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
Tight end Dylan Soehner #89 of the Iowa State Cyclones (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Saints UDFAs who are most likely to make the 53-man roster

Dylan Soehner, Tight End

If one could construct from scratch a third tight end for an NFL team to deploy in short-yardage and goal-line packages, it would likely resemble former Iowa State fixture, Dylan Soehner.

A mountain of a man at 6’7″ and 272 pounds, Soehner was listed as the nation’s 145th ranked offensive tackle out of high school despite the fact that he played tight end. Soehner cracked the Cyclones starting lineup in seven games as a senior in 2020, despite the presence of likely 2022 NFL Draft pick Charlie Kolar and featured contributor Chase Allen among the team’s collection of tight ends.

A fairly devastating blocker from a traditional in-line position at the college level, Soehner did happen to show glimpses of his ability as a receiver, such as a 5 catch, 70-yard performance versus at Texas in his senior season.

However, his likeliest path onto the Saints’ regular-season roster will likely be that of an eligible blocker on the perimeter as part of certain sub-packages. With the unique value proposition that he would potentially offer, Soehner may very well find himself in the black and gold during the regular season as a rookie.

Bryce Thompson, Cornerback

Were it to come to pass that an undrafted rookie should rise from relative obscurity to answer a critical need for the Saints in next month’s training camp, that player will likely answer to the name Bryce Thompson.

A four-star prospect as a prep running back/offensive weapon out of South Carolina, Thompson not only switched to a premium position on the opposite side of the football once arriving on campus in Knoxville, but he emerged from his first preseason camp as a starting outside corner for coach Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee Volunteers as a true freshman.

Thompson flourished in his new surroundings, earning Freshman All-American honors in his first season both as a collegian and as a defensive back.

Despite the pedestrian overall athletic testing scores he posted as part of this year’s pre-draft process, Thompson moves smoothly on the field, with draft scouts pointing to his quick feet, smooth backpedal, and the demonstrated ability to “flip his hips” and accompany a receiver through breaks in a route.

Perhaps a bit quicker than fast, Thompson ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at UT’s pro day. However, his 1.53-second mark in the 10-yard split, which is often cited as a more realistic indicator of “football speed” for a defensive back, would place him squarely within the top third percentile league-wide.

Furthermore, there are aspects of Thompson’s game that could precipitate his inclusion with the regulars in the secondary sooner than later.

Likely chief among these is Thompson’s disposition in bump-and-run/press-man coverage on the outside. While capable of working with a cushion in off-man, Thompson appears most comfortable in the face of a receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Thompson brings the fight to the receiver on first contact and is a natural at disrupting inside breaks with leverage. He also demonstrates a knack for reading and reacting to up-field movement, frequently allowing him to attach to his receiver early in the route.

Fittingly for a player looking to find a home among coordinator Dennis Allen’s unit’s increasingly ‘position-less’ back-end, Thompson has experience playing both cornerback and safety and was even deployed by Pruitt (a Nick Saban disciple) closer to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker replacement in certain sub/dime packages.

In a secondary bereft of depth at outside corner, Thompson might ultimately be asked to do more than just make the team in New Orleans.

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The NOLA Saints have been fortunate with their recent UDFA signings, so let’s hope a few of these guys can come in and make some sort of positive impact.