After revealing my first 53-man roster projection for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, I got more feedback about the decision to cut second-year cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste than any other move. Most were from fans wondering how the Saints could give up so quickly on a second-round draft choice that they labeled as a raw developmental project while he essentially redshirted last year.
My answer: The Saints haven’t given up on him. Not yet anyway. But Jean-Baptiste has got to prove he belongs over these next six weeks because he’s out of redshirt eligibility.
The path to the roster has become much more difficult now that the Saints have invested in two new rookie corners (P.J. Williams in Round 3, trading up for Damian Swann in Round 5) and signed three free agents (Brandon Browner, Kyle Wilson and Delvin Breaux).
Jean-Baptiste (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) won’t get by on his impressive size and potential alone this summer. The former wide receiver will have to prove essential to the Saints, either by winning a nickel or dime job or impressing on special teams.
Jean-Baptiste was such a hot-button topic that I decided to start my position-by-position look at the Saints’ roster battles with the crowded cornerback field. I’ll break down each position leading up to the start of training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Players report July 29 and begin practicing July 30.
53-man roster projection: Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner, Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams, Damian Swann
Analysis: I haven’t given up on Jean-Baptiste just because he didn’t see the field last year. I buy the redshirt concept. And coaches have suggested that Jean-Baptiste will benefit as much as anyone from the Saints’ decision to simplify their defensive playbook this year.
But to keep him, I would’ve had to keep six corners. That’s entirely possible, but I ran out of space even when I kept a total of 26 defensive players.
Lewis and Browner are locked in as starters. Breaux, whom the Saints plucked out of the Canadian Football League, impressed coaches enough during OTAs to earn an audition as the starting nickel corner. And I’d be surprised to see the Saints cut Williams or Swann so soon after drafting them, though stranger things have happened.
I also didn’t have room for former New York Jets veteran Wilson, who will have to earn the nickel job to stay on the team -- something he didn’t lock down during OTAs and minicamp.
Nor did I have room for Dixon or Frederick, both of whom earned roster spots and played ahead of Jean-Baptiste last year. Both spent most of OTAs with the third string, but Dixon did earn a roster spot last year based on his special teams coverage prowess. That will be key for all of these contenders.