made the most of his opportunities.

The Saints are now looking pretty thin at offensive line, and will likely look to add some depth in free agency. But that still leaves room for Turner to show growth in year two, and possibly stick on the roster as a backup to the aging Jahri Evans. If Turner can be the player he has the potential to be, he may have been a steal of an UDFA.

New Orleans Saints. JACK ALLEN. C. . Center/Guard

Out of every UDFA the Saints brought in, Jack Allen likely came with the most buzz. Many draft outlets had him going as high as the fourth round.

Ultimately, Allen’s extremely limited size was too much for teams to overlook. But many saw technique and hardiness at the center position, and teams around the league would have loved to have him on as an UDFA.

Turns out that teams were right to pass on the center/guard hybrid. Allen saw limited action throughout the season and was mainly a practice squad player. He was called up when Max Unger missed a game but didn’t see the field.

So all I have to go on is his preseason tape. And that tape did not look good. Allen’s struggles were a major contributor to the preseason perception of the weaknesses in this offensive line.

Who knows, maybe Allen just needed another year to work out how to play leverage against NFL-caliber DLs. Maybe next year we’ll see the emergence of the high-IQ player many had him touted as. But I’d be surprised.

B. . WR. New Orleans Saints. JAKE LAMPMAN

If any UDFA is guaranteed a spot on the 2017 roster, I’d have to say it’s Lampman. Over Crawley, even, because Crawley hasn’t shown that he can earn a spot on special teams.

We haven’t seen Lampman in a true receiver role yet, and as such I’m not able to grade him as a receiver. But Lampman earns a solid B grade as a special team’s player.

After the Saints lost a number of their core special teamers, whether due to injury or increased playing time on defense, they brought Lampman up from their practice squad. In his first game, he put together a series of impressive tackles that earned him high praise from Sean Payton post-game.

These undrafted rookies need to play special teams to secure a roster spot. And Lampman has shown he’s more than capable of contributing in a big way in that capacity. I expect he’ll get a good look as a WR4 next preseason, because the Saints will want to know what they have down the bench in game days. Barring injury, he’s making the roster.

. WR. New Orleans Saints. TOMMYLEE LEWIS. C+

Tommylee Lewis earns a C+ role for his flashes in preseason, and for his potential. If I was going solely on regular season production, he’d earn a solid D-. Maybe an F.

Lewis looked very much like a possible breakout candidate for the Saints in the preseason. He’s short, but incredibly quick and hard-nosed. He can make people miss, and can be a challenge to cover. Throughout the preseason I had concerns about his hands, but there was no denying he had special talent.

But he didn’t see the field much as a receiver during the season. Instead, he took over Marcus Murphy’s return duties after Murphy couldn’t shake his fumble problems.

Unfortunately, Lewis struggled just as heavily as Murphy did. Perhaps more so. More than Lutz’s blocked kicks, I expect Lewis’s poor play as the return man led to Greg McMahon’s firing. Lewis consistently made poor decisions in the return game, whether letting a bounce at the wrong time, returning a kick in an inopportune moment, or just straight-up muffing the catch.

It’ll take a lot for Lewis to make the team in 2017. I expect the Saints will bring in some more talent at KR, and that may force Lewis out of a job. Then again, he may turn it on and put together more flash plays like the did this past offseason. But I, for one, would be happy to see Lewis gone.

Honorable Mentions

A number of UDFAs did not see the field, for various reasons, enough to warrant a grade. But the Saints elected to keep many of these player on the roster in some capacity, and these deserve mention. Avery Young, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Garrett Griffin, D.J. Pettaway, Mitchell Loewen

OT Avery Young was injured for much of the year, but should get a chance to compete as a backup tackle in 2017, where the Saints badly need depth. WR Jordan Williams-Lambert looked promising in limited action during the preseason, and the Saints kept him on the practice squad throughout the year. That’s a good sign for the WR out of Ball State. D.J. Pettaway, Mitchell Loewen

WR Jordan Williams-Lambert looked promising in limited action during the preseason, and the Saints kept him on the practice squad throughout the year. That’s a good sign for the WR out of Ball State. D.J. Pettaway, Mitchell Loewen

Defensive lineman D.J. Pettaway landed on IR early in the preseason, but turned some heads in training camp. I don’t have much to evaluate what he can bring to the table, but he’ll get a shot at cracking next year’s roster. Likewise for DE Mitchell Loewen.

The most intriguing prospect among the honorable mentions is, without a doubt, TE/LS Garrett Griffin.

Sean Payton has more than once expressed interest in a long snapper that can play other positions, as that would potentially free up a roster spot. If Griffin can show growth as a LS, I imagine he’ll make a run for Justin Drescher’s job in 2017.

Next: Roy's Way-Too-Early Mock Draft

Overall, it’s hard to evaluate an UDFA class after just one year. Most of these guys need at least another year to develop into NFL-caliber players. Otherwise, they would have been drafted. So we’ll get a better look at these guys next year.