5 Under the Radar Saints Players to Watch During Training Camp Battles

Expect fierce competition for several New Orleans Saints roster positions during training camp.  These five players who could be darkhorse contributors for the 2021 Saints.
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Several roster spots on the New Orleans Saints will be under fierce competition when NFL training camps officially begin on July 27. The Saints still have one of the NFL's most talented rosters, but are looking to replace the loss of 11 major contributors this offseason.

The national storyline surrounding the Saints this offseason will be at quarterback. Legendary quarterback Drew Brees retired this offseason, leaving Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to compete for the starting job.

New Orleans also lost key players like CB Janoris Jenkins, LBs Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone, DTs Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, DE Trey Hendrickson, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TEs Jared Cook and Josh Hill, and P Thomas Morstead.

The Saints added six draft picks, several undrafted rookies, along with free-agent DE Tanoh Kpassagnon. They also expect bigger contributions from several second and third year players who have been role players so far in their careers.

More than any other NFL franchise, the Saints have been able to develop undrafted players and late round draft picks into contributors. 

Last season alone, former undrafted players like WRs Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway, DT Shy Tuttle, and DE Carl Granderson were instrumental to the team's success.

Other players throughout the New Orleans roster were able to make the team after being overlooked in the NFL Draft or discarded by other teams.

We look at five such players in today's spotlight. These young men will face another uphill battle to make the talented New Orleans roster again this year, but have the opportunity to make an under-the-radar impact for a playoff caliber team.

GRANT HALEY, CORNERBACK

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

CREDIT: neworleanssaints.com

Haley was a surprise addition to the Saints active roster late in the season after a rash of injuries to their secondary. He only appeared in a season-ending road win at Carolina, but played 39 defensive snaps and recorded his first career interception while adding five tackles.

New Orleans snatched the 25-year-old Haley off waivers at the beginning of last season, where he remained on the practice squad most of the year. He played his first two seasons with the New York Giants, who signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2018.

Haley appeared in 25 games in two seasons with New York as a reserve defensive back and on special teams. Including one game with the Saints last season, he has 82 career tackles (7 for loss), 3 passes broken up, and an interception.

Haley has allowed 73.5% completion percentage when targeted in his NFL career. The 5’9 and 190-Lb cornerback has an opportunity to grab another roster spot with the Saints at a thin position, but will need a standout preseason.

KEITH WASHINGTON, CORNERBACK

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

Like Haley, Washington has a chance to earn a spot at a New Orleans cornerback position with questionable depth. Washington enters his second NFL season after being signed as an undrafted rookie from West Virginia in 2020.

The 24-year-old Washington stuck on the roster after an impressive training camp showing last year. He remained on the practice squad all season and has yet to see action in an NFL game.

At 6’1” and 180-Lbs., Washington has good length but a slender build that could give him problems against bigger wideouts. He’s a smooth athlete with good drive on the ball in off-ball coverage and natural instincts and fluidity in man coverage.

Washington also has excellent ball skills and route recognition. He had five interceptions and 18 passes broken up in two years at West Virginia. He’ll have to shine on special teams, but his skill set could add some coverage versatility to the New Orleans secondary.

CHASE HANSEN, LINEBACKER

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

CREDIT: USA TODAY 

Hansen enters his third NFL season in 2021. He joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie from Utah in 2019.

The 28-year-old Hansen missed his rookie year with a back injury, but before that had an impressive preseason performance. Another strong training camp earned him another roster spot in 2020.

Hansen was on the practice squad most of the year for the Saints. He appeared in two contests during the regular season and both playoff games. He saw just one defensive snap but played 40 snaps on special teams.

The 6’3” and 220-Lb Hansen shows good play recognition and natural coverage skills. A former safety in college, he moves fluidly in coverage down the field or through traffic against the run.

Hansen's coverage skills gives him a good opportunity to earn a job as a situational player for the Saints defense. New Orleans linebacker Demario Davis is one of the league's best defensive players, but the rest of the team’s linebacking corps is short on depth and experience.

JUWAN JOHNSON, WIDE RECEIVER

New Orleans receiver Juwan Johnson (83) makes a catch in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans receiver Juwan Johnson (83) makes a catch in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson was one of five undrafted wideouts who saw significant action with the Saints in 2020, catching 4 passes for 39 yards in seven games. While he didn't have the impact that Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway did, he showed glimpses of a promising future.

An undrafted rookie from Oregon in 2020, Johnson was a productive intermediate receiver for the Ducks and at Penn State earlier in his collegiate career. He impressed New Orleans coaches with his blocking ability and is a physical route runner with underrated athleticism.

Johnson's tremendous size, he's 6’4 and 231-Lbs., gives him a matchup advantage over smaller corners. He’ll face stiff competition to earn one of the last wideout spots and must prove that he can be a reliable receiver.

One advantage that Johnson will have, other than his size, is his versatility. He has been taking snaps at tight end early this offseason, potentially giving the Saints a versatile offensive option.

TONY JONES JR., RUNNING BACK

CREDIT: USA Today 

CREDIT: USA Today 

Jones, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame last year, was on the New Orleans practice squad most of the season.

He was elevated to the active roster for the season finale at Carolina, when running backs Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, and Michael Burton were sidelined because of COVID-19 concerns.

Jones carried the ball 3 times for 13 yards against the Panthers before leaving the game with injury. He caught the eye of coaches in training camp because of his rugged running style between the tackles.

A physical runner at 5'10 and 220-Lbs., Jones has nice vision and ability to run through tackles. He’ll need to improve his receiving skills to show that he can be a reliable option out of the backfield for the passing attack.

Jones hopes to unseat the veteran Washington and rookie UDFA Stevie Scott III to join Kamara, Murray, and Ty Montgomery in a talented Saints backfield.

New Orleans has struck gold with undrafted running backs like Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson, and Travaris Cadet during Sean Payton's tenure as head coach.

The Saints were unable to do much in free agency because of salary cap issues.  They'll need much of the existing roster to step into bigger roles to make up for their offseason losses. 

Saints head coach Sean Payton during training camp at New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Saints head coach Sean Payton during training camp at New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Jones, Juwan Johnson, Chase Hansen, Keith Washington, and Grant Haley have already overcome big odds to make the Saints roster once.

If they are to make the team again, they'll have to make an impact on special teams and show that they can contribute in their respective positions in what will be intense training camp battles.

Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.

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