Following three games of preseason action, several New Orleans Saints position battles appear to be coming to a close. However, competitions for the Saints backup quarterback job and wide receiver depth remain tight, and could still be tough to call after the final exhibition game. Here’s a look at how some of the Saints position battles changed following their 35-7 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
New Orleans Saints Position Battle Update: Preseason Week Three
Following a decent week one performance, Taysom Hill took a giant step backward with a sloppy four-turnover showing last week against the Arizona Cardinals. Then Hill submitted a dominant performance on Saturday that narrowed veteran Tom Savage‘s lead and perhaps gave Hill the edge.
Hill completed seven of his eight pass attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown, generating a 140.6 passer rating. He also led the Saints in rushing with 35 yards, including an 11-yard scramble for a touchdown. Overall, Hill showed better poise on Saturday and looked more comfortable reading through his progressions.
Hill also ran for a first down on a fake punt play, made a tackle at the 17-yard line on a kickoff, and nearly blocked a punt before even taking the field at quarterback. These plays obviously little to do with the nuances of modern-day quarterbacking, but it assured his roster spot is safe regardless of whether or not he wins the backup job.
Overshadowed by Hill’s big game was a strong performance by Savage. The former Houston Texan went seven of ten passing for 99 yards, finishing the game with a 101.7 passer rating. Savage beautifully placed a deep pass to Tommylee Lewis for 36 yards, an encouraging play for Savage after two games of very conservative passing. However, he was off-target on a pass to tight end Josh Hill on a third down red zone play.
This competition could come down to whoever plays better next week, but it’s possible the Saints coaching staff already knows who their backup quarterback is.
Running Back Depth
Jonathan Williams, the front-runner to replace Mark Ingram during his four-game suspension, received only three carries and lost three yards. However, his strong performances in the first two preseason games should keep him ahead of rookie Boston Scott and seven-year veteran Shane Vereen.
Scott, who already had a good chance of making the roster further strengthened his case against Los Angeles. He accumulated 18 rushing yards, had a nice 11-yard catch and run, and slipped into the end zone on a two-point conversion run up the middle. Vereen finally flashed his ability on a 13-yard screen play, but Scott possesses a similar skill set and has more consistently shown up in preseason action.
Just two weeks ago, this competition was too close to call, but now Williams and Scott are the clear favorites to make the roster.
Wide Receiver Depth
Behind Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre’Quan Smith, and Cameron Meredith, it remains uncertain who will fill the fifth, and a potential sixth spot at wide receiver. When asked about the position after the game, head coach Sean Payton stated that “The depth chart is written in chalk.” However, we did get a strong hint on Saturday that second-year receiver Austin Carr is ahead of the other roster hopefuls.
Carr has been somewhat overlooked behind camp standout Keith Kirkwood, and returner candidate Brandon Tate and Lewis, but he’s had the strongest preseason of the group. Carr caught six passes for 75 yards in the last two games, with most of his production coming from the slot. Against Los Angeles, Carr received a lot of snaps with the first-team offense.
Lewis should not be forgotten after sneaking onto the roster in 2016 and 2017. However, he’s seen minimal involvement in preseason aside from his nice deep reception and some decent punt returns on Saturday. It’s unclear whether this is because the Saints already know what Lewis brings to the table, or if he’s fallen out of favor with the coaching staff.
Meanwhile, Tate remains the strongest return candidate, which could prompt the Saints to keep him as a fifth receiver. Unfortunately, Kirkwood has missed time lately with an undisclosed injury and has been unable to build on his strong play earlier in the month. Hopefully, he can recover in time for the fourth preseason game and resume his battle against Tate, Lewis, and Carr.
Not much changed at defensive tackle, but 2017 undrafted free agent Devaroe Lawrence continued his strong preseason with a disruptive performance against Los Angeles. If New Orleans keeps the fourth tackle behind Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and Tyeler Davison, Lawrence is the most likely candidate, but he hasn’t won this potential spot just yet.
Undrafted rookie Taylor Stallworth has been quieter than Lawrence but he consistently plugs up holes on runs up the middle. Stallworth’s advantage is that he could serve as backup nose tackle behind Davison. Lawrence fits the mold of Rankins and Onyemata, who won’t give up much playing time unless one is injured.
Veterans Jay Bromley and Woodrow Hamilton made strong impressions early in camp, but have made little impact in preseason action. They’ve also seen their preseason snap counts decline, as they both played just eight defensive snaps each on Saturday.
At defensive end, George Johnson appears to be edging out Al-Quadin Muhammad. Muhammad still looks athletic but unpolished in his pass rush, while Johnson picked up his second preseason sack. However, with Alex Okafor returning from injury sooner than expected and Mitchell Loewen consistently getting first and second team reps, there may not be room to keep Johnson or Muhammad.
Rookie Natrell Jamerson and 2017 undrafted free agent Justin Hardee both looked strong in coverage against Los Angeles and continue to be core special teamers. If Arthur Maulet continues to miss time after suffering an injury against Arizona, either Jamerson or Hardee (or both) will fill the lower part of the depth chart at cornerback.
Jamerson and Hardee aren’t the only contenders though. Cornerback Marcus Williams (not the 2017 second round pick), who was signed on August 11th made his presence felt on Saturday. Williams returned an interception for a touchdown, broke up a pass and recorded a quarterback hit. Williams has bounced around throughout his four-year career, but he did record six interceptions in a part-time role with the New York Jets in 2015.
Rookie safety Kamrin Moore looked sharp on Saturday after missing much of camp due to injury. He recorded a sack off a safety blitz and is looking better in coverage. Linden Stephens continues to hang in there but was flagged for pass interference.
It’ll be interesting to see how New Orleans condenses this group of roster hopefuls into what could be just 2-3 openings in the defensive backfield.
Embed from Getty Images