<
>

Saints' 53-man roster projection includes four undrafted rookies

The New Orleans Saints must cut their roster to 75 by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday (Aug. 30) and to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday (Sept. 3). Here’s a final 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACK (3): Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson

Grayson hasn’t really pushed McCown for the backup job in his second NFL season. I don’t think Grayson will get cut, but the danger for him is that the Saints might decide to move on to a new developmental project next year.

RUNNING BACK (4): Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, C.J. Spiller, Daniel Lasco

The Saints could easily keep five. But they don’t really need Travaris Cadet or Marcus Murphy unless one of those guys is their top kick/punt returner. They could use Spiller and receiver Tommylee Lewis as return men instead.

FULLBACK (1): John Kuhn

The Saints signed the longtime Packers standout because of a short-term injury to fullback Austin Johnson. But now that Kuhn is in the door, I think he keeps the job.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, Tommylee Lewis, Brandon Coleman

Lewis is the first of four undrafted rookies on this list -- and the most unlikely. But I think the 5-foot-7, 168-pound receiver has secured his place with a dynamic summer. Coleman, meanwhile, is in serious jeopardy after a disappointing camp. Coach Sean Payton said last week that he has been “kind of pedestrian.” The Saints don’t need to keep five receivers, but I have them sticking with Coleman just a little while longer.

TIGHT END (3): Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

Hoomanawanui suffered an unspecified leg injury Friday night that leaves his status in doubt and could possibly open the door to a young backup such as Chris Manhertz, RaShaun Allen or Garrett Griffin. Otherwise, these three guys would be locks.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Terron Armstead, Max Unger, Zach Strief, Andrus Peat, Tim Lelito, Senio Kelemete, Jack Allen, Tony Hills

The Saints don’t even have five roster locks, much less eight, here. So this is a position in which they might go fishing in the free-agent pool after cuts around the league. They’ve been high on undrafted rookie center Allen (a first-team All-American from Michigan State) all summer. But he has had some costly missteps in the past two preseason games that leave him in jeopardy.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (10): Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Nick Fairley, Kasim Edebali, Tyeler Davison, John Jenkins, David Onyemata, Obum Gwacham, Bobby Richardson, Davis Tull

The Saints might keep an extra veteran here because of Rankins’ injury, whether that’s a tackle such as C.J. Wilson or end Darryl Tapp. Jenkins and Tull could potentially be surprise roster cuts.

LINEBACKER (6): James Laurinaitis, Stephone Anthony, Dannell Ellerbe, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar, Michael Mauti

These six are easy choices. Undrafted rookie Dillon Lee is a dark-horse candidate to join them.

DEFENSIVE BACK (10): Delvin Breaux, Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd, P.J. Williams, Vonn Bell, Roman Harper, Erik Harris, De’Vante Harris, Ken Crawley, Brian Dixon

This is the toughest group to project by far. I wanted to find room for veteran Cortland Finnegan because the cornerback group is so young and unproven. And I also hesitated to cut second-year corner Damian Swann because he showed so much potential last year. But the emergence of undrafted rookies Harris and Crawley made them both expendable. I kept Dixon as a fifth cornerback because he’s still the Saints’ best gunner on special teams.

SPECIALIST (3): Thomas Morstead, Connor Barth, Justin Drescher

It’s still dead even between Barth and Kai Forbath for the place kicker job with just one week remaining in the preseason. A miss or a clutch kick in Thursday’s finale would probably sway the decision either way.