The New Orleans Saints open their 2022 regular season against the Atlanta Falcons. Between now and then, plenty of roster spots will be up for grabs. The Saints have one of the more established rosters in the NFL. There will still be heated competition for spots on the depth chart, along with integrating the new draft picks and free-agent additions into the system.
New Orleans has three OTA sessions between the end of this month and middle of June. Training camp will then begin in the third week of July. After 15 seasons of coach Sean Payton, final roster decisions will now be made by new head coach Dennis Allen.
It’s still extremely early, but here is my first prediction on what the Saints 53-man roster will look like entering the 2022 season.
- Jameis Winston
- Andy Dalton
- Ian Book
After a courtship of Deshaun Watson and tons of speculation leading up to the draft, the 28-year-old Winston gets his second chance to lead the Saints.
The strong-armed Winston threw for 14 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions last year before being lost to a season-ending knee injury in Week 8. At the time of his injury, Winston looked like he was really getting comfortable in the offense.
Eleven-year veteran Andy Dalton was signed to provide veteran assurance behind Winston. Dalton, 34, can still be a productive passer if protected up front. After Winston went down last year, the Saints finished with a 4-6 record and were the NFL's worst team in passing production.
Second-year QB Ian Book, a fourth-round selection in 2021, has a chance to develop with his second year in the system. Book saw little time on the active roster as a rookie. He was thrown into the fire in a late season loss to Miami, a game where the Saints were without 26 players because of injury or Covid.
RUNNING BACK (4)
- Alvin Kamara
- Mark Ingram
- Abram Smith*
- Dwayne Washington
The Saints offense revolves around the versatile and dynamic talents of Kamara as he heads into his sixth season. While he is one of the league's top players, he could also be facing a league suspension for an offseason arrest in Las Vegas.
There is little depth behind Kamara, something that was painfully obvious when he missed four games last year with a knee injury. Thirty-two-year-old veteran Mark Ingram showed he could still be a quality complementary weapon. After 11 years in the league, Ingram may not be able to carry the load if the Saints are without Kamara for a prolonged period.
New Orleans did not draft a running back or add one in free agency. Washington is little more than a special teams star, and Tony Jones Jr. showed little in his second year after a promising preseason. Former Baylor star Abram Smith is a between the tackles thumper who could grab a spot with a strong camp.
New Orleans typically keeps a fullback on their roster. With the talent at receiver, coach Dennis Allen may feel that this is an expendable position. Especially with utility weapon Taysom Hill able to line up in multiple positions.
Don't be surprised if the Saints add a veteran back before training camp. Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay is still available, as are Darrel Williams and former Saints Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman. It would provide assurance if Kamara were suspended and give the team another inside option to move Kamara around the formation.
(Players to Watch: Tony Jones Jr., Adam Prentice - FB)
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
- Michael Thomas
- Chris Olave*
- Jarvis Landry
- Marquez Callaway
- Deonte Harty (Harris)
- Tre'Quan Smith
The presence of Kamara, return of a healthy Thomas, drafting of Olave in the first round, and addition of Landry gives Winston more weapons than he's had his entire career. Harty and Callaway may have struggled as primary targets without Thomas last year, but both are outstanding complementary weapons.
Thomas was an unstoppable weapon through the intermediate zones before an ankle injury robbed him of most of the last two years. If he is slow to recover, Landry can take over his responsibilities with only a slight drop-off. Landry's experience and skills also doesn't force the team to thrust Olave into a major role until he’s ready.
Olave is an outstanding route runner with gamebreaking ability down the field. Harty, the team's leading receiver last year, has underrated route precision and is one of the NFL's best kick returners. Callaway had worked up a nice chemistry with Winston and works the intermediate level well.
The odd man out would seem to be Smith, who's had disappointing production over his four seasons. He's still a terrific blocker at the position, adds a deep ball threat, and has experience in the system.
If Thomas is 100%, then don't be shocked if Smith or Callaway are on the trading block this preseason. The Saints rarely keep six receivers are their active roster, but there's too much value at the position to simply release a player. There is some undrafted talent that will also be in camp. Barring injuries, they will most likely battle for practice squad spots.
(Players to Watch: Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Easop Winston, Jalen McCleskey, Kawaan Baker, Dai'Jean Dixon*, Rashid Shaheed*)
TIGHT END (4)
- Adam Trautman
- Taysom Hill
- Juwan Johnson
- Nick Vannett
One of the NFL's worst position groups in 2021 saw little improvement in the offseason. Taysom Hill is listed as a tight end and will add athleticism to the position. However, expect Hill to be used out of the backfield, in motion, or out of the slot instead of as a traditional tight end.
It was clear that Johnson had a strong chemistry with Winston before the quarterback's injury. A converted wideout, Johnson has the athletic ability for the position, but must improve as an in-line blocker. Trautman and Vannett are the best blockers of the group. However, both were major disappointments as receivers.
If the Saints keep five running backs or a fullback along with six wideouts, this will be the position that gets trimmed. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has often used an extra offensive lineman as an additional blocker, so the odd man out here would probably be Vannett.
(Players to Watch: Lucas Krull*)
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Trevor Penning, T*
- Andrus Peat, G
- Erik McCoy, C
- Cesar Ruiz, G
- Ryan Ramczyk, T
- James Hurst, G/T
- Calvin Throckmorton, G
- Forrest Lamp, G
- Landon Young, T
This unit was decimated by injuries in 2021, leading to uncharacteristic struggles. Penning, a first-round pick, is expected to replace the free-agent loss of Terron Armstead. If he’s slow to develop, the team has an excellent fall-back option in the reliable Hurst. A healthy Ramczyk adds an elite presence on the other edge.
McCoy has developed into one of the league's best centers, but there are concerns at both guard spots. Peat is inconsistent, but when actually healthy is a Pro Bowl performer.
Ruiz is a major disappointment as a former first-round pick. If he continues to struggle, the team would be wise to replace him with Hurst. Throckmorton proved to be a capable injury replacement.
Depth here is stronger than some think, as long as Penning develops quickly. Hurst is a solid starter inside or outside. Throckmorton and Lamp could start for many teams, and the coaches love the potential of Young.
(Players to Watch: Ethan Greenidge, Eric Wilson*, Lewis Kidd*)
DEFENSIVE END (5)
- Cameron Jordan
- Marcus Davenport
- Tanoh Kpassagnon
- Payton Turner
- Carl Granderson
This is the strongest unit on the team and one of the best edge positions in the league. After a quiet start to 2021, Jordan had a monstrous stretch run and showed he’s still one of the NFL's best defensive players. Davenport had his best season and is developing into one of the league's most disruptive defensive ends.
Kpassagnon led the Saints in sacks and pressures over the first half of the year before being sidelined by injury. Turner, the team's first-round pick in 2021, looks to bounce back after a disappointing rookie campaign. He flashed potential early in the year, but an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. Granderson is a quality pass rusher who's improved against the run. He could be pushed by former first-round pick Taco Charlton.
Dennis Allen moved Kpassagnon, Davenport, Turner, and even Jordan inside last year in obvious passing situations. Given the deep talent along the edge, expect that strategy to continue in 2022. Jordan, Davenport, and Kpassagnon are also standouts against the run, an underrated aspect of their game.
(Player to Watch: Taco Charlton)
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
- David Onyemata
- Shy Tuttle
- Kentavius Street
- Jaleel Johnson
This was a strong unit against the run last season, but provided little disruption as pass rushers. The position accounted for just 19 of the team’s 113 QB hits. Onyemata was the only listed defensive tackle to record a sack.
The 29-year-old Onyemata (2 sacks, 16 pressures) looks to bounce back from a quiet season that included a six-game suspension. He’s an equally disruptive player against the run or pass and has the versatility to play the edge.
Tuttle is a reliable run stuffer, but needs to get more push as a pass rusher. The team added the athletic Street as a free-agent from San Francisco in an effort to bolster the interior pass rush.
Big-bodied run stopper Jaleel Johnson was also brought in for added depth. Sixth-round pick Jordan Jackson is an explosive athletic project. He and Albert Huggins could push for a spot on the depth chart.
The ability of the Saints defensive ends to shift inside gives the defensive line versatility. It may also eliminate the need to carry an extra defensive tackle, unless someone really stands out in preseason.
(Players to Watch: Jordan Jackson*, Albert Huggins)
- Demario Davis
- Pete Werner
- Kaden Elliss
- D'Marco Jackson*
- Zack Baun
Davis is one of the league's best players at any position. His speed, instincts, and versatility affect a game in several ways and is the key to the entire defense. Werner, a second-round pick last year, flashed the skills of a future star. Like Davis, he can stay on the field in every situation.
Elliss is a solid blitzer and strong against the run, but a liability in coverage. He’ll be pushed for playing time by Jackson, an athletic and aggressive fifth-round selection. Baun, a third-round choice in 2020, has not been a fit in this scheme but is a special teams standout. He could be unseated by Andrew Dowell or undrafted rookie Nephi Sewell.
There are some depth concerns behind Davis and Werner. Those would be greatly eased with the re-signing of Kwon Alexander. An athletic veteran, Alexander has incredible chemistry with Davis and is coming off his best season. Without him, the defense will rely on mostly two linebacker alignments with an extra defensive back.
(Players to Watch: Nephi Sewell*, Andrew Dowell)
- Marshon Lattimore
- Paulson Adebo
- Bradley Roby
- Alontae Taylor*
Lattimore is one of the NFL's best. He has the ability to lock up an opponent’s best receiver and eliminate them from the game. Adebo, a third-round selection last year, proved to be a terrific complement. He flashed the potential of a Pro Bowler with his ball skills and man coverage ability.
Adebo's development limited the snaps for Roby, who was acquired in an early season trade. Roby is an experienced starter and gives the team quality depth against deeper receiving units. Taylor was a surprise second-round pick in this year’s draft. He has excellent off-ball instincts and the athleticism to develop as an outside man corner.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams are the Saints top slot coverage options. Their versatility and cover skills will probably mean that New Orleans carries an extra safety over less experienced corners.
(Players to Watch: DaMarcus Fields*, Bryce Thompson)
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
- Marcus Maye
- Tyrann Mathieu
- P.J Williams
- J.T. Gray
- Smoke Monday*
Safety and wide receiver were the two positions that saw the most changes this offseason. Ballhawk FS Marcus Williams signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Ravens. Veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins retired after 13 NFL seasons. The Saints moved decisively to replace them.
New Orleans added former Jets standout Maye, re-signed P.J. Williams, and added fan favorite Mathieu, a four-time Pro Bowler. The Saints also brought in free agents Justin Evans and Daniel Sorensen, two former starters. They’ll face stiff competition from undrafted rookies Monday and Vincent Gray for roster spots.
Mathieu brings the same coverage versatility as Gardner-Johnson and Williams. All three players will be used all over the field. Maye also has the ability to be a deep safety or slide down to cover the slot. J.T. Gray brings little to the defense, but is one of the league's best special teams stars.
On paper, the Saints safeties are a more versatile than athletic unit than they were previously. It may take some time to develop the communication and chemistry with the corners, but Gardner-Johnson, Maye, Mathieu, and Williams will be utilized in several different ways.
(Players to Watch: Justin Evans, Daniel Sorensen, Victor Gray*)
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
- Wil Lutz, K
- Blake Gillikin, P
- Zach Wood, LS
(Return Specialist = Deonte Harty)
Season-ending surgery to Lutz forced the Saints to go through four kickers in 2021. The group collectively missed key field goals and an infuriating seven extra points. When healthy, Lutz is a clutch performer with incredible range to guarantee the team points from long distance.
Gillikin was a terrific replacement for Saints legend Thomas Morstead. He not only has a booming leg but also crucial accuracy to pin an opponent deep in their territory. His abilities consistently gives the team a field position advantage.
Harty is one of the NFL's most feared kickoff and punt returners. He’s a scoring threat in the open field and flips field position for his offense. Increased wideout responsibilities affected Harty's special teams contributions last year.
If that continues in 2022, keep an eye out for Rashid Shaheed, an undrafted rookie from Weber State. Shaheed averaged 29.1 yards per return in college and holds the FCS record with seven return touchdowns.
The Saints value athleticism on their coverage units, consistently some of the best in the NFL. Most of the players battling for the final roster spots must prove that they can make a major impact on special teams.