Saints: Which UDFAs have the best shot at making the 53-man roster?
By Darral Nail
Saints UDFAs who are on the roster bubble to make the 53-man roster
Josiah Bronson, Defensive Tackle
A two-year starter along the defensive interior for Washington, Josiah Bronson first appeared on the radar of many who follow the team courtesy of the Saints’ dogged pursuit of the former Husky in the immediate aftermath of this year’s draft. While the rationale informing such an all-in pursuit of Bronson is not immediately apparent upon a review of the 6’3”, 300-pound, one-time Temple Owl’s collegiate game film, this Saints staff should be somewhat beyond reproach when it comes to their procurement of undrafted defensive tackles.
In fact, the team’s ability to identify and extract instant contributors from among the legion of virtually indistinguishable interior defenders among a particular UDFA class is nothing short of remarkable.
While there were tangible traits on display last year in the case of Malcolm Roach, the former Longhorn was widely dismissed as an inside/out tweener lacking the dynamic movement skills necessary to thrive as an undersized defensive tackle in the NFL. However, in the cases of Shy Tuttle in 2019 and 2018’s Taylor Stallworth, respectively, each player’s value proposition as a rookie starter required far more discriminant an eye from the talent evaluators in New Orleans.
Given the track record of the team in identifying these players, and the ability of Saints defensive line and assistant head coach Ryan Nielsen to develop them quickly, it is perhaps unwise to bet against a relatively unknown defensive lineman whom the Saints saw fit to sign to a team-leading $140,000 UDFA contract with a $25,000 signing bonus.
Lorenzo Neal Jr., Defensive Tackle
More than a quarter-century after running back Lorenzo Neal arrived in the Big Easy as a fourth-round draft pick, Lorenzo Neal Jr. will look that follow in the footsteps of his namesake father as a member of the Saints regular-season roster.
The junior Neal would see the field right away as a true freshman at Purdue and would come to be seen as a future top NFL draft pick following a two-year span that saw him register 52 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and a remarkable total of four forced fumbles. However, Neal suffered an ACL tear at the end of his junior year, one which would claim his 2019 season as well.
Expectations were high for the fifth-year senior in advance of his return for the 2020 college football season, with Neal included on the preseason watch list for the Bronco Nagurski Award given to the nation’s top overall defensive player. However, a positional switch to the interior of the defensive front amid a pandemic-shortened season would lead to a fairly ho-hum outing in Neal’s final collegiate campaign.
With size (6’3”, 325 pounds) reminiscent of a nose tackle and the (pre-injury) mobility and first-step quickness of a 3-4 end, Neal’s value proposition at the next level could be that of a nominal nose tackle with the upshot of an over-sized interior pass rusher. The injury issue is beyond concerning, but the team chose to bring him on board only after seeing him perform in person at the rookie tryout.