Undrafted rookies have opportunity to crack Saints' defensive line

While John Jenkins, left, Akiem Hicks are likely to be regulars on the Saints' defensive line, there are several roster spots for the taking. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

If you want to make a “sleeper” pick for an undrafted rookie to crack the New Orleans Saints' 53-man roster, try the defensive line.

The Saints have an abundance of worthy candidates (Mississippi State’s Kaleb Eulls, Indiana’s Bobby Richardson, Clemson’s Tavaris Barnes and Texas-San Antonio’s Ashaad Mabry). And there’s an opportunity there since New Orleans doesn’t have a ton of experienced depth along the defensive line.

I stopped short of projecting one of those rookies on my initial 53-man roster projection. But that’s mostly because we haven’t seen any of them in pads yet, so I wasn’t quite ready to anoint one.

Here’s a closer look at the defensive line as I continue to break down the Saints’ roster battles, position by position, leading up to the start of training camp. Players report to The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia on July 29, with the first practice July 30.

Position: Defensive line

53-man roster projection: DE Cameron Jordan, DE Akiem Hicks, DE Tyeler Davison, DT Brodrick Bunkley, DT John Jenkins, DT Kevin Williams

Missing the cut: DE Glenn Foster, DE Kaleb Eulls, DE Bobby Richardson, DE Tavaris Barnes, DT Lawrence Virgil, DT Ashaad Mabry

Analysis: I went with just six defensive linemen -- a number that could definitely grow, especially if the Saints plan on using more four-man fronts this year. Jordan and Hicks are roster locks. Jenkins should probably be safe, too, since he’s still a rising third-year pro with great potential. But the 6-foot-3, 359-pounder needs to tap into that potential more consistently than he did last year.

I kept veterans Kevin Williams and Brodrick Bunkley -- though Bunkley needs to get healthy after missing almost all of OTAs and minicamp with an undisclosed injury (likely related to the torn quadriceps that ended his season last year). Bunkley has just been decent in his three years in New Orleans, but he has been an asset as a part-time run stuffer. He needs to prove that's still the case.

On the flip side, I left third-year pro Foster off my roster, which was a tough call since he played so well as an undrafted rookie in 2013. But Foster is still on the mend from his own season-ending knee injury suffered last October. He, too, will need to prove to be healthy to maintain his spot in the pecking order.

I went with Davison on the roster instead since the Saints invested a fifth-round pick in the versatile end/tackle. But he’ll have to fend off that talented group of undrafted rookies. Eulls and Richardson were two of the most highly-rated undrafted rookies by various scouting services, and Barnes played for one of the best defenses in college football.

If I had to pick one, I’d go with Eulls, who got bonus points for coming up so clutch when the Saints had their big men return punts in a spirited competition during OTAs.