Marshon Lattimore could be one of many new starters on Saints' defense

Former Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore should have an opportunity to start in his rookie season. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, and organized team activities and minicamps in full swing, here's a starting lineup projection for the New Orleans Saints:


QB: Drew Brees. The Saints came close to drafting a successor in Pat Mahomes with the 11th pick. Instead, they didn't draft a QB at all. No need to force it (yet) since Brees is still thriving at age 38 and just led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards.

RB: Mark Ingram. New Orleans' backfield got more crowded with the signing of Adrian Peterson and the drafting of Alvin Kamara. But Ingram remains the main man after his first 1,000-yard rushing season.

WR: Michael Thomas. Thomas had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever by a receiver (92 catches, 1,137 yards, nine touchdowns in 2016). That's part of the reason why the Saints decided Brandin Cooks was expendable.

WR: Willie Snead. After going undrafted and bouncing around with three different teams in 2014, Snead has a combined 141 catches for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two years.

TE: Coby Fleener. Fleener's first season in New Orleans was a disappointment after the former Colt signed a five-year, $36 million deal. But he should be able to improve on his 50 catches, 631 yards and three TDs.

FB: John Kuhn. I probably should list Peterson, No. 3 WR Ted Ginn Jr. or a TE like Josh Hill or Michael Hoomanawanui here instead, since fullback is a minor role in New Orleans. But Kuhn made the most of that role with five touchdowns last year, along with his lead-blocking duties.

LT: Terron Armstead. He's one of the league's most underrated tackles and arguably a top-three talent on the roster but has missed 12 games over the past two years with knee issues.

LG: Andrus Peat. The 13th pick in the 2015 draft struggled as a rookie before finding a comfort zone at left tackle/left guard last year. If Armstead can stay healthy, Peat can stay put at this spot.

C: Max Unger. News broke last week that Unger will be sidelined until at least the preseason with a foot injury. That's a huge concern since Unger has established himself as one of New Orleans' most valuable players. Solid veteran Senio Kelemete will likely fill in.

RG: Larry Warford. By far the Saints' most expensive new addition at four years, $34 million, Warford will replace 11-year starter Jahri Evans. Warford, 25, just entered his prime -- and Sean Payton said the Saints liked the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder for his "ass and mass."

RT: Zach Strief. The 33-year-old had another solid year in his 11th NFL season. But he'll have to hold off first-round draft pick Ryan Ramczyk, just like he held off Peat two years ago.


DE: Cameron Jordan. The Saints' best defensive player should have made his third trip to the Pro Bowl last year. But his 7.5 sacks didn't stand out as much as numbers like 17 tackles for loss (tied for the NFL lead), 24 quarterback hits (tied for sixth) or five batted passes (tied for seventh).

DT: Nick Fairley/Sheldon Rankins. The Saints are counting on much of their pressure to come from inside, and these guys will provide it while rotating at the 3-technique spot (or playing together on passing downs). Rankins was the No. 12 pick in the draft last year and finished with four sacks in nine games after returning from a broken fibula. Fairley had a career year with 6.5 sacks and 22 QB hits before signing a new four-year deal worth $28 million to $30 million.

NT: Tyeler Davison. A fifth-round draft pick in 2015, Davison started 15 games at nose tackle last year despite battling shoulder and foot injuries. He should continue to rise.

DE: Alex Okafor. The biggest disappointment of the Saints' offseason was that they didn't find a dynamic edge rusher to fill this spot. But Okafor has breakout potential after battling injuries during his first four years in Arizona. Also in the mix: Hau'oli Kikaha, Darryl Tapp and rookies Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

MLB: A.J. Klein. Klein is the Saints' most expensive newcomer on defense (three years, $15 million for the former Panther). At that price, they'll likely expect him to be their middle linebacker and signal-caller. But his versatility is a big plus, so he could play outside if they prefer Manti Te'o or Craig Robertson in the middle.

WLB: Dannell Ellerbe. The 31-year-old has been very good when healthy in New Orleans -- but that hasn't been often enough, with just 15 games played in two years. Robertson, Klein or rookie Alex Anzalone could split time.

SLB: Manti Te'o. He played middle linebacker during his first four years in San Diego, and Payton didn't mention him when briefly listing Klein, Anzalone and Nate Stupar as possible Sam linebackers. But I'm putting Te'o here because I see him as a base-down linebacker who can help against the run when healthy.

CB: Delvin Breaux. A breakout star from the Canadian Football League in 2015, Breaux's sophomore campaign was marred by leg and shoulder injuries that limited him to six games. But the big, hands-on corner has Pro Bowl-caliber talent.

SS: Kenny Vaccaro. The 2013 first-round draft pick arguably had his best season last year with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack in 11 games. But true to his up-and-down career, he ended it with a four-game suspension for a positive Adderall test. He's in line for a lucrative contract extension.

FS: Vonn Bell. He started 14 games as a second-round draft pick last year. But he'll have competition from this year's second-rounder -- ball-hawking center fielder Marcus Williams from Utah.

CB: Marshon Lattimore. The Saints were thrilled when he fell to them with the 11th pick in the draft since they had him ranked in their top four, and he filled a glaring need. He had four interceptions last year at Ohio State and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds.


K: Wil Lutz. It was a bit of a stunner when the Saints signed the undrafted rookie in Week 1 last year. But he settled in after some early ups and downs (finishing 28-of-34 on field goals) and appears to have a bright future.

P: Thomas Morstead. The terrific eight-year veteran had another standout season in 2016, finishing in the top five in both average and net average. He ranks among the best in NFL history in both categories.

KR/PR: Ted Ginn Jr. The newly signed veteran will bring his speed to the deep passing game and the return game, where he has seven career touchdowns. Tommylee Lewis, Travaris Cadet or Kamara could also be in the kickoff return mix.