The New Orleans Saints, along with the other 31 NFL teams, are less than three weeks away from kicking off their 2021 training camp.
Every year there are veterans released from each team who had been contributors through their career. Sometimes teams will even part with a player who was a starter the previous season.
NFL roster spots are fiercely fought for every year. The New Orleans Saints are certainly no exception to that. Even with one of the league's most talented rosters, jobs throughout the depth chart will be hotly contested for in training camp.
Because of several offseason personnel moves, New Orleans will have as many as ten new starters in 2021. Coach Sean Payton has never been hesitant to keep a low round draft choice or undrafted rookie over a seasoned veteran.
Here are four Saints veterans who could find themselves on the outside looking in of training camp battles this summer.
WILL CLAPP, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Clapp was a seventh-round pick of the Saints out of LSU in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s played 26 games in three years with the team, starting four contests. Most of his action has been on special teams, but he appeared in a career-high 29% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2019.
Capable of playing either center or guard, Clapp gives some versatility to the interior of the New Orleans line. However, he hasn't been able to secure a consistent role with the team, despite opportunities because of injuries at the position.
The Saints have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They're starting five are secure, with both Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz able to play either center or guard spots. Veteran James Hurst is the sixth lineman and has starting experience at both tackle and guard.
The 25-year-old Clapp has struggled in pass protection and will have to improve his mobility. He'll have to beat out veteran Derrick Kelly, who earned significant time last season, along with versatile second-year lineman Calvin Throckmorton and OT Ethan Greenidge. New Orleans also added OT Landon Young from Kentucky with a sixth-round pick in the draft.
KADEN ELLISS, LINEBACKER
New Orleans selected Elliss with a seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. His rookie season ended after only three games because of a knee injury. He appeared in 15 games last year, playing 61% of the team’s special teams snaps but only five snaps on defense.
Son of former Detroit Lions Pro Bowl defensive lineman Luther Elliss, Kaden has a great football intellect. He has good play recognition and sound fundamentals, but is athletically limited in space.
The Saints have major questions at linebacker entering 2021. They still have All-Pro LB Demario Davis, but lost Kwon Alexander, Alex Anzalone, and Craig Robertson this offseason. New Orleans spent a second-round pick on Ohio State LB Pete Werner this spring and expect a bigger role from 2020 third-round choice Zack Baun.
The Saints could also bring back Alexander or add a veteran free-agent to bolster depth. Elliss has good awareness in zone coverages, but will have to show he has the athleticism to track down opposing running backs and tight ends in space.
Competition for the final spots at this position will be a battle between Elliss and former undrafted players Chase Hansen, Shaq Smith, Andrew Dowell, Wynton McManis, Quentin Poling, and Marcus Willoughby.
Elliss has the edge in experience, but must make an impact on special teams and show he can hold up sideline-to-sideline.
DWAYNE WASHINGTON, RUNNING BACK
Washington came to the Saints as a free-agent in 2018 after two seasons with the Detroit Lions. He’s been used sparingly on offense, playing just 75 snaps in three seasons and rushing for 229 yards.
Washington's value to the Saints has been on special teams, where he’s been one of the team’s top contributors on an outstanding unit. He may also need to shine as a runner in preseason to hold on to his job.
The 6’1” and 223-Lb. Washington has decent power between the tackles and runs hard. He doesn't have great elusiveness to avoid tacklers and has just an average burst into space.
The Saints seem set with their top three backs in Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, and Ty Montgomery. Washington will battle for a spot against two promising young undrafted backs.
Second-year RB Tony Jones Jr. impressed coaches last season and is a dark-horse favorite to unseat Washington. Stevie Scott III, a rookie from Indiana, is a big back with an impressive combination of power and elusiveness.
Washington's special teams abilities give him an edge for a roster spot. However, either Scott or Jones could grab a job if they show they can be an offensive contributor if called upon and with a standout performance on special teams.
PATRICK ROBINSON, CORNERBACK
Robinson, a first-round pick by the Saints in the 2010 NFL Draft, played five seasons for New Orleans before departing as a free-agent in 2014. He returned to the Saints in 2018 and had 2 interceptions and broke up 4 passes in 2020.
Robinson, who turns 34 in September, is the oldest player on the team. He has experience as both an outside corner and in the slot. Robinson played in 12 games last season, starting four, and appeared in 24% of the defensive snaps.
Robinson allowed 64% completion percentage when targeted in 2020 and has given up over 60% over the last three seasons. Even with his experience, he is a coverage liability when in the lineup.
The Saints released veteran CB Janoris Jenkins this offseason in a salary cap move, leaving major concerns at the position.
They used a third-round draft pick on promising rookie CB Paulson Adebo from Stanford. They’ll also use third-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in more of a coverage role this season.
Lattimore could be facing a league suspension for an offseason arrest. Next to Lattimore, Gardner-Johnson, and Robinson, there is no other significant experience at the position.
Unless the Saints bring in another veteran corner to compete for a spot, Robinson's experience gives him a big edge to hold on to his job. However, his uneven play over the last two years makes his spot vulnerable. Veteran CB Ken Crawley also bring experience to the position and started for the Saints from 2016 to 2018.
Second-year UDFA Keith Washington is a terrific athlete capable of handling wideouts one-on-one or excelling in off-ball coverage.
Grant Haley filled in admirably as an injury replacement late last year. Undrafted rookies Bryce Thompson or Deuce Wallace could also steal a spot with a standout camp.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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