Saints Final 53-Man Roster Predictions: Defense

The final cutdowns to 53-man rosters throughout the NFL are officially just hours away.  Here is what I think the New Orleans defense will initially look like.
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The New Orleans Saints canceled Saturday's preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals and moved team operations to Dallas, TX over the weekend because of the pending arrival of Hurricane Ida.

Ida, a Category 4 hurricane that ravaged the Gulf Coast region, will reportedly keep the Saints in Dallas through the month of September pending damage assessment of New Orleans and the surrounding region.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the Saints and every other NFL team must trim their rosters to 53 players by 4pm Eastern Time this afternoon. New Orleans is scheduled to open their regular season at home against the Green Bay Packers, a game that will now be played in Dallas.

Saints head coach Sean Payton will base several difficult roster decisions on two preseason games and training camp practices in the face of these trying conditions. The team has already made some roster moves, with the rest to come over the next few hours.

Earlier today, I predicted what I thought the New Orleans offense would look after the initial cutdown.

https://www.si.com/nfl/saints/editorial-opinion/saints-final-53-man-roster-predictions-offense

Here is what I think the Saints defense will look by later this afternoon.

(* = Rookie)

DEFENSIVE END (5)

Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws incomplete over the pressure of Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws incomplete over the pressure of Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

  • Cameron Jordan
  • Marcus Davenport
  • Payton Turner*
  • Tanoh Kpassagnon
  • Carl Granderson

Jordan, a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the best players in franchise history, looks to bounce back after a disappointing season by his lofty standards. He’ll anchor a deep crew at the edge capable of consistent disruption.

Davenport has had a spectacular training camp and preseason. The Number 14 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Davenport has struggled with injuries and inconsistent production. If he finally lives up to his potential, he could help make the team's defensive ends one of the best units in the NFL.

Turner, the team's first-round selection this spring, flashed disruptive potential early in training camp. He has been sidelined the last few weeks by injuries and missed both preseason games.

Kpassagnon was an offseason free-agent addition from the Kansas City Chiefs. Bug and freakishly athletic, he also saw snaps at defensive tackle during the preseason.

Granderson could be a breakout candidate similar to what Trey Hendrickson was at the position as he enters his third season. The long-limbed Granderson is a natural pass rusher who has improved his run defense in each of his first two seasons.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)

New Orleans Saints defensive linemen Shy Tuttle (99) and Christian Ringo (70) perform drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints defensive linemen Shy Tuttle (99) and Christian Ringo (70) perform drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

  • Shy Tuttle
  • Malcolm Roach
  • Christian Ringo
  • Damion Square
  • (Suspended List = David Onyemata)

The suspension of Onyemata, an emerging star, for the first six games is a big blow to a unit that also lost Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown this offseason. They also lost promising DT Jalen Dalton to a season-ending injury during the preseason. Tuttle and Roach, two former undrafted players, had uneven training camps after promising starts to their careers.

Ringo, another undrafted player, has had a consistently solid camp and has seen extensive action with the starting unit. He has slightly outperformed Albert Huggins and undrafted rookie Josiah Bronson, who have also had nice moments in camp.

New Orleans recently signed free-agent DT Damion Square, but haven't seen him in game action because of the cancelation of Saturday's game. It’s a toss-up between Square and Huggins for the final spot here in my mind, but I can see the Saints going with Square’s veteran experience and production to start the year.

Huggins and Bronson will probably both be added to the practice squad if they clear waivers. I also expect the Saints to watch the waiver wire closely at this position, along with wide receiver and cornerback, once other teams make their moves.

LINEBACKER (6)

New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun (53) applies pressure on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley (7). Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun (53) applies pressure on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley (7). Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY

  • Demario Davis
  • Kwon Alexander
  • Zack Baun
  • Pete Werner*
  • Kaden Elliss
  • Andrew Dowell

What was thought to be a potential team weakness entering the offseason has developed into a strength during training camp. The Saints already had star LB Demario Davis, one of the league's best defensive players at any position. They also re-signed LB Kwon Alexander early in training camp to solidify the top two starting spots.

The Saints used a second-round choice on LB Pete Werner, who impressed early in camp before being slowed by minor injuries. Second-year LB Zack Baun, a third-round pick last season, has been one of the team’s stars this preseason, showing tremendous development after a quiet rookie year.

Davis and Alexander, who is rehabbing an Achilles injury, saw limited reps in camp, giving increased opportunities for a young crew of linebackers. Elliss, Dowell, Chase Hansen, and Wynton McManis all had standout practice moments and played well in both preseason contests.

Elliss and Dowell have been the slightly more consistent of the four. Each have the versatility to play inside or outside. Hansen and McManis look like practice squad candidates if they clear waivers.

CORNERBACK (4)

New Orleans Saints cornerbacks Paulson Adebo (29) and Ken Crawley (25) perform defensive drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints cornerbacks Paulson Adebo (29) and Ken Crawley (25) perform defensive drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

  • Marshon Lattimore
  • Ken Crawley
  • Paulson Adebo*
  • Grant Haley

Lattimore is one of the NFL's top cornerbacks, but the rest of the position is full of inexperience or inconsistent performances. Veteran CB Ken Crawley, a starter for the team in 2016 and 2017, has had an extremely strong training camp after three down years.

Crawley will probably start opposite Lattimore to start the year, but had to hold off a stiff challenge from rookie third-round choice Adebo. Both will play prominent roles this year, especially if Lattimore is suspended for an offseason arrest.

Adebo, a big and athletic corner, looks like he has a bright future. He has outstanding man coverage ability with excellent anticipation in off-ball coverage. Haley gave the team some good snaps late in the year as an injury replacement, but provides shaky depth at the position.

Defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams will also see snaps at cornerback, especially in slot coverage. Expect New Orleans to watch the waiver wire closely at this position.

SAFETY (5)

New Orleans Saints strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) performs drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) performs drills during a training camp session. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

  • Marcus Williams
  • Malcolm Jenkins
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
  • P.J. Williams
  • J.T. Gray

Williams and Jenkins make up one of the league's better tandems at safety. Williams has outstanding range and athleticism in deep support. Jenkins is still effective in coverage in two-high safety alignments and is disruptive near the line of scrimmage.

Gardner-Johnson is the team’s most underrated defensive player. He’s effective anywhere along the formation. P.J. Williams has proven much better as an off-ball defender than in man coverage.

Gray held off challenges from undrafted rookies Eric Burrell and Bryce Thompson. He’s one of the league's best special teams players, which is the bulk of his contributions for the Saints.

New Orleans will open their 2021 regular season against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, September 12.


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