The New Orleans Saints initial 53-man roster is set, although there should be some additional transactions over the next week. Several position battles remained close throughout the end of preseason and surely gave the Saints brain trust some brutal decisions.
Here are grades for each position on the Saints roster as it sounds now.
New Orleans Saints Initial 2018 Roster Grades
Quarterback – A+
This may be the best quarterback situation in the NFL. Brees is under contract for the next two seasons and will remain the starter as long as he’s in New Orleans, but it must feel good for Saints fans to finally see a potential successor on the roster. It doesn’t hurt that Bridgewater shares several similarities with Brees.
Meanwhile, the Saints will continue developing the versatile Hill, who flashed potential throughout the preseason.
Running Back – A
Mark Ingram (suspension)
Ingram’s four-game suspension is the only thing preventing this group from getting an A+. Following roster cuts, the Saints are left with two inexperienced backs to help Kamara fill the void. However, this could change in the coming days as veteran running backs from other teams become available.
Jonathan Williams was easily the Saints most surprising roster cut after he seemingly won the battle to replace Ingram. Williams looked like the most physical runner on the roster and led the team in preseason rushing attempts.
Scott had some good runs during the preseason, but he lacks size, and will probably see more action in the passing game. Edmunds spent all of the preseason at fullback after backing up Kamara and Ingram at running back last season, giving him valuable versatility. However, it’s hard to gauge his running ability after seeing only nine carries from him last season.
The offense will miss Ingram early on, but they’ll survive with the combination of Kamara, Scott, and Edmunds.
Wide Receiver – B
This group could easily outperform a B grade, but it’s not clear who will step up behind Thomas. Ginn was a pleasant surprise last season, but there’s no guarantee that he will produce the same kind of numbers in 2018.
A lot depends on how well newcomers Smith and Meredith perform. That’s no sure thing with Meredith coming off a torn ACL and Smith making the transition to the NFL. Fortunately, Meredith and Smith are off to a great start after both posted strong preseason performances.
Return specialist Brandon Tate was a surprising cut, but he showed limited ability as a receiver, opening the door for both Carr and Lewis to make the roster. It’ll be interesting to see how playing time is distributed between the two after Carr had the stronger preseason.
Tight End – C+
Watson had a stellar season with the Saints in 2015, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll put up the same numbers at age 37. If he suffers a serious injury, this group will be in a lot of trouble. Hill is a great blocking tight end but has never quite come along as a receiving threat.
Arnold converted from wide receiver to tight end last off-season and likely needs more time to transition after missing all of 2017. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact he can make in the passing game though.
This group is marginally better than it was last season, but that could all change with an injury to Watson or Hill.
Offensive Line – A
The fact that New Orleans cut veteran Josh LeRibeus shows how much confidence they have in Tom and Clapp, a second-year undrafted free agent and rookie seventh-rounder, respectively. Both showed the ability to play multiple interior positions in the preseason, which should minimize the effect of losing Senio Kelemete during the offseason.
Rookie fourth-round pick Rick Leonard missed the cut after spending most of the summer as the third-string offensive tackle. After starting just one year at tackle in college, it was clear Leonard was a project player, so this cut shouldn’t be too surprising. He did clear waivers though and will continue his development on the practice squad. Hopefully next year he can make a better case for the roster.
The only concern here is the lack of depth on the outside with Bushrod being the only backup tackle. Bushrod is transitioning back to the position after spending the last two seasons at right guard and had a few bad reps in pass protection during the preseason. With Armstead yet to play a full season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bushrod on the field, and he’ll have to play better than he did last month.
Defensive End – B
This group reminds me of the wide receiver situation. The Saints have one clear star in Jordan, but there are questions regarding every other player.
Okafor is coming off an Achilles tear from 2017, along with a bone bruise and sprained ankle suffered last month. Davenport is a huge investment who may only be a situational pass rusher early on. Hendrickson had good moments last season, but the Saints showed a lack of trust in him by minimizing his playing time even after Okafor went down.
This season we’ll likely see a frequent rotation at right end opposite Jordan. Since the other four possess different strengths, that’s probably the best strategy until one of them emerges as the strongest option.
Defensive Tackle – B+
Onyemata’s growth over the last year has been a great development for this group. He and Rankins are great young three-technique tackles, and Davison has developed into a solid nose tackle. Stallworth was disruptive in the preseason and looks like a good backup to Davison.
Devaroe Lawrence arguably played even better than Lawrence, but the Saints didn’t need another three-technique lineman. Instead, they tactfully acquired a seventh-round pick for him in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
This group could use a bit more size, but there’s a lot of young talent here.
Linebacker – B-
It’s tempting to place huge expectations on this group, which could be the Saints best in nearly a decade. However, it still isn’t clear what the best starting trio is after New Orleans tried nearly every possible combination this summer.
Davis faces the challenge of matching his success in 2017 when he led the NFL in tackles. Based off last season, Klein and Te’o will fill the rest of the starting lineup. Klein has been ripped by critics after receiving a 48.2 grade from Pro Football Focus last season, but he continues to have the confidence of coaches. Te’o is an excellent run defender but isn’t trusted in coverage.
As for the rest of the group, Anzalone still has a lot to prove after playing just four games as a rookie. Robertson has had great games in his two seasons with New Orleans, but he doesn’t consistently show up. Stupar has primarily played special teams in his career, although he is a capable backup.
The good news is that this group has undoubtedly improved with the addition of Davis after playing well last season. They just need to make more plays and find their best pass defender.
Cornerback – A
Lattimore, Crawley, and Robinson form one of the best starting trios, and the competition lower on the depth chart this summer was encouraging after some poor backup performances last season.
Williams, in particular, could be a valuable backup after playing his first full season in 2017. Williams missed all but two games in his first two years and should play more confidently this season with more experience under his belt.
Maulet and Hardee were primarily special teamers last year, but both showed growth this summer and managed to bump out rookie fifth-round pick Natrell Jamerson. The Saints likely planned to add Jamerson to the practice squad, but he was claimed off waivers this morning by the Houston Texans.
Safety – B+
Williams has been on a warpath since the Minneapolis miracle. He embraced the adversity during the off-season, then intercepted Brees seven times in training camp. Bell and Coleman should get similar playing time since they both play strong safety and the Saints frequently utilize three-safety sets.
Like Maulet and Hardee, Banjo cut his teeth as a special teamer last season but should see more defensive snaps this season.
It was somewhat surprising to see Gray make the roster. He showed up often in early training camp reports but didn’t make much of an impression during the preseason. Gray managed to bump out rookie Kamrin Moore, who will not return on the practice squad after being claimed off waivers by the New York Giants.
It has to be disappointing for the Saints to lose two of their 2018 draft picks already after such a great draft in 2017. With that said, the release of Jamerson and Moore shows how strong the competition was at defensive back. It’ll be interesting to monitor the careers of Jamerson and Moore compared to the players who bumped them off the roster.
Special Teams – A
There’s not much to critique among the specialists. Lutz is entering his third season as the Saints kicker after years of flux at the position. Morstead has the third-best punting average of all time and the second best net punting average of all time. New Orleans found stability with Wood in 2017 after a multi-player tryout last August.