After two preseason games and several practices, there is now enough data to confidently project who will make the final 53-man roster of the New Orleans Saints. There are certainly some final roster spot position battles and performances in the last preseason game at home against the Chargers could be the final deciding factor on who makes the cut.
Included in this analysis will be which players are likely to be prime practice squad candidates as well. The NFL this year has expanded the practice squad to 16 players, with ten players limited to a maximum of two seasons of experience while the other six players can be made up of veterans.
Let’s take a look by position…
New Orleans Saints – QUARTERBACK
QB – Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton
Practice Squad – Ian Book
The Saints have given Ian Book plenty of preseason game action and, as of yet, he has not shown enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster. It must be kept in mind that Book was a personal favorite of Sean Payton, who is no longer with the team.
At this point, the extra roster spot given the competition at other positions may warrant exposing Book to waivers to see if can get him on the practice squad for the season.
New Orleans Saints – RUNNING BACK
RB – Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Dwayne Washington, Tony Jones Jr, Adam Prentiss
Practice Squad – Abram Smith, Kirk Merritt
The status of the running back position of the Saints rests solely on the pending legal status of Alvin Kamara. If the suspension is minor or deferred till next year, then the current crop of running backs should suffice for the season.
However, any time projected to be lost by Kamara could force the Saints to look at this position on cutdown day with either a waiver claim or late-round draft pick trade to add depth to the position. Smith, a heralded undrafted free agent, has not yet shown enough to unseat Jones Jr on the active roster.
The Saints are also high on Kirk Merritt, who was recently converted from WR to RB and makes for a perfect practice squad project.
New Orleans Saints – WIDE RECEIVER
WR – Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, Jarvis Landry, Marques Calloway, Deonte Harty, Tre’Quan Smith
Practice Squad – Dai’Jean Dixon, Rashid Shaheed
Credit to the Saints organization for taking a true position of weakness and turning it into one of the NFL’s deepest units in a span of one offseason. Much of the Saints’ success this season will depend on the health of Michael Thomas.
Olave has the look of a future star and the low-cost addition of Jarvis Landry gives the Saints multiple weapons for Winston this season. Tre’Quan Smith has not shown much this offseason, but his contract has an out after this season and may be one of the main reasons that he stays on the active roster.
New Orleans Saints – TIGHT END
TE – Adam Trautman, Taysom Hill, Juwan Johnson, Nick Vannett
Practice Squad – Lucas Krull
One major difference in the coaching philosophy of Dennis Allen is the commitment of Taysom Hill to the tight end position. While he still can be an asset in power run plays (and a smart late-round pick at TE because of this in fantasy football), Hill will now be able to focus solely on one position.
Most Saints fans are hoping to see a step-up in production from third-year TE Adam Trautman to go along with Hill. This may be a position where the Saints decide to keep only three players which would put the status of Johnson or Vannett in jeopardy, especially given the emergence of UDFA Lucas Krull.
New Orleans Saints – OFFENSIVE LINE
OL – Trevor Penning, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz, Ryan Ramczyk, James Hurst, Calvin Throckmorton, Landon Young
Practice Squad – Lewis Kidd, Derek Schweiger
With the draft selection of Trevor Penning and the emergence of James Hurst, the top six Saints offensive linemen are set in stone. Depth at the position may become an issue as several veterans brought in this offseason got injured. Lewis Kidd has impressed the Saints staff and could make the active roster if the New Orleans brass can make the numbers work.
Expect this to be a position where the Saints use the new rules allowing veterans on the practice squad for additional depth. Current Saints players such as Nick Martin and Josh Andrews, as well as veteran offensive linemen released from other teams, could fill such a role.
New Orleans Saints – DEFENSIVE LINE
DL – Cam Jordan, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle, Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Carl Granderson, Kentavius Street, Malcolm Roach
Practice Squad – Jordan Jackson, Albert Huggins
After the draft, the Saints made no secret of their love of massive Georgia DT Jordan Davis. Defensive tackle remains a position without true depth behind contract-year DT David Onyemata.
One option could be former Saints DT Malcolm Brown, recently released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. If not, this remains a position that the Saints could be active on cutdown day with a waiver claim if the right player became available. The defensive end position appears set, assuming Marcus Davenport returns to health in time for the upcoming season.
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New Orleans Saints – LINEBACKER
LB – Demario Davis, Pete Werner, Kaden Ellis, Jon Bostic, Chase Hansen, Eric Wilson
Practice Squad – Zack Baun
The Saints showed enough confidence in second-year LB Pete Werner to allow Kwon Alexander to leave in free agency this offseason. Veteran depth behind Davis and Werner was lacking, but the recent addition of Jon Bostic and his recent play provides an excellent veteran presence to a room lacking experience behind Saints leader Demario Davis.
The last spots for the linebacker position will be between Zack Baun, Chase Hansen, Eric Wilson, and Andrew Dowell. It wouldn’t be surprising if any of the four make the active roster, although the Saints value the impact of their backup linebackers on special teams, which could impact their final decision.
New Orleans Saints – DEFENSIVE BACK
DB – Marcus Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, Bradley Roby, Alontae Taylor, Marcus Maye, Tyrann Mathieu, CJ Gardner-Johnson, PJ Williams, Justin Evans, JT Gray
Practice Squad – Quenton Meeks, DaMarcus Fields
The Saints did a masterful job this offseason of replacing retiree Malcolm Jenkins and free agent Marcus Williams with Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. The Saints also have a multitude of versatile defensive backs who serve in both the cornerback and safety positions.
Justin Evans, a former Bucs second-round draft pick who has fought injuries throughout his career, finally appears healthy and could provide important safety depth behind the starters. The emergence of Paulson Adebo with star CB Marcus Lattimore, combined with veteran Bradley Roby and promising rookie Alontae Taylor, give the Saints one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints – SPECIAL TEAMS
Special Teams – Will Lutz, Blake Gillikin, Zack Wood
Outside of the return of starting QB Jameis Winston, the most important player returning to full health is Saints kicker Will Lutz. New Orleans went through several kickers unsuccessfully last year and having a reliable kicker will undoubtedly make a difference this season.
In addition, Blake Gillikin has proven to be more than an adequate replacement for Saints’ favorite Thomas Morstead, as evidenced by his 81-yard punt against the Packers in the last preseason game.
Yes, Saints fans. This is a roster that can compete not only for the division and playoffs…but hopefully one that has New Orleans envisioning a second Saints Super Bowl in their sights.