A look at the final(-ish) Saints 53-man roster

I was hoping to take a look at the Saints’ final 53-man roster this week, as part of the lead-in to the season opener against Tampa Bay, but as the team has been shuffling the roster this week even after final cutdowns, we’re going to look at a few more than the final 53 players. We’ll also skip past the very obvious positions; some of them will be exactly the same as I predicted last time around. I do need to take a moment, though, to express my frustration with this year’s draft. Not only did the Saints give up their 2019 first-round pick to move up for Marcus Davenport, but of their six remaining picks, only two made the active roster. This is deeply concerning given the players the team could have selected there, as well as their approach to the players they did select. As I mentioned at the time, Rick Leonard was regarded as undraftable by many teams; to use a fourth-round pick on a project who couldn’t even cut the 53-man roster is unacceptable. That pick could have been used– as it was in my mock draft— on Shaquem Griffin, who ended up going to the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round and will be starting for them on opening day at linebacker. If they wanted more pass-rushing help, this could have been a good time to take a chance on Josh Sweat or Maurice Hurst, first-round talents who fell due to injury or health concerns. Natrell Jamerson mostly played safety in college, and Kamrin Moore mostly played cornerback. The Saints tried to move Jamerson to cornerback and Moore to safety. Neither one stuck; they were both claimed by other teams after the Saints cut them (Jamerson by the Texans, Moore by the Giants), so their chances of making the Saints’ roster are finished. This is, all things considered, a very disappointing use of resources. If you don’t have the time or roster room to develop a player you’re trying to switch to a new position, don’t draft him. And if you’re that intent on moving players in the first place… it might be time to reconsider your approach. (Jaylen Samuels, a hybrid halfback/tight end, went to the Steelers one pick after Jamerson; he seems like the kind of player built for Sean Payton’s offensive creativity.) Boston Scott, on the other hand, looked every bit as good as I hoped he would, and even made the initial 53-man cut. He was, however, released this week to make room for another offensive lineman; he did clear waivers to join the practice squad, and I expect he’ll be called up again at some point. Still, though: That’s four draft picks between rounds 4-6 that did not make the active roster at all, while other teams are finding contributors or even starters. That’s not a good way to build a team. I increasingly worry that the Saints’ 2017 draft was even more a product of luck than I previously expected. (Of course, it had to be to some degree– Marshon Lattimore was a top-3 prospect in the draft and shouldn’t have been available at #11; Ryan Ramczyk wasn’t even the original pick at #32. Still, though, results like this suggest that maybe a breakthrough in talent evaluation by Jeff Ireland wasn’t the real cause of the team’s success.) Onward to the actual roster, as well as a few notes on how it still might yet change: QUARTERBACK Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill Exactly as predicted. (Not a real challenge after the Bridgewater trade.) RUNNING BACK / FULLBACK Alvin Kamara, Mike Gillislee, Zach Line (FB) also relevant: Mark Ingram, Boston Scott, Jonathan Williams The Saints decided they weren’t happy with their backups behind Ingram (currently suspended) and Kamara, so while they retained Scott on the initial 53-man roster, they cut Williams. Eventually, they signed Gillislee after he was let go by the Patriots. Trey Edmunds was also on the roster but released to make room for the offensive line moves; Pittsburgh claimed him (where he’ll be joining brother and first-round pick at safety Terrell), so he won’t be coming back. It’s inconceivable that the team would go into a regular-season game with only two tailbacks on roster, though, so I’d expect them to promote Scott or Williams again before Sunday, depending on what they do at offensive line. WIDE RECEIVER Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr Despite all the seeming indicators that Brandon Tate had won the return job, I (and many others) were wrong. Lewis and Carr both made the team, which suggests the Saints see more long-term potential for them that justifies keeping them around. (Lewis seems like he’ll get first crack at return duties.) TIGHT END Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold I have to admit I slept on Arnold a bit this preseason. The team seems to like his long-term potential, and as a former wide receiver, he could eventually be a serious pass-catching threat for the team. (That’s him in the header photo.) Watson and Hill were clear choices. OFFENSIVE LINE First cut: Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Jermon Bushrod, Will Clapp, Cameron Tom Since added: Josh LeRibeus, Michael Ola I was right that Tom would make the team over LeRibeus; I was wrong that the Saints’ draft investment in Leonard would guarantee him a roster spot. Andrus Peat and Jermon Bushrod both missed some practices this week, which is the most likely explanation for the signings of LeRibeus and Ola. It’s not yet clear whether Peat and Bushrod will be healthy enough to go Sunday (though Bushrod’s missed practice was not injury related according to the report). I suspect that we’ll find out more on Saturday; one of the two recently signed linemen (or even Bushrod) will be released to give the team nine for Sunday, and one of the running backs (Scott or Williams; I’d guess Scott given that Williams and Gillislee’s skill sets overlap more) will be promoted back to the 53-man roster. DEFENSIVE LINE Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, Alex Okafor, Marcus Davenport, Trey Hendrickson, David Onyemata, Mitchell Loewen, Taylor Stallworth No real surprises here. The most interesting wrinkle is that the Saints were saved a difficult decision at the bottom of the roster when the Browns offered them a seventh-round pick for Devaroe Lawrence. Getting a pick for an undrafted free agent is always nice, and Stallworth played well enough that the Saints were comfortable keeping him instead. LINEBACKER Demario Davis, A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone, Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson Nate Stupar made the initial 53-man cut but was released when the Saints signed Gillislee. They’d hoped to find a trade partner but had no luck. Though he’s a valuable special teamer, the Saints obviously feel they can make that up with their talent at other positions. DEFENSIVE BACK Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Kurt Coleman, Ken Crawley, Patrick Robinson, Vonn Bell, P.J. Williams, Arthur Maulet, Justin Hardee, Chris Banjo, J.T. Gray As discussed earlier, neither Jamerson nor Moore made the team. The team did keep eleven defensive backs, which I thought was a possibility but which still seemed like a long shot. P.J. Williams made the team in a bit of a surprise; presumably he’ll be the next man up at outside corner if Lattimore or Crawley is hurt. The final four on the roster are important special teams players who may also find their way on the field for defensive snaps. J.T. Gray was completely off my radar as an undrafted free agent at a position where the team had significant depth both in the veteran category and in drafted rookies, but his strong special-teams play earned him a roster spot. Whether he finds more playing time than that remains to be seen. SPECIALISTS Thomas Morstead, Wil Lutz, Zach Wood No surprises or changes here; this unit is as stable as it’s ever been during the Payton era. The Saints kick off Sunday at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers– minus suspended quarterback Jameis Winston– as 9.5-point favorites. Hopefully next week we’ll have a little bit of an in-depth look at someone who stood out in the Saints’ victory. (And the team will have some explaining to do if they don’t win.)