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Who's left to watch in Saints' opener without Adrian Peterson, top picks

What a bummer. The New Orleans Saints likely will kick off the preseason Thursday night in Cleveland without their three most intriguing newcomers on the field.

Adrian Peterson is not expected to play, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini. And the Saints almost certainly will be missing both of their first-round draft picks.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been sidelined for more than a week with a knee injury, which Sean Payton described as a tweak. Payton didn’t give a specific timetable for Lattimore’s return, but he said the 11th overall pick in the draft should be fine and that “it won’t be long.” Lattimore appeared to back up that diagnosis on Twitter:

Meanwhile, left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, whom the Saints drafted with the No. 32 pick, has been out since he left practice Saturday with an unspecified ailment. Payton declined to offer any updates on his ailment or timetable.

The Saints are counting on Ramczyk to start in place of injured veteran Terron Armstead, but only if he has time to get up to speed after also missing most of OTAs and minicamp while recovering from January hip surgery.

Payton declined to share any of the Saints' playing-time plans this week. So it’s unclear if other veterans such as Drew Brees and Mark Ingram will play.

But don’t fret. There still are plenty of reasons to watch New Orleans in live action for the first time. Here are four of them:

Crowd at cornerback: Lattimore and starter Delvin Breaux both are likely to miss Thursday’s game since they’ve been sidelined for more than a week in practice. That will create a huge opportunity for several others jockeying for position in the crowded cornerbacks group.

P.J. Williams is technically a returning starter, but he has played in only two career games in two seasons because of a hamstring injury in 2015 and a concussion in 2016. Second-year pros Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris both made the team as undrafted rookies last year -- and they’ve been two of the hottest players in camp so far this summer. Veteran Sterling Moore has proven to be a capable starter or nickelback if needed.

It’s possible that any of those guys could wind up as a Week 1 starter if they play well enough. Breaux’s name surprisingly was listed with the second string when the Saints released their first unofficial depth chart this week. That might not mean anything -- or it might signal that the position battle is more wide open than expected.

Anthony’s last stand? This will be a huge preseason for another former first-round pick -- linebacker Stephone Anthony, who barely saw the field last year after being moved from middle linebacker to the strong side. Anthony has taken reps at both weakside linebacker and middle linebacker this summer while the Saints try to find the right fit for him. He has a chance to win the starting weakside job if the light bulb finally goes on. But if it doesn’t, it’s possible he could be left off the 53-man roster entirely.

Veteran Craig Robertson and rookie third-round pick Alex Anzalone also are in the mix for the starting weakside linebacker job. Anzalone has made a lot of flash plays in camp (along with a few “knucklehead” ones, according to Payton). The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder likely will see a lot of action in Thursday’s game.

Grayson’s last stand? Another pick from that 2015 draft class -- third-round quarterback Garrett Grayson -- is in the same boat as Anthony. Grayson actually failed to make the 53-man roster last year after struggling in the preseason and spent the year on the practice squad. He said he finally feels comfortable in Year 3, but he’ll have to show some serious growth to stick around (and to prevent the Saints from drafting someone else to develop next year).

Grayson should see a lot of playing time in the preseason opener, with Brees likely to either sit out or exit quickly. Backup Chase Daniel and fourth-stringer Ryan Nassib also should play. So far in camp, Nassib has done little to show he’s ready to overtake Grayson for the No. 3 job. But the preseason games could change that.

Kamara should shine: With Peterson sitting out and Ingram unlikely to play much, if at all, rookie Alvin Kamara should get a lot of quality time. And expect the third-rounder from Tennessee to make a few flashy plays, especially if he’s facing a second- or third-string defense.

Kamara has been impressive in camp with his speed and athleticism as both a runner and receiver. It’s hard to predict a huge role for him this season because the backfield is so crowded. But if he shines enough in the preseason, he could force the Saints’ hand.