Saints: Which UDFAs have the best shot at making the 53-man roster?

New Orleans Saints - Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints - Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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New Orleans Saints
Shaq Smith #5 of the Maryland Terrapins (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images) /

Saints UDFAs who are long-shots to make the 53-man roster

Deuce Wallace, Safety

No stranger to south Louisiana, safety Deuce Wallace starred as a prep running back in Lafayette before walking on at his hometown school of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL). Emerging as a key contributor on defense and special teams, Wallace last played as a redshirt senior for the Cajuns in the 2019 season.

In his final season as a member of coach Billy Napier’s squad, Wallace was voted a team captain despite starting only five of the 14 games in which he played.

Wallace’s top performance as a collegian came as a junior in 2018, in which he was credited with 40 tackles and an interception. While perhaps the longest of shots to emerge from this year’s training camp with a spot on the Saints roster, Wallace has a history of overcoming obstacles and should not be discounted outright.

Nolan Cooney, Punter

A fine collegiate punter in his own right, Nolan Cooney’s placement within this list is less a critique of his punting aptitude than an inference drawn by the inclusion of Blake Gillikin on last year’s opening season roster. Gillikin is likely to receive first-billing as the presumptive heir to the departed Thomas Morstead.

From a performance standpoint, an evaluation of each player’s respective senior season in college does little to distinguish one from the other.

While Gillikin averaged 42.2 yards per punt with Penn State in 2019, Cooney would outpace that mark by more than 2.5 yards in his 2020 season at Syracuse, which saw him post an average of 44.8 per kick. However, when shifting the focus to the ever-important ability to pin an opponent inside their own 20-yard line, it was Gillikin who had the upper hand, registering 32 such daggers versus 24 on the part of Cooney.

With a season’s worth of development invested in Gillikin on part of the Saints special teams staff, the will-be second-year pro enters the preseason punting competition in the advantageous role of the incumbent, giving him the edge in this projection.

Shaq Smith, Linebacker/EDGE

An intriguing prospect from among the further reaches of the Saints rookie class is Maryland linebacker Shaq Smith, who signed with Clemson as a top national prospect in the 2016 prep signing class. Despite arriving on campus as a five-star recruit, Smith would be unable to cement a timely role for himself within a loaded Tiger defense.

Though projected to likely crack Clemson’s starting lineup as a junior, Smith graduated early and would shock many by transferring back to his home state of Maryland for participation in the 2018 season. Physically imposing at 6’2″ and 250 pounds, Smith lined up primarily as an inside linebacker at Clemson yet was deployed in more of an EDGE capacity at Maryland.

Despite impressive physical traits, Smith’s collegiate career was ultimately that of a talented prospect who failed to chart the on-field path that would have been expected given his star-studded prep career. Nonetheless, he bears watching as a developmental option with special teams upside.