As the final preseason game approaches, the Saints coaches will have a very tough call to make with their final 53-man roster. I took a stab at it after observing this team all camp.
So without further adieu, here is my final 53:
Drew Brees, Luke McCown
Analysis: No brainer here. McCown has been impressive all preseason. Griffin is a player the Saints like but will likely need a year on the practice squad before he is ready.
Running Back: 4
Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Travarris Cadet
Analysis: I came awfully close to just keeping three running backs but recent history suggests otherwise. I kept Cadet over Khiry Robinson because of his ability in special teams. Robinson would seem like a logical practice squad candidate. For him to overtake Cadet, he would need a 'wow' moment. I've seen solid play from him but for an undrafted guy to beat out an incumbent they need a game-changing play. He hasn't had one yet.
Wide Receiver: 6
Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Andy Tanner, Preston Parker
Analysis: By far the toughest decision. I kept six and left off Courtney Roby. I can only go by what my eyes tell me and through this preseason Tanner and Parker have earned their way onto the roster. I understand Roby plays special teams but the ultimate determinant for me was Roby was on the field during the 52-yard punt return last week that was called back. In fact, he was the player who was pushed in the back. But as I watched the tape of that play, I'm convinced Roby got bailed out and would not have made that tackle even without the penalty. Thus, I'm leaving him off. Plus, Parker can return kicks.
Tight End: 3
Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, Michael Higgins
Analysis: No real secrets here. This trio has been solid all preseason.
Analysis: I've often said that the one player that has really played well but has no shot at making the team was Austin Johnson. I really like his game and think he can play in the league, but this is Collins' job and I don't see the Saints keeping two fullbacks.
Offensive Line: 9
Charles Brown, Ben Grubbs, Brian De La Puente, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, Bryce Harris, Tim Lelito, Andrew Tiller, Terron Armstead
Analysis: I kept nine because of the injury history at certain positions along the line. Harris has been one of the highest graded tackles in theNFL during the preseason. Lelito broke on to the scene last week with a solid effort against Houston with the first team.
Defensive Ends: 4
Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Glenn Foster, Tyrunn Walker
Analysis: The best thing to come out of this preseason has been the excellent play at this position. Jordan looks poised for a Pro Bowl year, Hicks isn't too far behind. Foster is the undrafted gem they seem to discover every year and I love the athleticism of Walker.
Defensive Tackle: 2
Broderick Bunkley, John Jenkins
Analysis: I only kept two because of the versatility of Hicks.
Outside: Junior Galette, Parys Haralson, Martez Wilson, Rufus Johnson
Inside: Curtis Lofton, Ramon Humber, David Hawthorne, Kevin Reddick, Jonathan Vilma
Analysis: This all depends on the health of Vilma. If he is healthy, I think the Saints keep him around. If he's not, then his spot may go to another position or a guy like Will Herring.
Keenan Lewis, Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, Corey White, Chris Carr
Analysis: Rod Sweeting has played well but I'm taking experience with Carr in this one. Sweeting seems like a likely practice squad player.
Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, Jim Leonhard
Analysis: As I've observed the Rob Ryan defense over the last few weeks I've realized just how diverse he needs his safeties to be. That's why I'm keeping five on the roster. Vaccaro and Jenkins can play nickel while Harper can be a blitzing safety-type. I kept Leonhard because of his knowledge of the system and get the sense the coaches like his influence in the meeting rooms.
Punter: Thomas Morstead
Kicker: Garrett Hartley
Long Snapper: Justin Drescher