The New Orleans Saints wrap up their 2021 preseason when they host the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday. Both the Saints and Cardinals enter the game with a 1-1 preseason record.
New Orleans has won the last four NFC South championships, sporting an NFL-best 49-15 regular season record over that span. They've won with one of the league's most talented rosters on both sides of the ball.
The NFL's deepest team was robbed of much of that depth that saw the departure of several key pieces this offseason. New Orleans was also hit by injuries and suspensions in training camp.
All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and clutch K Wil Lutz could be sidelined until mid-season with injuries, while star DT David Onyemata will be suspended for the first six games. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and kick returner Deonte Harris may also face league suspensions stemming from offseason arrests.
Despite that, the Saints still have a talented core capable of a deep playoff run. Roster spots have been hotly contested for throughout training camp, with several jobs still up for grabs entering the last preseason competition.
Some veterans added in the offseason may need big games against the Cardinals for a shot to make the roster.
Established vets like RB Devonta Freeman, wideouts Chris Hogan and Kevin White, offensive lineman J. R. Sweezy, and DT R.J. McIntosh may need a big night on Saturday to stay with the Saints.
Some veterans who have made key contributions to the New Orleans success may also be on the roster bubble as final cuts approach.
LATAVIUS MURRAY, RUNNING BACK
Murray's contributions to the Saints offense in his two years with the team are undeniable. He’s rushed for 1,327 yards, scored 12 touchdowns, and had three outings of over 100 yards on the ground.
The 31-year-old Murray has been the ideal complement to Alvin Kamara with his power between the tackles and underrated receiving ability. He’s shown capable of shouldering the rushing load when asked, allowing the Saints to use Kamara's versatility in other roles.
Murray has been ineffective throughout training camp and both preseason games. He’s carried 10 times for only 12 yards, losing a fumble and unable to get any push-through creases in the defense.
The emergence of second-year RB Tony Jones Jr. may push Murray down the depth chart.
With neither he nor Devonta Freeman adding any special team's value, the Saints are likely to only keep one of the veteran backs into the regular season.
WILL CLAPP, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Clapp was a seventh-round draft choice by the Saints out of LSU in 2018. He’s appeared in 26 games over his three years, starting four, at either center or guard.
The 6’5” and 311-Lb. Clapp has had a solid training camp and played relatively well in both preseason games. His experience with the team’s system gives him an edge over some of the other linemen competing for backup spots.
The Saints value versatility in their offensive linemen, an area where Clapp is limited. He struggles with athletic interior linemen at guard, and he’s a significant downgrade over starter Erik McCoy or guard Cesar Ruiz at center.
Clapp has outplayed the veteran Sweezy, a player with similar traits, in both preseason games. He may have to do so again versus the Cardinals to keep his roster spot into a fourth season with the team.
CHASE HANSEN, LINEBACKER
An undrafted rookie from Utah in 2019, Hansen sat out his rookie year with a back injury. He battled to make the 2020 squad at a talented position.
Hansen spent most of the 2020 season on the practice squad. He appeared in three games during the year, primarily on special teams.
A former safety in college, Hansen is a light, but athletic linebacker at 6’3” and 222-Lbs. He excels in coverage and open field pursuit but struggles against blockers at the point of attack.
Hansen faces an uphill battle at what looks like a crowded position.
He’s had some nice moments in camp, but so has Kaden Elliss, Andrew Dowell, Wynton McManis, and Shaq Smith, his other competition for the final linebacking spots.
J.T. GRAY, SAFETY
After surprisingly making the team as an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State in 2018, Gray has developed into one of the league's best special teams players. He signed a two-year contract extension with the team this offseason.
Gray has played just 40 defensive snaps over the last two seasons. However, he’s helped the Saints be one of the NFL's top kick coverage units.
Gray's special team's value probably keeps his job safe to start the season. However, the fact that he adds little value to the secondary could make his spot vulnerable.
Undrafted rookie S Eric Burrell has had some nice moments in preseason. If Burrell, Natrell Jamerson, or Deuce Wallace can show they can bring quality depth to the secondary and also excel on special teams, one of them could overtake Gray on the depth chart.
Much of the starting unit will not see the field when New Orleans takes on the Cardinals on Saturday. However, there are still plenty of roster jobs up for grabs for the 2021 Saints.
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