Jan 13, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) reacts with quarterback Drew Brees (9) after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of a NFC Divisional playoff foot

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Saints roster breakdown: Grading each position group

Analyzing the Saints roster after free agency and the draft

Seth Dunlap
May 03, 2019 - 4:54 pm
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The traditional offseason roster shuffle in the NFL is nearly complete.   Teams have tried to sign, draft, and trade their way towards contention in 2019.  The Saints were no exception, as they worked to re-stock and fortify a roster that played into at least the second week of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

It’s likely – invevitable actually – that the Saints aren’t done adding pieces to their roster just yet.  That process will continue through not only the offseason, but well into the regular season.  Still, this is a good point to look at all of the position groups and where the Saints strengths and weaknesses may lie.

 

Quarterback (4):  Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, J.T. Barrett

Not only is Brees coming of one of his most efficient seasons, finishing second in MVP voting, but the depth behind him is assuredly the envy of the league.  Bridgewater eschewed a starting opportunity in Miami to return as the heir-apparent backup to Brees.  Hill is Sean Payton’s do-everything Swiss Army Knife.  Plus, the franchise remains relatively high on J.J. Barrett, who is likely headed to the practice squad.

Position Grade:  A+

 

Running Back (5):  Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, DeWayne Washington, Martez Carter, Zach Line, Devine Ozigbo

Mark Ingram is gone, which means Kamara now assumes the primary role at running back in the Saints offense.  The offseason signing of Murray gives the team a physical counterpunch to the elusive Kamara, but there are concerns about depth beyond that.  An injury to either Kamara or Murray and the position becomes a lot less stable.  Zach Line remains a nice fullback and special teams option.

Position Grade:  B+

 

Wide Receiver (11):  Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Tre’Quan Smith, Cameron Meredith, Austin Carr, Emmanuel Butler, Simmie Cobbs, Travin Dural, Keith Kirkwood, Deonta Harris, Lil’ Jordan Humphrey

Michael Thomas is a superstar, but there are questions about the durability and production behind him.  If the group can remain healthy – admittedly that’s a pretty big if – then they should produce like one of the better units in the league.  Meredith flashed signs of stardom early in his career, but injuries have clouded his once-bright future.  Tre’Quan Smith was inconsistent as a rookie, and Ted Ginn Jr. is now 34 years old.   Young players like Kirkwood, Carr or even the much-discussed Humphrey will likely be expected to make an impact in the offense this year.

Position Grade:  B

 

Tight End (5):  Jared Cook, Dan Arnold, Garrett Griffin, Josh Hill, Alize’ Mack

There should be wary skepticism around the signing of Jared Cook, who had a career high 896 yards in Oakland last year.   Cook will be 32 years old this season and has been incredibly inconsistent from season-to-season in the league.  The tight end position was an eye sore at times last year, so it’s likely Cook will be a better option than Ben Watson & Co. were, but don’t expect Cook to suddenly turn into Jimmy Graham 2.0 just because he’s with Drew Brees.  Cook has never caught more than six touchdown passes in his career, and has always struggled with drops.  The franchise would love to find a young, developmental pass catcher but they’ve struck out since drafting Graham nine years ago.

Position Grade:  C-

 

Offensive Line (13):  Terron Armstead, Derek Newton, Andrus Peat, Ryan Ramczyk, Mike Herndon, Larry Warford, Michael Ola, Nate Wozniak, Nick Easton, Cameron Tom, Erik McCoy, Will Clapp, Ethan Greenidge

The unit remains one of the best in the NFL, even with the departure of Max Unger.  It looks like a stroke of genius by the front office in trading up and grabbing McCoy in the 2nd Round of the NFL Draft, and he projects as an immediate starter.  That’s welcome news for the Saints, who would have had a serious question mark right in the middle of the offensive line if Easton, Tom, or Clapp been expected to hold the job.  There will still be an open competition heading into camp, and McCoy will assuredly have those rookie growing pains, but the Saints should once again have an incredibly reliable group in front of Drew Brees.

Position Grade:  A

Defensive Line (12):  Marcus Davenport, Cameron Jordan, Mario Edwards, Trey Hendrickson, Corbin Kaufusi, Malcom Brown, Tomasi Laulile, David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, Taylor Stallworth, Shyheim Tuttle, Carl Granderson

Jordan remains one of the best all-around defensive ends in football, but there are lingering questions elsewhere.  Davenport showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie before a toe injury derailed his season.  He was almost a non-factor late in the season and in the playoffs, and will need to show real improvement in order to justify what the Saints gave up to draft him two seasons ago.   Edwards was a nice signing in free agency, and could play the Alex Okafor role in the defense.  Rankins continues to recover from an Achilles’ injury and Onyemata is likely facing a suspension for marijuana possession, making the interior of the defensive line a little worrisome for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.  If Rankings & Onyemata were a full-go at the beginning of the season the rating for this group would be higher.  It’s also too early to assume that Davenport becomes the force so many think he will be.

Position Grade:  B

 

Linebacker (9):  Alex Anzalone, Vince Biegel, Demario Davis, Kaden Elliss, Chase Hansen, A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, Darnell Sankey, Darrell Williams

Another position group that will look nearly identical to last year.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Davis had the best season of any Saints inside linebacker since Jonathan Vilma wore the uniform.  The team hopes Alex Anzelone can reach his full potential and become a force at outside linebacker.  Klein remains a sufficient, if not spectacular, starter in the base package alongside Davis.   However, this is one of the biggest areas of relative weakness on the roster, and the team did little to address it this offseason.

Position Grade:  C

 

Cornerback (6):  Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, Ken Crawley, Patrick Robinson, Marcus Sherels, P.J. Williams

Lattimore and Apple have the opportunity to form one of the better cornerback tandems in the league.  Apple struggled at times in his transition to New Orleans, but was undoubtedly the best option the team had opposite of Lattimore over the past two years.  Crawley, Robinson, and Williams will compete for the nickel spot, but good depth remains elusive.  An injury or two, especially to Lattimore or Apple, would mean this group could become a liability again, something the Saints have dealt with far too often this decade.  Sherels will compete for a job at returner.

Position Grade:  B+

 

Safety/DB (10):  Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell, Chris Banjo, Saquan Hampton, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Chris Campbell, J.T. Gray, Justin Hardee, Darius Williams, Jordan Wyatt

With Kirk Coleman departed, the team will likely rely on a combination of Bell and Gardner-Johnson to fill the role(s) next to Williams.   Speaking of the third-year pro, Williams took a small step back last year after a breakout rookie season.  That’s not uncommon, and Williams still possesses elite range and ball skills.  The Saints also have a group of excellent special teams contributors in this mix, including Banjo and Hardee, the latter who can also play cornerback if needed.

Position Grade:  B

 

Kickers (2):  Will Lutz, Thomas Morstead

The value of having a pair of reliable kickers can often be underappreciated.  Not only are Lutz and Morstead reliable, they are among the best at their positions.  Barring injury, the Saints are in good hands, err feet, for the foreseeable future. 

Position Grade:  A

 

 

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