Undrafted Underdogs – (All Saints Considered)
The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone with the usual excitement. The less celebrated names that didn’t get their names called at least get to choose their teams after the draft in hopes of defying the odds. Some players go undrafted because they don’t have the skillset that teams are looking for or there just aren’t enough picks for all the talented players to get chosen. Either way the odds of undrafted players of making the teams are close to zero, but not at all impossible. Going through training some camp players have little room for error because they limited repetitions when they are 3rd and 4th string. Therefore undrafted players have to take advantage when able.
The Saints have been in good hands at quarterback since the 2006 season with Drew Brees breaking numerous records, winning a once thought to be impossible championship for the Saints franchise, and going to constant Pro Bowls. Signing only a 2 year contract, his career is expected to come to a close soon. JT Barrett was brought into develop and compete for a roster with the experienced Tom Savage, and highly spoken of Taysom Hill who also was undrafted in 2017. Barrett has many wins on his college resume. He is considered a good locker room guy with the ability to lead which is mandatory for the position. His mobility is extra icing on the cake. His arm strength, passing accuracy, and decision making are his areas of question. Training camp and the months prior are key to his development to obtain a spot on the roster. The only thing his competition has over him is experience.
Keith Kirkwood is an undrafted receiver from Temple. Through the draft and free agency Kirkwood has little room to eat at the table. He is 6’3 220 pounds so size is on his side. Most of the current wide receivers ahead of him are big too, so he has to find to convince the staff that he had plenty to offer. I don’t expect to keep more than 5-6 receivers, so his odds are low, but RB Pierre Thomas once defied those, so I don’t like to count anyone out.
The fullback & tight end positions are the best place to have a reasonable chance to make this roster. There are not as many players to compete with, no projected long term players established in those positions. Ben Watson is an underrated talent especially for his age, but like Brees he is not expected to play many more years. Deon Yelder only has one year college starting experience with the physical tools to succeed, but needs time to develop and learn how to use them. He got high praise from the rookie minicamp after the draft so maybe the staff saw something in him that other teams didn’t. he’s also competing with Wake Forest and ACC record-breaking pass-catcher Cam Serigne. Ryan Yuracheck is a Marshall product who is listed at fullback. Zach Line played well last year therefore I do not see him getting beat out for the job, but that doesn’t mean Yuracheck still can’t make the team. In his film he showed versatility playing fullback and tight end. If he can be serviceable at both positions while contributing on special teams, than he would save the team a roster spot which is valuable when teams are trying to cut down to 53 man rosters. It is a numbers game that helps the organization and the players value at the same time.
Cory Helms and Nate Wozniack are two guys brought in to see how they can contribute the offensive line. Cory is versatile guard or center from South Carolina and Wake Forrest. His level of competition will not be question battling the vs SEC and ACC defenders. Scouting reports portray him as a strength guy with need to improve on balance and flexibility. Nate Wozniac is a big tight end that is venturing into the offensive tackle position. The Saints usually do well when they implement a 6th offensive lineman to help with blocking. He seems very athletic with a need to improve strength for the position. Time to develop will be his best friend in attempt to show the coaches he has potential that is reachable. Making the roster is the first key battle for these two players. With some backups from last year leaving, their chances are improved, but it will still come down to how the adjust to competition.
In my opinion, the trenches are where good teams are made or broken. The defensive linemen brought in post-draft are Oregon Duck Henry Mondeaux and South Carolina Gamecock Taylor Stallworth. Henry brings the popular versatility factor again. He managed to play all positions along the defensive line and a little bit of time at middle linebacker. So he is either athletic for his size, or his coaches enjoy being creative, or both. He obviously went undrafted for a reason; the “why” is unknown. He isn’t a finished project, but if he gets anywhere close, he will be exciting to see mix in with the current group of linemen. Taylor Stallworth is a stout guy who will make his money holding his ground versus the run. His small stature for the position, and the possible limitation only playing running downs puts a dent in his chances of making the team, especially with multiple younger up-and-coming talent, but you never know what a man is doing to prepare when he isn’t in the spotlight.
The Saints linebacker group is underrated with solid depth spread all around which is what I see holding back the next two players from making the squad. I think they will really need to stand out on special teams and have the unwanted injury to help them. Colton Jumper is a physical tackler from the Tennessee Vols who needs to wow in the pass defense department. He reminds me of Alex Anzalone in a good way KeShun Freeman is also downhill thumper from Georgia Tech very similar to AJ Klein. Freeman showed the ability to live in the backfield with 20.5 tackles for loss which is equal to a sack at the end of the day. I am actually excited about Freeman, but the players already on the roster may be a tough obstacle to overcome.
Linden Stephens a Cincinnati cornerback was reported to have the Saints’ interest at the East West Shrine game. They see potential for development obviously. He has good height at 6’0″ and quick feet, but all that means nothing if he doesn’t consistently find a way to get his head around to play the ball. That’s not a shot at him, just a common rookie defensive back issue. He is one of those guys who is well liked by numerous scouts that still ended up undrafted, therefore I would keep an eye on him. JT Gray is product from Mississippi St. that is ok at everything, but does not stand out at anything. Special teams and help with roster management are his keys to helping him make the team. Seeing how much depth there was on the team already and the drafting of two defensive back makes for more competition to become one of the final 53.
Being undrafted isn’t the way players would like to enter the league, but it is still a window of opportunity even if it is just slightly cracked open. It is up to them to take advantage of limited opportunities and outshine the competition. If coaches are learning you by jersey number instead of the name taped to your helmet, then that is progress. Although these undrafted player’s chances of making the final roster may be a fraction above zero, Pierre Thomas, Ken Crawley, Willie Snead, Lance Moore, Brandon Coleman, Jabari Greer, and Will Lutz among others are all reasons to not count out guys fighting to defy almost impossible odds. Keep your eyes peeled and doubt no one.
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