Things are becoming clearer after two preseason games.
It’s becoming easier to see which players are pulling ahead in the battle to make the 53-man roster, and which players need to do a little more to stick with the New Orleans Saints.
However, even if things are becoming sorted out at the top, there’s still movement to be made at the bottom of the roster. And that, outside of determining the few battles remaining for starting jobs, is what the coaching staff will be looking for in the final two preseason games.
“It’s ongoing and it is why we have two more,” coach Sean Payton said. “You’re beginning to gather some information in that process. You begin to gather something each week as you go through a week of practice.”
A conservative look of the roster shows 24 players as locks to make the team, and 11 more categorized as “good bets.” The rest are either on the fence or long shots. The purpose of this method of categorization is to determine which players are true locks and which are not. For instance, it seems impossible that Brandin Cooks would be cut. It would be surprising if Brandon Coleman was cut, but it’s more fathomable that something could happen that he ends up off the roster. That’s why Cooks is a lock and Coleman is listed as a good bet.
Rosters have to be cut to 75 players by Sept. 1. The first 53-man roster has to be set by Sept. 5.
Quarterbacks (2 or 3)
Locks: Drew Brees
Good bet: Garrett Grayson
On the fence: Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin
Overview: The Saints are almost certain to keep Brees, Grayson as a developmental player, and one of the other guys to serve as the backup. Any hope of Grayson being in a position to win out over the other guys likely went out the window after he struggled against the Patriots last week.
The battle between McCown and Griffin has been tight. Griffin has completed 75 percent of his passes in camp to McCown’s 70, and might have a slight edge through the first two preseason games, but McCown has taken snaps ahead of Griffin. The veteran McCown might be a better tutor for the developing Grayson
Running backs (4 or 5)
Locks: Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller
Good bet: Khiry Robinson
On the fence: Marcus Murphy, Tim Hightower, FB Austin Johnson, FB Erik Lorig
Long shot: Edwin Baker, FB Toben Oporum
Overview: Injuries to Spiller and wide receiver/return man Jalen Saunders have created opportunity for Murphy to move off the bubble and into a position to claim a roster spot. If camp were to break today, he’d likely be on the roster. He’s the best returner on the team and can serve as depth as the third-down back. He appears to be well ahead of Hightower.
The battle at fullback is still carrying on, though Johnson appears to be separating from the pack. He’s not as polished as a receiver as Lorig, but he’s a better blocker and has good enough hands to catch some passes when needed.
Baker has had some positive moments in camp but it would be a surprise if he cracks the roster.
Wide receivers (5 or 6)
Locks: Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston
Good bet: Brandon Coleman
On the fence: Joe Morgan, Josh Morgan, Seantavius Jones, Nick Toon, Willie Snead
Long shots: Jalen Saunders, R.J. Harris, Lance Lewis
Overview: At the top of the depth chart Cooks appears to on the verge of becoming one of the more dangerous wide receivers in the NFL and Colston should continue to be Colston. The Saints are hoping Coleman can lock down the No. 3 spot, and while he’s looked the part in practices, it’s yet to translate to games.
Everything else is up for grabs.
Joe Morgan has long been a favorite of coach Sean Payton, and he was brought back this offseason after being suspended and released last season. He has good chemistry with Brees on deep passes and his ability as a blocker is somewhat underrated. Josh Morgan is also a capable blocker and brings a different set of skills to the group, as he’s more of a possession receiver than anyone else on the roster.
Jones has faded throughout camp. He could be kept around as a developmental player, but another year on the practice squad would not be a surprise. Despite a strong camp, Willie Snead is going to need to finish strong if he wants to make the roster.
Toon had the inside edge on the No. 3 receiver spot entering camp, but he failed to shut the door and is now reportedly battling an ankle injury.
Tight ends (3 or 4)
Locks: Ben Watson, Josh Hill
On the fence: Orson Charles
Long shots: Alex Smith
Overview: It’s been a revolving door at tight end after the top three, with players cycling in and out either due to injury or inability to perform.
Orson will be suspended for the first game of the season, so Smith or someone not currently on the team could break camp with the team, but it’s unlikely either will stick around for long. Charles has performed well in camp and has easily been the best of the rest.
Offensive line (8 or 9)
Locks: Max Unger, Zach Strief, Andrus Peat, Tim Lelito, Jahri Evans, Terron Armstead
Good bet: Senio Kelemete
On the fence: Nick Becton, Mike McGlynn, Bryce Harris, Sean Hickey
Long shots: Cyril Lemon, Mike Golic Jr., Antonio Johnson, Cole Manhart
Overview: Based off what we’ve seen during camp, Becton should have an edge over Harris should the team decide to carry an additional tackle behind Peat.
Off the one-on-ones we saw and charted, Harris posted a record of 10-19. Becton finished 11-9-2. That should give him the inside lane, but the Saints like Harris and he stuck around last year. It’s too soon to count him out and he was solid in pass protection in both preseason games.
McGlynn and Harris are fighting it out for a potential interior depth position. This is another one where it looks like there should be a clear leader. McGlynn has a record of 9-7-1 in one-on-ones, while Hickey is 12-16-2.
Johnson (12-9-1) could be a candidate for the practice squad.
Defensive line (8 or 9)
Locks: John Jenkins, Kevin Williams, Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks
Good bets: Tyeler Davison
On the fence: Kaleb Eulls, Ashaad Mabry, Bobby Richardson, Tavaris Barnes, Parys Haralson
Long shots: Markus Pierce-Brewster, David Hunter
Overview: This position group remains wide open, with spots up for grabs at both end and tackle.
Richardson was an early riser in camp, and has posted a 14-16 record in the one-on-one pass-rush drill in camp, but hasn’t been as effective in game. He’s only has one pressure in the preseason and he failed to finish a sack against the Patriots.
Barnes is another interesting prospect. The undrafted rookie has come on strong in recent weeks, earning some first-team reps in subpackages, and has shown decent speed off the edge and the ability to bull rush. His 6-6-2 record in one-on-one pass-rush drills is also notable.
Mabry also flashed early in camp, and is a contender at the depleted defensive tackle position, but he didn’t provide much interior push in the first preseason game and had some issues against the run in the second. Eulls also flashed in the first game but was susceptible against the run in the second preseason game.
The veteran Haralson remains a safe option.
Linebacker (6 to 8)
Locks: Hau’oli Kikaha, Stephone Anthony, David Hawthorne
Good bets: Dannell Ellerbe, Ramon Humber
On the fence: Davis Tull, Ronald Powell, Henry Coley, Anthony Spencer, Kasim Edebali
Long shots: Chris Young, Jerry Franklin, Justin Anderson
Overview: Injuries cloud out this position group.
Ellerbe, who might be the best coverage linebacker on the team, would likely be a lock if he weren’t battling a toe injury. Humber also should be safe assuming whatever injury has him sidelined isn’t serious.
Tull missed most of camp while recovering from surgery and has looked good in his limited exposure. He flashes a good first step and appears to have some solid pass-rush moves. He’ll need to show he can provide something in coverage at the Sam linebacker position. The rookie should make the team.
Powell is also out with an injury and appeared to be sliding down the depth chart before becoming injured.
Spencer and Edebali provide some versatility in that they can play with their hands on the ground in subpackages. Spencer had a good debut against the Ravens but has been missing in action since. He was surprisingly quick and should be able to provide something to pass rush if he can get healthy. Edebali had a strong start to camp but has faded a little in recent weeks.
Coley is likely a candidate for the practice squad. The undrafted rookie has surprised with some solid coverage skills and has been decent against the run.
Defensive backs (10 or 11)
Locks: Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro, Brandon Browner, Rafael Bush
Good bets: Delvin Breaux, Jairus Byrd, P.J. Williams, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
On the fence: Kyle Wilson, Damian Swann, Vinnie Sunseri, Pierre Warren, Kenny Phillips, Jamarca Sanford
Long shots: Brian Dixon, Travis Manning, Terrence Frederick
Overview: Byrd and Breaux are probably locks at this point. They simply can’t end up there at this point due to injuries.
For Byrd, there’s too much unknown about his situation to be confident that he’ll be able to avoid an injured list at the start of the season.
Breaux appears to be the real deal. Unfortunately, he got hurt in the first preseason game. We need to see what he’s done in practice against live bullets before he becomes a lock.
The same goes for Williams. He’s a third-round pick, and should make the team, but we haven’t seen much of him due to injury.
Jean-Baptiste is on the fringes between being a good bet and on the fence. He’s a 2014 second-round pick, and has had a decent camp, but he struggled against the Patriots. There’s too much competition at this position to have players making it based on draft position.
Wilson appeared to be falling out of things. He bounced back with a strong performance against the Patriots. He can’t afford to slip over the next two weeks.
Swann is probably the closest to being a good bet in that category. He’s played well during camp, both covering the slot and the outside. However, if there’s a numbers game, he could end up on the chopping block.
Warren, Sunseri, Phillips, and Sanford are in a battle for the final spot or two at safety. Sunseri has produced the most turnovers of the group. Bush’s ability to play both safety spots could make this one spot.