The New Orleans Saints’ first off day of training camp seemed like a good time to update my projected 53-man roster.
Though we’re just five days into camp, we’ve already started to get a feel for which young players have done enough this summer to move up the depth chart. Two of the most prominent examples are cornerback Delvin Breaux, who migrated from the Canadian Football League, and undrafted rookie defensive lineman Bobby Richardson.
Richardson is one of four newcomers to my latest 53-man roster projection, along with outside linebacker Ronald Powell, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and receiver/return man Jalen Saunders. To make room, I dropped rookies Marcus Murphy and Davis Tull, along with recently-released veterans Junior Galette and Brodrick Bunkley. (I also switched out tight end Orson Charles for Kevin Brock for at least one week, due to Charles' one-game suspension).
Below is a breakdown of the defense. Check back later this afternoon with a breakdown of the offense and special teams:
Richardson, from Indiana, has emerged as this year’s early undrafted rookie darling. He’s continued to flash potential with two or three plays every day in both team drills and 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, while often rotating in with the first-string defense. Davison, a fifth-round pick, has also made a handful of plays at a position where the Saints are counting on a couple young players to emerge.
I wanted to find room for Virgil on this roster, but my front seven is overloaded. The second-year pro has been rotating in with the 1s at times and could easily crack the roster if the Saints keep less linebackers.
I hate to cut Tull, who hasn’t seen the field yet because of a shoulder surgery he underwent before the draft. But Edebali and Powell have been among the standouts in camp so far, so Tull’s path to the roster will be awfully crowded when he returns.
Rookie Anthony has been one of the brightest spots in camp so far, and he sure looks poised to make a run at a starting job right away. If that happens, I wonder if Hawthorne or Ellerbe could be in jeopardy since they’re not prominent special-teams players. Ellerbe has missed a few days with an unspecified injury but was back with the starters during Monday’s afternoon walk-through.
After cutting Jean-Baptiste from my original projection, I’ve added him back to the list. But I still think it will be tough for New Orleans to keep a total of six cornerbacks, and I’d be surprised to see rookies Williams or Swann get cut. Breaux has the early edge on the nickel corner job after a standout summer. But neither of the rookies has passed up Jean-Baptiste so far. Jean-Baptiste has played solid as a second-string corner, benefitting from a year of experience and New Orleans’ simplified defensive scheme. The highlight was an interception in 7-on-7 drills Monday. Special teams will be critical for all these guys.
I came close to moving the veteran Phillips ahead of Warren here. Phillips has been working ahead of Warren, making cameo appearances with the starting defense. And coach Sean Payton praised Phillips the other day. But again, the backup safety spots often come down to special-teams performance. I’m also probably too heavy with a total of 11 defensive backs. Some good players will miss the cut -- a good problem for the Saints to have.