Some of the questions many had about the Saints are turning into answers.
It looks like Ryan Ramczyk can able to handle the job at left tackle while Terron Armstead is out with a shoulder injury. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara will be a fun player to watch. And Marcus Williams, if he stays on this track, is going to be hard to keep off the field.
But other questions, such as what happens at linebacker, remain as murky as ever. Part of that is due to trying to handicap things during a live practice, which is difficult to do. The other issue is that the team hasn't settled on anything at that position. The players, where they're lining up, and how they rotate through the the lineup changes on a daily basis, making it impossible to get a read on how things are shaking out.
But, as the Saints get ready to open up the preseason this week against the Cleveland Browns, some clarity is starting to form. There are 28 players, at least in our estimation, who should be considered locks to make the team. These are the players where it would be an absolute shock to see their name appear on the list of cuts. Everyone else is either considered a near lock, on the fence, or long shots to make the team.
Here's a look at how things appear to be shaking out:
Quarterbacks (2 or 3)
Locks: Drew Brees
Near lock: Chase Daniel
On the fence: Garrett Grayson
Long shot: Ryan Nassib
The big question at quarterback will be if the team carries two or three players. If it’s two, Brees and Daniel have a healthy lead on the field. If it goes to three, it looks like Grayson should be the last man in. He’s looked better this offseason, but he’ll need a strong preseason to prove that he’s worth protecting and developing for the future. That’s no sure thing after he was cut last season and spent the year on the practice squad.
Running backs (4 to 6)
Locks: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, John Kuhn
On the fence: Daniel Lasco, Travaris Cadet
Long shots: Trey Edmunds, John Robinson-Woodgett, Darius Victor
You could argue cases for Lasco and Cadet to make the team. For Lasco, who has looked decent running the ball, his path to the roster might again be through special teams, an area where the team must focus on after all the mishaps last season. For Cadet, his spot might depend on how quickly Kamara gets up to speed as a receiver and in pass protection. If he’s behind in either category, Cadet might stick, so the offense doesn’t have to make major changes in how it operates. There's also this: Having Kamara and Cadet on the field could help create some mismatches.
Wide receivers (4 to 6)
Locks: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Willie Snead
Near locks: Brandon Coleman
On the fence: Corey Fuller, Travin Dural, Jake Lampman, Tommylee Lewis
Long shots: Rashad Lawrence, Jordan Williams-Lambert
This is going to be an interesting battle. Coleman separated from the pack during the first week of camp, but there are no guarantees after the top three players. Fuller has made some big plays, and Lampman has flashed at times and provides value on special teams. But among the players in the third tier, Lewis has made the most plays as of late. He’ll need to show that he can do it in game situations, with live hitting, to make the team. One thing that could hurt Lewis is that his special teams value is negated a bit with the presence of Ginn and Kamara.
Tight ends (3 or 4)
Locks: Coby Fleener
Near locks: Michael Hoomanawanui, Josh Hill
On the fence: John Phillips, Clay Harbor
Long shots: Garrett Griffin
Tight end is going to be another interesting area to watch. Phillips played well last season and appeared deserving of a roster spot, but he’s been sidelined during camp because of an appendicitis. The door is open for another player to rise and claim his spot. That hasn’t happened so far, but Griffin has made some plays during camp and provides value in other areas of the game. It’s not out of the question for him to emerge and get in the race as camp carries on.
Offensive line (7 to 10)
Locks: Max Unger, Zach Strief, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat
Near locks: Senio Kelemete
On the fence: Jack Allen, Khalif Barnes, Jerry Ugokwe, John Fullington, Landon Turner, Bryce Harris, Josh LeRibeus
Long shots: Cameron Tom, Kristjan Sokali
The way the roster looks to start the season will depend entirely on the health of Armstead and Unger. Armstead is almost certain to start the year on the physically unable to perform list or short-term IR, which will open a roster spot for someone like Harris, Barnes or Fullington. As for Unger, it’s unclear if he will be ready for Week 1. If he isn’t, it could open an additional spot for someone to make the team. While LeRibeus has been inconsistent with his shotgun snaps, he has versatility on the interior, which could help his case. Barnes has gotten some early reps filling in at tackle, which might give him a leg up, but Harris and Fullington are still in the race.
Defensive line (8 to 10)
Locks: Trey Hendrickson, Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins
Near locks: Alex Okafor, David Onyemata, Tyeler Davison, Hau’oli Kikaha
On the fence: Darryl Tapp, Obum Gwacham, Mitchell Loewen, Tony McDaniel, Ashaad Mabry, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Justin Zimmer
Long shots: Devaroe Lawrence
It’s going to be interesting not only to see how some of the races here play out but also the number of players at each position who make the roster. There isn’t a clear option at defensive tackle after Rankins, Onyemata and Davison, and it could be dangerous to go into the season with three players at the position. Both Loewen and Zimmer have flashed and spent time with the team last year developing their crafts, while McDaniel has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury. However, if the team feels some of their defensive ends have the capability to kick inside and hold strong against the run on base downs, it’s possible an extra defensive end makes the team.
Linebackers (5 to 7)
Locks: A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone
On the fence: Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson, Stephone Anthony, Nathan Stupar, Michael Mauti, Adam Bighill, Jonathan Walton
After nearly two weeks of camp, it’s still hard to handicap what is happening at linebacker. Klein is the only player consistently playing with the first team, and Anzalone’s draft stock should keep him safe for this year. Anything could happen after that. Te’o, Robertson and Anthony are also probably on the inside right now. Stupar and Mauti could make the team off the strength of their play on special teams. Bighill will need to prove it during the preseason, but he’s flashed at times in practices, plays with a high motor, and is the kind of guy who could impress in the kicking game. It’s too soon to know on Walton, who joined the team last week.
Cornerbacks (5 or 6)
Locks: Marshon Lattimore, Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams
On the fence: Ken Crawley, De’Vante Harris, Damian Swann, Arthur Maulet, Sterling Moore
Long shots: Dejaun Butler, Taveze Calhoun
Two or three good players are going to get cut at this spot if everyone gets healthy and remains upright. And that’s a good thing. After having no depth at cornerback last season, two or three players listed as being on the fence will likely be looking for jobs with other teams. Currently, Crawley and Harris appear to be standing ahead of the pack, but both Moore and Maulet have had impressive moments throughout camp. Swann was solid as a rookie, and though he hasn’t played much, could tap into that and make this an interesting race down the stretch.
Safeties (4 to 6)
Locks: Kenny Vaccaro, Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell
Near locks: Rafael Bush
On the fence: Erik Harris, Chris Banjo
Long shots: Robenson Therezie
This is another spot where special teams will make a big difference. The top four should make the team. Harris and Banjo will determine how many players make the team depending on how they perform in the kicking game. Banjo has quietly made some plays on defense, as well, which could help open the door for him.
Locks: P Thomas Morstead
Near locks: K Wil Lutz
On the fence: LS Justin Drescher, K Patrick Murray
Lutz and Morstead should be on the team. It remains possible that the long snapper is not currently on the roster since the team has been shuffling the position all summer.