New Orleans Saints training camp has been underway for nearly two weeks and while there’s still all of preseason to come, some players are already distinguishing themselves in their respective position battles. While many starters will reprise their 2017 roles, there are still some fierce battles for part-time and backup spots.
Below is a projection of how the Saints 53-man roster could look following the September 1st deadline for roster cuts. An updated edition will be posted following the Saints second and fourth preseason games.
New Orleans Saints 2018 Roster Projection: Training Camp Edition
Brees will start his 13th consecutive season as Saints quarterback, and there’s a three-way battle for the backup role. A lot of hype surrounds second-year passer Taysom Hill due to his unique athleticism, but his early camp play suggests he still has a long way to go. Reports on undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett‘s performances have been similar.
Former Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage has more consistently completed passes in camp. He comes to New Orleans with a damaged reputation after underperforming in place of the injured Deshaun Watson last season. However, Savage brings NFL starting experience which neither Hill or Barrett can offer.
Hill is one of the few quarterbacks in recent NFL history willing to play a meaningful role on special teams. Last year he covered kicks, and now he’s competing for the holder position, which could open up a variety of fake field goal plays. Hill’s special teams contributions could prompt New Orleans to keep Hill as a third quarterback, even though they historically keep just two. A strong preseason performance could go a long way towards Hill’s NFL future.
Mark Ingram (suspension)
Ingram must serve a four-game PED suspension, so he’ll start the season inactive and won’t count towards the final 53. That means several running backs are fighting for the chance to help Kamara carry the load early in the season. Along with Scott, West, and Vereen, veterans Jonathan Williams, and Trey Edmunds are competing for a roster spot.
Scott has so far turned heads at camp and he can play a similar role to Kamara. West seems to be the most physical runner on the bubble, giving him a strong advantage. In 2016, He posted 774 rushing yards at 4.0 yards per carry with the Baltimore Ravens. This is what New Orleans will need most early in the season; a physical back that can consistently pick up yardage. Kamara and potentially Scott can handle the more nuanced aspects of the Saints running back usage.
Typically the Saints start the season with four halfbacks and a fullback. Vereen gets the final halfback spot for now due to his seven years of experience, but this position battle will remain murky until the backs see some preseason action. Meanwhile, Line is coming off a solid 2017 season and there’s no other notable fullback on the roster.
This group probably won’t change much in the coming weeks. Thomas is a blossoming NFL star while Ginn is coming off the best receiving season of his NFL career. Off-season additions Smith and Meredith are also solid bets. Smith has been the clear offensive star of training camp thus far.
Out of these five, Lewis faces the biggest challenge. For what it’s worth he’s been an utter superstar the last two preseasons, sneaking onto the roster in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, Lewis disappears once the season starts. The Saints brain trust will no doubt keep that in mind when making cuts at this position. His experience at kick returner will help him make his case, but that role is currently up for grabs.
Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate were brought in last week and have already seen a lot of action. Both face a difficult path to the roster, but Floyd was once a highly productive receiver and Tate could serve as a returner. Austin Carr impressed with the New England Patriots last preseason and has consistently made plays in camp. Undrafted free agent Keith Kirkwood has been another strong performer thus far.
Watson was brought back to New Orleans to start, while Hill has been a valuable number two tight end since 2013. Both are safe bets for the 53-man roster, but the third spot is wide open. Michael Hoomanawanui won this spot in 2017 due to his blocking ability, but the Saints needs might be different this season.
Coby Fleener, who departed New Orleans after the 2017 season, was not a trusted run blocker, necessitating that the Saints keep Hoomanawanui on hand rather than a receiving tight end. With Watson (also a great blocker) now the projected starter, New Orleans may decide to keep a receiving tight end instead.
Hoomanawanui was on the PUP list until last Wednesday, giving Arnold and undrafted rookie Deon Yelder a head start. Arnold also went undrafted in 2017 and transitioned from wide receiver to tight end last off-season, but spent the entire season on IR. So far, Arnold has impressed onlookers and appears to have a slight edge over Yelder. Hoomanawanui should still be considered the favorite, but Arnold is on the right track.
The Saints starting five shouldn’t change, and Bushrod was signed to be the versatile backup that Senio Kelemete had been. LeRibeus should return after filling in nicely at guard last season. The final spot will be difficult to determine until we see the lineman in preseason action. Rookie Rick Leonard seems like a logical choice due to his fourth-round pick status, but he first needs to prove he was worth the pick after being selected far earlier than projected.
There are several promising linemen that could win spots over LeRibeus and Leonard. Cameron Tom was getting a lot of starting reps early in camp but has been injured since day four. Landon Turner made a strong push for the roster last season but ended up on the practice squad with Tom. There’s also seventh-round pick Will Clapp, who has seen more first-team reps recently.
New Orleans could keep less than six on the edge, but the amount of talent here will make that difficult. Muhammad and Kikaha’s spots are the variables. Behind them, there’s George Johnson, a surprise contributor late last season, and Woodrow Hamilton, who’s had some good moments in camp. This position battle will become much clearer after some preseason action.
The Saints may keep only the first three, but Loewen is having another strong camp after making the roster as an underdog last season. He also has the versatility to play on the edge. Another strong candidate for a potential fourth spot is Jay Bromley. The long-time New York Giants contributor has had a strong showing in recent camp practices.
This could be the most clear-cut position on the roster. All except Davis were on the roster last season, and no one outside of these six has posed a threat as of now. It’s worth noting that Kikaha has taken a lot of snaps at linebacker during camp, indicating that the defensive end position isn’t his only path to the roster.
The fifth spot is likely the only tentative one. Maulet has so far made the most plays of those fighting for that spot, but he faces tough competition. There’s the enigmatic De’vante Harris, who shined in camp in 2016 and 2017 but has performed poorly in regular season action. So far he’s been a standout again this summer. Rookie Kamrin Moore has been out with a hamstring injury since day five of camp, but he still has time to recover and make his case.
There won’t be much of a battle at safety. Jamerson should make the roster at either cornerback or safety. Banjo has stood out most among the bubble players and he doesn’t seem to have much competition. His special teams value should seal the deal. J.T. Gray stood out early in camp but has missed several days with an unknown injury. Justin Hardee, another valuable special teams contributor, could sneak onto the roster with a couple of good preseason performances.
Not much to sort out here. Lutz and Morstead were excellent in 2017, and there’s no sign that New Orleans is unsatisfied with Wood.