NFL training camps are less than two weeks away from their official start. As with every year, coaches will have some tough roster decisions to make before the regular-season opener, which for the New Orleans Saints is September 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
This year, teams will have even fewer preseason games to base their roster decisions. Because of an added 17th game to the regular-season schedule, the preseason was reduced by one game.
Most teams, including the Saints, will have just three exhibition contests before the league-mandated cut-down deadline of August 31.
Roster battles at every position for the Saints will be fierce. The team will have several new faces in 2021. Gone are team icons like QB Drew Brees and P Thomas Morstead, along with several contributors from the last few playoff teams.
Here is my first prediction of what the Saints 53-man roster will look like on the opening day.
* = Rookie
- Jameis Winston
- Taysom Hill
- Ian Book*
For the first time since 2005, the Saints will open a season with a quarterback other than Drew Brees. Winston, the Number 1 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, and jack-of-all-trades Hill are vying to step into the role. Each player brings a unique set of skills to the offense.
Both Winston and Hill must erase questions about their efficiency, decision-making, and ball security.
With each player in the final year of their contract, the future of the franchise could fall to Book, a fourth-round pick from Notre Dame.
RUNNING BACK (5)
- Alvin Kamara
- Latavious Murray
- Ty Montgomery
- Stevie Scott III*
- Alex Armah (FB)
Kamara, the most dangerous dual-threat back in the league, will spearhead the entire offensive attack.
Murray, who would start for many teams, is the ideal complement to Kamara. Montgomery is a capable runner/receiver who can step in as the Number 1 back if needed for a few games.
Armah replaces Michael Burton at fullback. He’ll have no competition for the spot, unless the 6’1” and 231-Lb. Scott converts to fullback.
A bruiser between the tackles, I think Scott will beat out veteran Dwayne Washington and second-year RB Tony Jones Jr. if he can stand out on special teams.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
- Michael Thomas
- Marquez Callaway
- Deonte Harris
- Tre'Quan Smith
- Kawaan Baker*
- Jalen McCleskey
The Saints passing attack uncharacteristically struggled in 2020. It was mainly thanks to a severe ankle injury to Thomas that kept him out of action for nine games and limited him all year. He will be the go-to target for either Winston or Hill.
Second-year WR Marquez Callaway and explosive returner Deonte Harris, two former undrafted players, showed great promise in the offense before being slowed by injuries. They’ll compete with fourth-year veteran Smith for the Number 2 spot.
Winston and Hill have big arms and will open up the deep pass for the Saints again. That will give Harris, Callaway, and Smith more downfield opportunities. It will also open the door for the lightening fast McCleskey and athletic rookie seventh-round pick Baker to make an impact.
TIGHT END (3)
- Adam Trautman
- Nick Vannett
- Juwan Johnson
Trautman, a third-round pick in 2020, could have a breakdown year. He impressed with his blocking ability as a rookie and has the hands and athleticism to threaten defenses down the seam.
Vannett, a five-year veteran, will man the Number 2 spot vacated by the retired Josh Hill. He’s not as physical as Hill was as a blocker but is a more athletic receiving threat.
Johnson, a second-year undrafted player, may convert to tight end after playing wideout as a rookie. At 6’4” and 231-Lbs. he’ll have to add some bulk, but he impressed coaches with his blocking last season and would add another receiving threat to the position.
Remember that Taysom Hill can play an H-back role and also come out of the backfield if he doesn't win the job at quarterback.
The Saints also use reserve offensive lineman James Hurst as an extra tight end in ‘‘jumbo'' packages during short-yardage or goal-line situations.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Terron Armstead (LT)
- Andrus Peat (LG)
- Erik McCoy (C/G)
- Cesar Ruiz (RG/C)
- Ryan Ramczyk (RT)
- James Hurst (T/G)
- Derrick Kelly (G/T)
- Landon Young* (T)
- Ethan Greenidge (T)
The starting five on arguably the NFL's best offensive line is set, with Hurst having the inside track for the top reserve spot.
Expect a back-and-forth battle for the other three spots. Versatility has always been the main attribute to earn a job on the New Orleans front line, especially at the reserve spots.
- Wil Lutz (K)
- Blake Gillikin (P)
- Zach Wood (LS)
Despite coming off the most inconsistent year of his career, Lutz remains one of the NFL's best clutch kickers. Little drama at long-snapper either, with Wood handling perhaps the most overlooked job in all professional sports.
Gillikin was stashed on injured reserve as a rookie because of his potential. He’ll have to hold off a challenge from undrafted rookie Nolan Cooney to replace fan-favorite Thomas Morstead.
All national eyes will be on the quarterback position for the Saints this summer. Rightly so. It is probably the most important position battle in franchise history for a team that has championship talent on both sides of the ball.
There will be plenty of other roster battles throughout the depth chart on a New Orleans offense that played below their usual expectations in 2020.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.