The New Orleans Saints are one of the most complete teams in all of football. From an extremely potent offense to a stingy defense, the Saints will be prepared for any team that they come across in the 2019 season.
With that being said, there are a few positions that will have tight battles for big roster spots. This series of articles will begin at the wide receiver position.
As of the date that this article was written, Michael Thomas has not reported to training camp and won’t do so until he gets a new contract. He will receive a new contract very soon and is a lock to be the number one wide receiver for the Saints again this season. There isn’t much to talk about with Thomas in regards to his roster spot. He finished the 2018 season with a league-leading 125 receptions and 1,405 yards, sixth-best in the league. Thomas is a top receiver in the NFL and will soon be paid like one.
Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn had a rough season in 2018 due to a knee injury early in the year that limited him to five games. This was a huge loss for the Saints, leaving them with a huge hole at the wide receiver position and no solidified deep threat. Despite his injury history, Ginn is a huge part of the Saints offense when healthy, and is another virtual lock to make the roster. Here’s to hoping he can remain healthy this coming season and give Brees his deep threat that was desperately missed last season.
The Saints spent their 2018 third-round pick on Tre’Quan Smith out of UCF. His stats look good on paper, but this was due to two games that screwed these numbers. He posted huge stat lines against the Redskins and Eagles in blowout games, recording 111 yards (three catches) and 157 yards (10 catches), respectively. Outside of these two games, he caught only 15 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Smith has a very good shot, if not a lock, to make the roster, but he will need to work on his route-running and improve his catching ability in order to become an efficient option for Brees. If he can improve on these areas and avoid injury, look for Smith to become a huge weapon out of the slot for the Saints in 2019.
Keith Kirkwood was another rookie in 2018 that was forced into a big role when Ginn went down with his injury. Although his numbers were not too impressive, he became a more reliable target than Smith, despite being undrafted. He finished the season with 13 receptions, going for 209 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. He is in no way a flashy receiver, but he works well in traffic and is pretty sure-handed when called upon. He is almost a lock to be the Saints’ fourth receiver to start the season due to his performance down the stretch last season. The real battles at the position will come at the final fifth and possibly sixth spot.
Players on the bubble:
Austin Carr, Simmie Cobbs, Rishard Matthews, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Emmanuel Butler
Austin Carr stepped up in a spot many expected recently-released wideout Cameron Meredith to. He played in 14 games and caught nine passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers are not flashy, but he made some big catches for the Saints and proved to be a reliable target for Brees. With that being said, he is far from a lock to make the 53-man roster due to the competition he will have to face. He definitely has a step up on his competitors with his experience, but it might prove to be a difficult task to make the final roster.
Simmie Cobbs was signed from the Redskins’ practice squad in January after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft. He has good size and speed and has been generating some buzz since being signed by the Saints. He had a fantastic college career at Indiana and will be a big name to keep an eye on throughout training camp. If he can impress during camp, watch for Cobbs to make the roster and possibly get some meaningful playing time in 2019.
In June, Rishard Matthews was signed by the Saints, who hope they can get the Tennessee version of him. From 2015 to 2017, Matthews was a very solid producer for the Titans, but has fallen off in recent years. If he can prove to have regained his old form, he can be a nice veteran presence in the locker room and can have a nice impact in the slot role for the Saints.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft. He is a very physical player who was very productive in his final season at Texas, but was not drafted due to his poor combine performance. If he doesn’t make the team as a wide receiver, Sean Payton may be tempted to use his skillset at tight end, a position of need for the Saints (behind Jared Cook). Also, who wouldn’t want a guy with the name “Lil’Jordan” on their team?
Emmanuel Butler is another undrafted free agent that is a long shot to make the roster. He is a big target at 6-foot-3 and is oozing with athleticism. He broke out at Northern Arizona in 2015 and 2016, but a shoulder injury hurt him in the next two seasons, which is the reason he was undrafted. Although training camp just began, he has already impressed the coaching staff. He will need to continue to do so in order to claim a spot on the roster, but anything is possible for a guy with his skillset.
Darkhorse to watch: Cyril Grayson
You always have to root for the hometown kid. Cyril Grayson is a New Orleans native and former LSU track star, winning four national titles there. He is a long shot to make the roster, but he’s been turning heads at camp thus far. His blistering speed (4.33 40-yard dash) is quite impressive and makes him a contender for a role as a deep threat or a return man. The odds are stacked against him, but don’t count him out just yet. He will be an interesting name to keep an eye on throughout camp.
WR1: Michael Thomas
WR2: Ted Ginn Jr.
WR3: Tre’Quan Smith
WR4: Cameron Meredith
WR5: Keith Kirkwood
WR6: Austin Carr