With the jockeying for roster spots and jobs getting off the blocks with this week’s rookie minicamp, on an individual level, everything now becomes about depth chart.
The New Orleans Saints have spent the offseason shaking things up, so the certainty that surrounded many positions last season does not exist this time around. Some spots are set — such as quarterback, cornerback, and both safety positions — but some positions are wide open. It wouldn’t be a shock if rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony claims a starting role, and P.J. Williams could figure into the mix at cornerback.
But it’s not all about who is at the top of the chart. There should be several other good battles for jobs lower on the roster.
Going back to cornerback, after Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner and Williams, there is a group of players competing for the final few jobs. Will Stanley Jean-Baptiste earn one? Will Canadian Football League import Delvin Breaux impress? These, among many other questions, need to be answered.
And it will take a few months before we know any of those answers. But, heading into minicamps, here’s a guess at how things currently stack up:
Notes: As was the case last year, one of the more intriguing position battles on the roster will take place between McCown and Griffin for the top backup job. McCown won the job last year, forcing Griffin to the practice squad. With Grayson’s spot on the roster secure, Griffin will have to win the job outright. His spot will no longer be secure because of potential.
Two-down running back
Notes: This position is locked down with Ingram and Robinson at the top. Baker spent last season on the practice squad and will need to show incredible growth to move up the depth chart.
Third-down running back
Notes: The title on this is a bit misleading. Spiller will figure into the mix at running back on early downs as both a runner and receiver. But these running backs fill a different role than the others, so the separation is important since players will be competing for different jobs. Hightower is looking to resurrect his career, and Murphy, a seventh-round pick, brings some intrigue with his ability to make things happen in space.
Notes: This quietly could be one of the better battles on the roster. Johnson held down the post early in the season while Lorig was recovering from a leg injury. Once back, it took Lorig some time to get his legs beneath him and settle into the offense. Johnson could push him this time around.
Notes: It’s going to be up to the kids to step up and fill the voids created by the trades of tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills. The Saints have voiced confidence in Coleman’s and Jones’ ability to do just that, and Toon made strides late last season. When Colston kicks inside in three-receiver sets, it will be up to one of these guys to fill his spot on the outside.
Notes: The Saints are going to need Cooks to emerge as a top receiver and have someone else step up in this spot. Morgan has the potential to be that guy, and maybe this is the year Tanner finally puts it together. Harris, an undrafted free agent, racked up yards at New Hampshire.
Notes: This could be broken into two groups, with Hill at the top of one branch and Watson on the other. Hill brings a lot of potential to the position, and Watson remains steady. Behind them, there are many questions.
Notes: This is one of the more interesting positions on the roster. Does Peat serve as a swing tackle, or do one of the tackles kick inside and play guard? Sean Payton has said he sees Peat as a tackle, so Armstread or Strief could be the one to move if New Orleans chooses to go that direction. Armstead’s athleticism could be intriguing on the inside in the running game, but he has shown tremendous growth in his current role.
Notes: It was a bit surprising that the Saints didn’t draft a guard after trading Ben Grubbs, so this is Lelito’s job to lose.
Mike Golic Jr.
Notes: New Orleans locked down this position by acquiring Unger in the Graham trade. His presence brings a stabilizing force to the middle of the line that was lacking last year.
Notes: This position is a bit thin, but someone like Kelemete could be called upon to serve as depth at both guard positions. Lemon, an undrafted free agent, could be someone to keep an eye on.
Notes: Strief enters camp with the upper hand, but he could find himself in a battle with Peat come training camp.
Notes: Setting the depth chart for the defense can be a bit confusing since some of these players will kick inside to defensive tackle in subpackages, where they’ll be competing for jobs. Davison, a fifth-round pick, likely will make his biggest impact as a defensive tackle in the nickel defense. Guys like Junior Galette, who put their hand in the dirt in subpackages, also could be classified as defensive ends. With the inexperience at these positions, there’s an opportunity for some of the young guys to step up and claim snaps.
Notes: Again, this exercise is using the base defense, which leaves this group of players at nose tackle. Someone like Davison, who played the nose at Fresno State, could figure in the mix here.
Notes: This position could become more interesting if Kikaha has the ability on the strong side. Payton voiced confidence in his ability to do so after the draft, noting that he played in this role at Washington. If not, this will be Haralson’s job to lose.
Notes: Kikaha is listed in two places since his role is uncertain. With the additions of Kikaha and Spencer, the Saints should have a good amount of pass rush out of this position. In nickel packages, two of these players could take the field, with Jordan and Hicks moving inside to create an interior push.
Notes: Hawthorne might sit atop the depth chart heading into offseason camps, but the Saints have to be hoping their first-round pick, Anthony, edges him out. Anthony brings a level of athleticism to the position that was lacking last season.
Notes: If Anthony wins the job at MIKE, Hawthorne likely would battle Ellerbe for the starting job here. Ellerbe needs to prove he’s worthy of this spot after fighting through some things during his time with the Dolphins.
Notes: If the Saints were fielding a team today, it’s likely that Jean-Baptiste would crack the roster. He was a second-round pick last season, and the team will give him every opportunity to win a job, which is why he’s so high on the depth chart. There should be a lot of movement here. If Breaux is as good as advertised, he should jump up the depth chart.
Notes: For the sake of better understanding, it’s important to have a different chart for the slot cornerback position since someone could win a job based on their ability to man this spot. Williams appears to have the goods to play this position. If he fails to lock it down, Wilson would be the frontrunner.
Notes: The Saints are set at this position with Vaccaro at the top.
Notes: Seeing how Byrd comes back from his knee injury will be one of the more interesting stories to follow this offseason.
Notes: Another kicker battle? Another kicker battle.