(WVUE) - The time has just about come for football to jump back to the forefront of the sports landscape. The Saints will start training camp this week, and there's a guarded optimism around this group. It feels like they're better in 2017, but it's hard to pinpoint by just how much.
As we set to embark on another football season, here is my first (way too early) 53-man roster projection.
No brainer here. Unless Garrett Grayson or Ryan Nassib tears up training camp, the Saints will likely go with Brees and Daniel.
A loaded backfield has some concerned that there won't be enough touches to go around, nonsense. Sean Payton has always liked deep and diverse running backs. He will have a field day coming up with schemes to get all involved. As he said, it's a good problem to have. Lasco gets the fourth spot over Travaris Cadet and Marcus Murphy
Snead, Ginn and Thomas are obvious selections. I'm sticking with Coleman as the fourth wide receiver for now, as he has the most experience. The fifth receiver is a tough call. There's no guarantee they'll even keep five. I'm going with the familiar name for now in Dural. but guys like TommyLee Lewis and Corey Fuller all have a chance to crack the roster with a strong camp.
Armstead is on this list but not counted on my 53. He's heading to PUP or IR. Strief, Unger, Warford and Peat are starters. The question is who fills in for Armstead. In a perfect world, Ramczyk steps up, but that is no guarantee given his injury. For now, I'm sticking with the veteran Barnes, with Peat on the inside at left guard. The position the team wants him at the most. LeRibeus was the first team center all offseason with Unger out. We'll see if that continues in training camp when the pads come on. Landon Turner is another player to watch.
Hill's injury adds an interesting dynamic to this competition. Phillips gave the Saints solid snaps when he joined the team midseason. I think that could help him this season with a full training camp with the team. Leaving Michael Hoomanawanui off may be a bit surprising. I think he and Phillips will battle for the final spot.
Al Quadin Muhammad
Darryl Tapp is off for now, but that could change. The Saints brought him back for a reason. I'm going with both draft picks, though we've seen Payton is not afraid to part ways with one if they get beaten out. I keep circling back to Kikaha's health as the wild card to this entire group. It's such an unknown. If he's healthy, then there's good depth. If he's not, he could be out of a job.
The loss of Nick Fairley hurts, but life goes on for the Saints in the trenches. Onyemata can be key if he grows into the player the Saints envisioned this season. Maabry is a practice squader that may have found an opportunity. McDaniel can be a veteran to a suddenly young group.
The most wide open position battle of training camp. I updated this list after the eventual release of Dannell Ellerbe and the addition of Mauti. Mauti's special teams prowess gets him the nod over Manti Te'o. However, I can envision a scenario where, given that a lot of special teamers come from this position, that the Saints keep seven and Te'o makes the squad. Anthony will hopefully be back to his natural position. Thus, I think he'll be worth keeping around. It'll also be interesting to see what this group looks like with a new voice leading them in Mike Nolan.
The Saints made a concerted effort to improve this position. On the surface, it looks like they will be better. I'm curious to see who ultimately ends up starting opposite of Breaux. Maulet is one of two undrafted rookies I have in this projection. He fit right in right away during OTA's. The key for him is to continue that during training camp. De'Vante Harris is off this list for now, but don't be surprised if he battles his way on like he did last year. Damian Swann is the biggest omission. He just hasn't looked like the same player since suffering three concussions his rookie season. He'll need a good camp to stick around.
I really like the mix of youth and experience within this group. Vaccaro and Bush are veterans. Bell is coming back for his second season, while Williams is a rookie the Saints have high hopes for. I added Harris to this list because of his special teams ability.
Morstead and Lutz are locks. Gafford has veteran experience which should help him take the long snapper job.