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The Saints have always done well in recruiting undrafted free agents. Rookies who fell through the cracks and weren’t selected among the annual 256 NFL draft picks have, historically, done well for themselves in New Orleans. Their track record speaks for itself: running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory each made solid careers for themselves, as did defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, guard Tim Lelito, and tight end Josh Hill. If he hadn’t racked up off-field issues and injuries, Junior Galette would rank among the team’s best-ever pass rushers.
Notable undrafted players on the roster today include return man Deonte Harris and special teams ace J.T. Gray (both of them All-Pros and Pro Bowlers), promising defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach, and wide receivers Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Defensive end Carl Granderson is also working hard with a big opportunity ahead of him.
But there’s the rub, and the reason so many undrafted rookies will be eyeing the Saints in 2021. The roster has been thinned by salary cap cuts and free agent departures. Right now, the Saints only have 60 players under contract for the 2021 season — tied with the Buccaneers for the second-fewest in the entire NFL. Only the Falcons have less to work with in 55 contracts.
With starting jobs open for competition at cornerback, linebacker, receiver, and defensive tackle, among other spots, the Saints are set up to bring in their largest undrafted rookie class in years. They’ll need all the help they can get with 30 roster spots to fill before training camp. And don’t sweat the salary cap implications; these low-cost deals rarely register on the accounting books anyway.
So it’s clear there’s a legacy of diamonds shaking themselves out of the rough to shine in New Orleans. Who could be their next undrafted find?