Breaking Down the Saints' Depth Chart After the Peak of Free Agency
The New Orleans Saints' current depth chart is in limbo after the first two weeks of free agency. The peak of free agency is over, but the Saints promise to be busy in the coming weeks and months refining the roster to meet the needs of the franchise.
As will be noticeable based on this list, there are certain positions in which the team remains weak. Other positions are noticeably strong.
This is a rough idea of how the team stacks up as the NFL draft nears ever closer.
It’s strange to see just one quarterback on a team's roster at this point in the offseason. Yet that is the predicament facing Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints.
It’s not that big of a deal, though. If ever there were a team prepared to handle just one quarterback this late into the offseason, it’s the Saints. Heck, last year, the team only had one as well (Sean Canfield doesn’t count, does he?) when Chase Daniel was the “starter,” as Brees’ franchise tag placed him as a “pending” player on the roster.
The Saints will fill the No. 2 QB spot either later in free agency or through the draft process (not necessarily with one of the team's five picks, though).
Make no mistake about it, Pierre Thomas is the No. 1 back in New Orleans. He is the most complete of any back on the roster. Though he is often underutilized in terms of touches, his impact on the team is greater than any other back.
Mark Ingram is technically a starter at running back alongside Thomas—as of now. Ingram will get more than his fair share of carries in 2013. It’s about time he produces to the level of expectations placed upon him after winning the Heisman Trophy at Alabama and being drafted 28th overall in 2011.
Chris Ivory is as solid a third running back as there is in the NFL—just don’t ask him to jump any spot higher. His value would be instantly lost, as he cannot stay healthy, nor can he hold onto the football.
Both Darren Sproles and Travaris Cadet are considered New Orleans Saints running backs. The truth is, that is more of a glorified title for the actual role each plays when in the game.
Sproles lines up as a receiver on roughly 60 percent of his offensive snaps. For the remaining 40 percent, he lines up next to Brees in the shotgun—generally to go out for a short pass route. Occasionally, he’ll stay in to chip on a pass-rusher only to release out into the flat. Once every so often, he’ll actually receive a carry.
Cadet’s role was quite similar in the limited snaps he saw in 2012. Both add value as impact players in the return game.
Jed Collins is the assumed starting fullback—and for good reason. He does a more-than-adequate job as a run-blocker and pass protector. He is also a fine option as a receiver.
It would be a little surprising if the team even bothers to bring in any kind of legitimate competition for him this offseason.
There is likely some debate on whether Marques Colston really fits in as the "X" receiver or as the "Z." Considering the "X" is intended to represent the more traditional "flanker" spot, it fits Colston well. That said, Colston also lines up in the slot on a high percentage of the Saints’ nickel snaps.
Nick Toon is a player the Saints hope to get some steady production from in 2013, after he never saw the field as a rookie in 2012. Andy Tanner is a guy who continues to get a look from the Saints after spending multiple seasons on the practice squad.
Finally, Courtney Roby is a key veteran who can play receiver if asked to do so, but whose value lies in his amazing special teams abilities.
Lance Moore is generally thought of as a slot receiver due to his frame and skill set. The truth is that he lines up outside more often than in the slot. He really took over Devery Henderson’s role in 2012 and killed his previous career-high yards-per-catch average.
Joseph Morgan really took over for Robert Meachem in many ways. Like Meachem before him, Morgan was used quite often as the lone receiver in one-receiver sets. And like Meachem, Morgan specialized in catching the deep ball. Look for more of that in 2013.
The other four players here figure to have a limited impact in 2013—if any at all.
Everyone and their brother knows Jimmy Graham is the Saints’ starting tight end going into 2013—unless he were to suffer a season-ending injury prior to the season opener in September.
After him, it seems likely that Benjamin Watson will assume the “blocking tight end” role that David Thomas held since arriving in New Orleans in a 2009 training camp trade. Michael Higgins figures to be a player who will engage in a battle for the third tight end spot with a late-round draft pick and/or college free-agent signee.
Though Sean Payton says the left-tackle job is open for competition in 2013, the need for a presumptive starter headed into OTAs and training camp remains. If by nothing else than default, Charles Brown is that guy.
2012 seventh-round selection Marcel Jones figures to be his primary competition at that spot—at least if no other player is added to the mix between now and the beginning of camp.
As long as Ben Grubbs does not get hurt in 2013, he is the only player who will occupy this position. It’s really as simple as that. He is the Saints’ best offensive lineman.
Brian de la Puente
Brian de la Puente seems horrible when you’re watching a game live or trying to figure out how Drew Brees is seemingly under pressure at all times. Yet, by most analysts’ film analysis, de la Puente is one of the finest centers in the NFL.
That said, the Saints would not lose a ton if forced to start Eric Olsen at center. The Saints have used four different centers in the Sean Payton era. It is one position on the offensive line that the team does not value the player as much as the strength of the overall line unit.
Much like with Ben Grubbs, there is almost zero chance any other player sees time at right guard—unless Evans gets hurt. In that event, the entire offensive line is in serious trouble anyway. The backups will not do the trick.
While Zach Strief isn’t the ideal player to start at right tackle for the New Orleans Saints, he is at least serviceable. The other two players on this list could potentially fit the same description, but as of yet, the Saints really do not know if they are. With Strief, the team knows exactly what they have—a serviceable right tackle.
It’s important to note that I make no note of strong/weak or left/right in distinguishing who plays where along the defensive line. Rob Ryan likely will not either. Instead, the two best defensive ends will start, and the next best players will rotate in to keep those guys fresh.
As of now, Cam Jordan and Will Smith are the two best defensive ends—especially the two best suited to play a five-technique spot in the Saints’ new 3-4 defense.
Akiem Hicks will likely switch back and forth between end and nose tackle as he rotates in and out of the game. He is, though, essentially a fourth starter along the line. Tom Johnson will fit in as a nice rotation player, most likely at the end spot.
Brodrick Bunkley is the likely starter at nose tackle—at least if the roster remains compiled the way it is currently. Akiem Hicks figures to play starter's snaps at the spot, too.
Tyrunn Walker showed promise as a rookie who never actually saw the field on Sundays. His size is less than ideal for the nose-tackle spot, but his skill set fits best for the position in the new 3-4 defense.
Curtis Lofton is the quarterback of the defense. He is certain to be one of two starting inside linebackers. The other starting spot is a little more uncertain—though it would seem that David Hawthorne has a firm grip on the spot—if the selection is based on common sense.
Unfortunately, the Saints tend to be unnecessarily loyal to certain players. Jonathan Vilma could gain a starting spot in the defense, despite not being a good fit for the scheme. Chris Chamberlain should be a solid fourth inside backer.
The other three players listed either don’t figure to make the squad or will only play special teams.
Martez Wilson makes too much sense as an outside linebacker not to start—especially given the overall lack of quality depth the Saints possess at the position for this particular scheme. As for who starts opposite him, it’s really anyone’s guess.
Theoretically, it could be Junior Galette. And that proposition should scare Saints coaches and fans alike. It would be preferable if Greg Romeus or Braylon Broughton came out of practically nowhere to snatch the starting spot from Galette. Of course, that all assumes the team does not find the starter in the draft or throughout the remainder of free agency.
Keenan Lewis is the Saints’ No. 1 cornerback after one successful season in the same role with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. He must continue his ascent to the top of the league at the position in 2013 for the Saints’ secondary to grow and improve from the 2012 debacle.
Patrick Robinson is the likely starter opposite Lewis in 2013—unless the team corrals Nnamdi Asomugha out of the free-agent herd. Corey White figures to once again win the nickel spot in 2013.
Though it may not be fiscally responsible to keep a player such as Jabari Greer on the team as the fourth corner, it would also be fiscally irresponsible to release him after he earned a roster bonus recently. In other words, he is stuck with the team, despite the likelihood of a significantly decreased role in 2013.
Though Rob Ryan’s defense is built in the mold of traditional defenses which distinguish between a free safety and strong safety, it is an unnecessary distinction in today’s NFL. And Ryan has adapted his scheme a bit to take advantage of players’ skill sets.
The point is that the two starting safeties—Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins—will be interchangeable in their roles in 2013. The same can be said when reserves Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush enter the lineup. Even Jerico Nelson is a player who would be higher on most teams’ depth chart.