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Saints' projected roster has Jairus Byrd starting on PUP list

Saints safety Jairus Byrd has been cleared to play this season, but will he start out on the PUP list? Derick E. Hingle/Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

As intriguing as it is to project those three or four spots on the back end of the New Orleans Saints' roster, the most important decisions the team will unveil over the next few days are those regarding injuries.

We should get a general idea of the recovery timetable for safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, based on whether the Saints start them on an injury list or the active 53-man roster.

I'm projecting Byrd will start out on the physically unable to perform list. That means he'll miss at least six weeks, but that seems realistic since we haven't even seen him watching practice from the sideline for weeks.

Byrd is the only player eligible for the PUP list since he was injured before the start of training camp. The Saints could place Lewis or Ellerbe on short-term injured reserve, but they would have to wait until Tuesday to do so.

Here is a position-by-position look at who stays after the Saints make their final cuts on Saturday:

QUARTERBACK (3)

Drew Brees

Luke McCown

Garrett Grayson

I still think third-year pro Ryan Griffin belongs on an NFL roster. But the veteran McCown has beaten him out the past two years and played ahead of him in every game this preseason. So Griffin may have to pursue that career elsewhere. ...This will be a redshirt year for the rookie Grayson.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

Brandin Cooks

Marques Colston

Brandon Coleman

Willie Snead

Josh Morgan

I had Josh Morgan penciled in here even before Joseph Morgan's struggles in Thursday's preseason finale. I still think it's extremely close, with the two veterans battling for one spot as a blocking specialist. Meanwhile, Snead has gone from long shot to virtual lock in recent weeks. Second-year pro Seantavius Jones also has a chance since he brings special teams value.

RUNNING BACK (4)

Mark Ingram

C.J. Spiller

Khiry Robinson

Marcus Murphy

I hate to cut veteran Tim Hightower, who is attempting to come back from a three-year injury hiatus. He has a chance because of injuries to Spiller and Robinson, but both are expected back soon.

FULLBACK (1)

Austin Johnson

I used to think it was a 50-50 battle between Johnson and Erik Lorig. After Lorig got cut earlier this week, it now feels like 60-40 between Johnson and Toben Opurum.

TIGHT END (3)

Benjamin Watson

Josh Hill

Orson Charles

Charles is facing a Week 1 suspension, so even if the Saints choose him as their No. 3 tight end, they may have to keep someone like tight end Alex Smith -- or maybe an extra fullback for that week.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Terron Armstead

Zach Strief

Max Unger

Jahri Evans

Tim Lelito

Andrus Peat

Senio Kelemete

Nick Becton

I previously had undrafted rookie Sean Hickey on this list, but he didn't even play with the second unit on Thursday night. So I switched him out for Becton. The top seven are set. After that it's wide open.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

Cameron Jordan

Akiem Hicks

John Jenkins

Kevin Williams

Tyeler Davison

Parys Haralson

Bobby Richardson

Ashaad Mabry

The choice between undrafted rookies Richardson, Mabry and Tavaris Barnes is one of the toughest on the roster. I kept Richardson because I've seen more flash plays and Mabry because he can play nose tackle. Barnes could easily supplant either one, though. ...I think veteran Haralson is safe, but he's not set in stone.

LINEBACKER (7)

Stephone Anthony

David Hawthorne

Hau'oli Kikaha

Dannell Ellerbe

Kasim Edebali

Ramon Humber

Davis Tull

Ellerbe is a wild card because he's been sidelined by injury for three weeks, and he's expensive for a backup. But the Saints traded for him this offseason, and he looked decent in the small glimpses we've seen. ...This is another position where an undrafted rookie could make the team, especially if they've performed well on special teams.

CORNERBACK (7)

Keenan Lewis

Brandon Browner

Delvin Breaux

Damian Swann

Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Brian Dixon

Kyle Wilson

I can't believe I'm keeping all seven of these guys -- and it's by default since none of the final three are well-rounded enough. I'm keeping Jean-Baptiste because of his long-term potential and the investment the Saints made in him last year in Round 2 of the draft. I'm keeping Dixon because he might be the team's best gunner on special teams. And I'm keeping Wilson because I think the Saints would trust him more than the other two if needed because of injury.

SAFETY (4)

Kenny Vaccaro

Rafael Bush

Kenny Phillips

Pierre Warren

* -- Jairus Byrd (PUP)

Phillips, Warren and Jamarca Sanford all have a chance to make the team because of injuries to Byrd and Vinnie Sunseri (who is already on injured reserve). As I wrote Thursday, I think Warren's great special teams play might have cemented a spot for him. But Sanford and Phillips did start ahead of Warren, and Sanford's solid on special teams, too. So it's close.

SPECIALIST (3)

K Dustin Hopkins

P Thomas Morstead

LS Justin Drescher

My kicker odds: 45 percent Hopkins, 44 percent Zach Hocker, 11 percent a player to be named later. The Saints would have loved it if Hopkins would have just nailed his 53-yard field goal attempt on Thursday to seal the deal.