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Saints 53-man roster prediction

With a deep roster and some talented additions, the Saints have some tough choices to make by the Saturday afternoon deadline

The final preseason game has been played; the team’s gotten every chance it’s going to get it to look at players. Cutdown time is Saturday, 3 PM Central. There’s always a chance New Orleans picks up a player from another team’s cuts– they did it with Austin Carr last year; Rafael Bush landed in New Orleans for a four-year stint this way– but trying to predict something like that seems well out of my purview.

Without further ado, my semi-informed 53-man roster prediction:

QUARTERBACK (3)
Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill

Brees is a no-brainer, and Bridgewater joins him there after Wednesday’s trade, making Tom Savage expendable. Hill gets the third QB spot largely because of his value on special teams. (At one point I would’ve called him a developmental QB for the future, but Bridgewater is more than two years younger than him, despite entering the league three years earlier.)

RUNNING BACK (3)
Alvin Kamara, Boston Scott, Jonathan Williams

All indicators are that Williams has seized the lead to replace Mark Ingram during the latter’s suspension. (Ingram will of course make the team, but while he’s suspended, he won’t count toward the 53-man roster.) Kamara will be the lead back in Ingram’s absence, and Scott has shown enough to at least make the roster, perhaps even to get some change-of-pace work during the season.

FULLBACK (2)
Zach Line, Trey Edmunds

Edmunds is now listed as a fullback, although his main role is special teams anyway. It’s difficult to picture the team carrying two fullbacks, but Line’s role is entirely different from Edmunds’. (It is possible Edmunds is cut if the team feels like it can replace his special teams production, but he was one of the top performers for the unit last year.)

WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, Brandon Tate

In case you didn’t hear, Cameron Meredith is back:

The top four receivers were never in doubt here. Tate seems to have locked up the return man job and so he gets the last spot. It’s just a numbers game for Austin Carr and Tommylee Lewis, unfortunately.

TIGHT END (3)
Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Garrett Griffin

I was tempted to go with only two tight ends to balance having two fullbacks, but having three tight ends with varying skill sets comes up surprisingly often in the Saints’ offense. Michael Hoomanawanui was the blocking tight end standout for a long time, but he’s been injured all preseason and the beat writers seem to think his roster spot is in jeopardy. Undrafted rookie Deon Yelder was a popular dark-horse candidate to make the team, though he’s had a quiet preseason. Griffin seems like the most likely choice.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Jermon Bushrod, Rick Leonard, Will Clapp, Cameron Tom

The projected starting five returns. Bushrod takes Senio Kelemete’s spot as the versatile sixth lineman. Rick Leonard has received some positive early reviews– a relief for those of us wondering how he became the Saints’ fourth-round pick– but he would make the team even if he hadn’t; most teams won’t put a high draft pick out there to be claimed by another team even if the player struggles or is a redshirt project. Clapp, the seventh-rounder, makes the team on merit, having looked well enough at center and guard in preseason to earn a backup role. The last spot came to Tom and Josh LeRibeus; the latter is more valuable now in how the team occasionally uses him as a sixth lineman, but Tom’s potential upside as a future starting center makes him the more valuable player to hold, with Bushrod being a likely candidate for the Saints’ jumbo package.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Cameron Jordan, Alex Okafor, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Tyeler Davison, Marcus Davenport, Trey Hendrickson, Mitchell Loewen, Devaroe Lawrence

The top seven were locks. (The top-six snap-getters along the defensive line in 2017, plus a first-round draft pick.) Those final spots were up for grabs in a camp competition, and Loewen (who likely would’ve made the final 53 last year had he not suffered an injury at the end of preseason) and Lawrence have been the reported standouts. (The team could even go with eight linemen, in theory.) Other possibilities include 2017 sixth-rounder Al-Quadin Muhammad (a likely practice squad candidate), undrafted rookie tackle Taylor Stallworth, or Jay Bromley, a third-round pick of the Giants in 2014 who never lived up to his draft position.

LINEBACKER (6)
Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson, Nathan Stupar

Davis and Anzalone are the obvious locks. Klein hasn’t looked very good this preseason and might even be a trade candidate, but given Anzalone’s injury history, may be a valuable player to have around to fill in if Anzalone gets hurt. Te’o performed better than expected when injuries forced him into a bigger role last year. Robertson and Stupar are core special teamers, and Robertson has proven he can fill in capably enough when injuries or poor performance warrant it. (Stupar’s had quite the preseason, too.)

Jayrone Elliott is a long shot. I’m not sure whether to slot Hau’oli Kikaha at defensive end or linebacker, and that sort of speaks to the problem with the 2015 second-round pick: He may be versatile, but it’s not clear that he does anything in particular well enough to justify keeping him.

DEFENSIVE BACK (10)
Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Kurt Coleman, Ken Crawley, Patrick Robinson, Vonn Bell, Natrell Jamerson, Chris Banjo, Justin Hardee, Arthur Maulet

Much as I didn’t want the team to cut a draft pick, I just couldn’t find room for Kamrin Moore. The team certainly could make that room if they so wanted by dropping to eight players on the defensive line, or dropping a fullback or tight end.

You can find most of my reasoning in the article I wrote about the position. I would like to single out The Other Marcus Williams, who has actually performed quite well since signing with the team and has a reasonable shot of making the roster. I just couldn’t figure out who the right cut would be– Lattimore, Crawley, Robinson, and Jamerson definitely aren’t going anywhere, and Hardee and Maulet have made too many plays in the preseason and on special teams last year to want to let them go. (That said, The Other Marcus Williams or Moore might make the team over Maulet.) P.J. Williams, like Kikaha, is another high pick from 2015 that just doesn’t seem to have a role on this squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Thomas Morstead, Wil Lutz, Zach Wood

No surprises here. Morstead returns as the second-longest tenured Saint behind Brees. Lutz enters his third year with the team and has the leg strength and accuracy to finally give the Saints some stability at the position. Wood was a late signing last year after Jon Dorenbos, the intended long snapper acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery and forced him to retire just three days before the regular season opener in Minnesota. None of the three have competition.

Next time: Perhaps a look at the final 53-man roster and a preview of the season or of week 1. We’re not too far away now, folks.

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