Analyzing the latest New Orleans Saints 53-man roster projection

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We’ve completed two of the New Orleans Saints’ three preseason games and the second wave of roster cuts, so it’s time to reevaluate the depth chart and forecast what it may look like in Week 1 of the regular season.

Decisions weren’t any easier this time around. Some players have helped their case. Others, well, haven’t. Let’s dig in to each position group, with my thoughts on every battle up and down the roster:

Offensive backfield

Roster cuts: QB Trevor Siemian, RB Latavius Murray, RB Devonta Freeman, FB Alex Armah Jr. Siemian didn't do anything in his preseason exposure so far to make me think he gets onto the Week 1 roster ahead of Book. He makes sense as someone to stash on the practice squad in case a random COVID-19 issue makes the top three quarterbacks unavailable. And, yeah: Winston is unequivocally my pick to start under center. He's earned it after competing with Hill every day for the last few months. Last time I left Murray off the projection in what felt like a reactionary move that I'd regret a week later. But he just hasn't looked good. He's lacked the juice we've grown to expect as a runner. While the offensive line has made little headway for him as blockers, he hasn't shown the ability to run through contact and fight for extra yards. Other, younger players are beginning to pass him up on the depth chart and I won't be shocked if he doesn't make the cut. I've been assuming Armah would win the fullback competition, but he may not be such an easy shoo-in. Smith has gotten more snaps than him on both offense and special teams through two preseason games, and Armah missed a few practices last week with an undisclosed injury. Smith is a former linebacker who converted to the position and seems to have handled that well while getting a lot of looks in the kicking game. I'll flip the script this time and see how it plays out.

Skills positions

  • WR: Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith, Ty Montgomery, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Easop Winston, Kawaan Baker

  • TE: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Nick Vannett, Garrett Griffin

Roster cuts: WR Kevin White, TE Ethan Wolf, WR Chris Hogan Hurt/Suspended: WR Michael Thomas (physically unable to play), WR Deonte Harris (expected two-week suspension) I really grappled with the decisions at wide receiver. Callaway and Montgomery are locks. Smith may be if the Saints believe his injury isn't going to keep him out of action much longer; if not, he'll go on injured reserve to start the season and be sidelined at least three weeks. For now I'll be an optimist and guess he's ready for Week 1. Humphrey and Baker feel safe between Humphrey's contributions on offense and their high snaps counts on special teams, where each receiver has seen action on at least four of the kicking units. That leaves Hogan and Winston on the bubble. Hogan has made plays throughout camp but I can't see the Saints rostering him if Smith is healthy. Winston has seen as many opportunities as the returner on punts and kickoffs (6) as all of his teammates combined, and he's a logical fit to replace Harris during his (still unofficial) two-game suspension to start the year. There are too many moving parts right now for me to say anything with certainty, so I'll roll the dice and guess that Hogan gets cut and returns a few weeks later, preventing his entire base salary from being guaranteed and saving some salary cap space, while Winston gets in as the brief fill-in for Harris. But the Week 3 depth chart would look different with Harris replacing Winston, Hogan possibly re-signing, and Thomas maybe returning ahead of schedule. As for the tight ends: I really wanted to cut down to three, but with Vannett unlikely to be healthy for the season opener and Trautman in flux I had to go with four and retain Griffin. Remember, players who go on injured reserve right now must stay there all season. Only players who first land on injured reserve after Week 1 are eligible to return in-season, and only after at least three weeks have passed. Vannett's timetable puts his earliest possible return to play at Week 1, but he could be sidelined until Week 3. I doubt he goes to injured reserve because of that. We don't know yet if Trautman will be considered for injured reserve but it sounds like he and the team are optimistic he won't miss much time.

Offensive line

  • T: Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, James Hurst, Landon Young

  • G: Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Calvin Throckmorton, Will Clapp

  • C: Erik McCoy

Roster cuts: C Christian Montano, G Caleb Benenoch, G J.R. Sweezy, T Jordan Mills, T Derrick Kelly Losing Ethan Greenidge to season-ending injured reserve hurts. He was a solid backup at both left tackle and right guard, and the team is going to miss that versatility. The good news is that Hurst can handle play all four guard and tackle spots if needed, though his main focus will probably be lining up as the sixth man in uneven fronts and backing up Armstead at left tackle. The ripple effect here is cutting a fifth tackle in Kelly, who hasn't been bad this summer. He should return to the practice squad if another team doesn't snap him up. I wish Sweezy had played well enough to hang around but he's been a weak link up front with a team-leading 4 pressures allowed in preseason. Throckmorton has outplayed him and should make the cut. Last week I chose to cut Young (thanks to Greenidge's flexibility) but he's been really impressive at left tackle in the two exhibition games, and I expect he and Throckmorton would compete to be the eighth active lineman each week behind the starting five, Hurst, and Clapp. The Saints have invested in this unit and are reaping the rewards, though their struggles to open running lanes consistently is curious. We should see improvement once they begin planning for opponents each week instead of running a vanilla offense.

Special teams

  • P: Blake Gillikin

  • K: Aldrick Rosas

  • LS: Zach Wood

Roster cuts: None Hurt/Suspended: K Wil Lutz should begin the regular season on injured reserve, from which he can return after resting at least three weeks. This position is all sewn up, unless Rosas' inconsistencies in practice and a shanked point-after attempt spur the Saints into bringing in tryout kickers soon. Which it should, given how many are beginning to hit the free agent market and waiver wire with cuts ongoing around the league. Oh, and congratulations to Gillikin on winning the punter competition. He's earned this opportunity.

Defensive line

  • DE: Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, Carl Granderson, Tanoh Kpassagnon

  • DT: Christian Ringo, Albert Huggins, Malcolm Roach, Shy Tuttle

Roster cuts: DT R.J. McIntosh, DT Josiah Bronson Hurt/Suspended: DT David Onyemata (six games) Jalen Dalton would have been the top interior lineman during Onyemata's suspension if not for his second season-ending triceps injury with the Saints. It's such a bummer considering how well he played this summer and the opportunity in front of him. Hopefully he returns to full health for another run next year. Either McIntosh or Bronson would make sense on the practice squad. Bronson has played more snaps than anyone else in the rotation but he's only bagged a single quarterback pressure. Sure his responsibilities have been different from his teammates but you'd expect a better level of production than that. Maybe he still needs more time. Could Kpassagnon be traded? I would think the Saints prefer to keep him in sweats on game days in case an injury hits the depth chart rather than cut him, but drafting Turner has made him superfluous. They should consider moving him if another team made a good offer, but I don't know that he gets on the field much once Turner is healthy. Jordan and Davenport have the top two spots locked down while Turner and Granderson are natural situational pass rushers. On the other hand, maybe the Saints slide Kpassagnon inside with Dalton out for the year and Onyemata unavailable.

Linebackers

  • M: Demario Davis, Chase Hansen

  • W: Kwon Alexander, Zack Baun, Pete Werner

  • S: Kaden Elliss

Roster cuts: LB Shaq Smith, LB Wynton McManis, LB Andrew Dowell This was so, so tough. All three of the linebackers I had to cut (plus Hansen) have gotten snaps on five of the six special teams units, and McManis and Dowell lead the team in reps played in the kicking game. It's been made clear to all four of them that their path to a roster spot is in the game's third phase. For now, I'm going with Hansen as the most-experienced of the bunch, but I won't be shocked if the Saints go in a different direction. It's a really tight competition. I'll be fascinated to see how the snaps play out once the season starts. Baun has looked surprisingly comfortable in Alexander's role next to Davis in the nickel defense. While Alexander is expected to get the starting nod once he's fully recovered from Achilles surgery, Baun is going to push him for snaps. Werner has some ground to make up in the meantime but the team remains very high on him. And remember that Werner was a top special teams player at Ohio State -- he's probably going to get some action in that role early on.

Defensive secondary

  • CB: Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Paulson Adebo, Grant Haley, P.J. Williams

  • S: Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, J.T. Gray

Roster cuts: S Jeff Heath, CB Natrell Jamerson, CB Bryan Mills, S Eric Burrell, S Deuce Wallace, S Bryce Thompson Would you believe that Thompson was the toughest cut here? He's started to separate himself from the other rookie safeties and it ultimately came down to whether I believe he can be a bigger player than Gray on special teams, which I'm out on. Gray is an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in that role for good reasons. Otherwise there isn't a path for Thompson to make the team, so I like him as a practice squad addition. Also, Heath immediately played often on special teams against Jacksonville after getting signed just days earlier. He's a candidate to re-sign after Week 1 so the Saints can save a bit of salary cap space, but I don't see him making the opening-day roster. Think of him as this year's D.J. Swearinger. Now let's circle back to the elephant in the room. The Saints need another cornerback, and this illustrates that problem well. Crawley is out of action with a minor injury, though he's expected to be ready for Week 1. Adebo has continued to play well with a couple of rookie mistakes here and there. But Haley looked the least-bad of the bunch late against the Jaguars. And Williams has spent most of his time playing free safety, though we know he's ready to step in at corner in a pinch as the team's dime back. Brian Poole would have been my choice ahead of Haley (with Williams a healthy scratch on game days) but he's out for the year with an injury. New Orleans should continue to monitor the waiver wire and try out free agents, and maybe keep calling other teams about a trade. Right now this is the position group I have the least confidence in. [lawrence-newsletter]

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