Initial Post Draft Depth Chart for New Orleans Saints
As the 2013 NFL draft has come and gone, clarity has been brought as to just what the 2013 New Orleans Saints depth chart will look like. Changes can, and likely will, still be made based upon further free-agent signings, cuts, waived players and perhaps even trades.
It is undeniable still that a two-deep view of the Saints roster can be had at his point in the offseason.
Here is the initial post draft depth for the New Orleans Saints.
Starter: Drew Brees
While Drew Brees' reign as the highest-paid player in league history was short-lived (Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers quickly stole that from him this offseason), Brees remains the undeniable MVP of this Saints team, and still perhaps of the league.
It is still true that as Brees, so goes the fate of the New Orleans Saints.
No. 2: Undecided
The Saints brought in veterans Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace to compete with one another for the right to hold a clipboard on the sideline as Drew Brees continues to obliterate NFL record books.
OTAs, minicamps and training camp should determine the ultimate winner of that bittersweet honor.
No. 3/Developmental Spot: Ryan Griffin
Saturday night the Saints wasted little time in tabbing the Tulane alum as a developmental prospect. It makes sense, as Griffin played his final collegiate season in a slightly pared-down version of the Saints' playbook under first-year head coach Curtis Johnson, who spent the previous five seasons as the Saints' wide receivers coach.
Starters: Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas
Whether fans like it or not, the Saints technically start two running backs. As was generally the case in 2012, 2013 will see more of Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas as those two players.
Because the Saints are a back-by-committee and package and formation offense, even naming a starter is merely semantics. Based on the game plan, the Saints may initiate any given Sunday with both or neither of these players on the field.
Starter: Darren Sproles
Technically the Saints do not start a "flex back." For all practical purposes, though, Sproles is an offensive starter. He sees nearly as many offensive snaps, and, based on game situations, sometimes more.
No. 2: Travaris Cadet
With the influx of bodies added on defense, Travaris Cadet should not assume his 53-man roster spot is safe. Still, with his return abilities and open-field abilities, the Saints will likely keep the second-year flex player around in case something were to happen to Sproles.
Starter: Jed Collins
Much like with the "flex back" spot, the Saints do not technically start a fullback. Collins often does see the field on the initial Saints offensive play from scrimmage, though.
Collins has no competition for the spot, and the Saints will always use a fullback in a game. Collins does not have to worry about his spot.
Starter: Marques Colston
Labeling Saints receivers is difficult since Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael move them around almost ruthlessly. Technically Colston is an outside receiver, though he spends an inordinate amount of time in the slot position, especially in nickel situations.
No. 2: Joseph Morgan
Joseph Morgan has filled the role once occupied by Robert Meachem in the Saints' offense. It is the one where Morgan is the primary receiver when the team operates out of "22 personnel" (two backs and two tight ends). One could call it the "blocking receiver" role.
It is imperative that same player is the primary deep threat on the squad, since Brees will often use play action from this personnel grouping. It makes a ton of sense that Morgan has filled that role.
It is difficult to know just where the backup receivers fit into traditional roles. Nick Toon likely fits at the "X." Saalim Hakim could probably be slotted here, or as a "Z." Andy Tanner likely lands here too. None are serious threats to challenge for one of the two spots above, though.
Starter: Lance Moore
Believe it or not, Lance Moore spends most of his time lined up out wide as a receiver. He, of course, began his career as the prototypical "slot receiver." He still lines up in the slot from time to time, but operates mostly from out wide.
He has essentially moved into the role left vacant by Devery Henderson. His 16.0 yards per catch mark in 2012 should put the league on notice that Moore is now the Saints' secondary deep threat as a receiver, and will be again in 2013.
It is theoretically possible any of the backups listed on the "X Receiver" slide could fill in here too. It is also possible that the Saints could decide fifth-round draft pick Kenny Stills fits here in the event that Moore misses any significant time due to injury. Realistically, though, Moore has this spot all to himself.
Again, the Saints are flexible in how they move receivers around. They also substitute receivers seemingly every play so these markers are fairly insignificant.
Starter: Kenny Stills
The Saints' fifth-round pick figures to step in and become the Saints' "slot receiver" immediately. Again, that designation is relatively unimportant, as Marques Colston operates from the slot more than any other receiver on the squad.
One could say Travaris Cadet and Darren Sproles are essentially the backups at this spot.
Starter: Jimmy Graham
Unlike the other skill positions, there is a clear distinction between Jimmy Graham and any other player the team employs to play the tight end position. That said, the team does use a number of two tight end sets, so it is not as if Graham is always on the field by himself at the spot.
No. 2: Benjamin Watson
The former Patriot and Brown brings a veteran presence to the second tight end position, which should actually help the offense.
Starter: Charles Brown
The Saints have exuded quite the effort to find a replacement for Jermon Bushrod this offseason. Nonetheless, the presumed starter at the spot has to be the original presumed starter, Charles Brown.
He's been with the team, and in the system, longer than anyone else who could fill the spot.
Backup: Terron Armstead
While the Saints brought in Terron Armstead with the idea he'd eventually become the left tackle of the future, the transition from FCS-caliber football to the NFL will likely be too much for Armstead to start from day one in black and gold.
Starter: Jason Smith
Jason Smith couldn't start at right tackle for the Jets in 2012. Still, he fits the mold for what the Saints want in an offensive tackle.
He is super athletic and the former No. 2 overall pick will finally be blocking for a quarterback who actually has a time clock in his head of when to get the ball out of his hands. Smith could become a Pro Bowl right tackle in New Orleans.
Backup: Zach Strief
Zach Strief did an adequate job as the starting right tackle the past two seasons. Unfortunately, no other compliment would be appropriate to be thrown his way. He was just adequate. The backup role fits his skill set and talent level much better.
Starter: Brian de la Puente
Interestingly, the Saints made no significant effort to replace Brian de la Puente this offseason. Nor did they even try to bring in competition for him. And truthfully it is difficult to even say who would back him up in the event he gets hurt.
Backup: Eric Olsen
Eric Olsen is the only realistic answer as to who backs up de la Puente if he gets hurt.
Starter: Ben Grubbs
There really isn't any other way to say it: If Ben Grubbs goes down, the Saints are kind of in big trouble.
Starter: Jahri Evans
(See Left Guard: Grubbs, Ben). Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Backup: Same Thing
Starter: Brodrick Bunkley
When the Saints signed Brodrick Bunkley in the spring of 2012, he was coming off a season where PFF ranked him in the top three of run defenders among defensive linemen. He must regain that level of success in 2013. Moving to the position that I am now calling "slide nose" or "flex nose" should allow him to do just that.
Backup: Akiem Hicks
Even considering Akiem Hicks a backup is kind of a misnomer. Because of the way the Saints will rotate players along the line, Hicks will see close to the same number of snaps as Bunkley (more will be explained about this throughout the defensive line slides).
Waiting in the Wings: John Jenkins
The Saints spent two fourth-round picks, essentially, on Jenkins. The rookie from Georgia does not currently possess the requisite strength or balance to warrant much playing time in this defense. But, because of his versatility and the way Rob Ryan will move his defensive linemen around, Jenkins will see the field probably 15-20 snaps per game in 2013.
Left Defensive End
Starter: Cam Jordan
Until charting each individual player and where they lined up along the defense, I did not realize Cam Jordan always lined up on the left side of the defensive line in 2012. There is no guarantee that will happen again in 2013.
But Jordan is most likely to stay on the left side most of the time.
Backups: B. Bunkley, A. Hicks, T. Johnson and J. Jenkins
Basically every Saints defensive linemen the team has on its roster is capable of playing the five-technique. How many snaps each sees at the position remains to be seen. But each is capable.
Right Defensive End
Starter: Will Smith
The Saints elected to restructure Will Smith, rather than flat out release him this offseason, because with his size (285-plus pounds) Smith figures to be a great fit at the defensive end spot.
He could probably be a productive player in this defense for three or four more years.
Backups: B. Bunkley, A. Hicks, T. Johnson & J. Jenkins
Again, each of these players could rotate over to play the right five-technique spot.
Starters: Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne
Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne primarily will roam the middle of the Saints' new 3-4 defense. Lofton will be the captain of the unit, while Hawthorne will play an important role, likely as what would amount to a "weakside" inside linebacker, meaning he will be asked to chase more plays from behind.
Backups: Jon Vilma and Chris Chamberlain
Jon Vilma will see plenty of snaps, and because of different personnel and alignment possibilities can succeed in two linebacker sets. Chamberlain missed all of 2012 after suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason. The veteran is more than capable of becoming an effective backup in this defense.
Waiting in the Wings: Kevin Reddick
The Saints seemingly struck gold twice in the undrafted free-agent market Saturday night. Grabbing North Carolina inside linebacker Kevin Reddick gives the team a developmental prospect who could eventually grab a starting spot.
Starters: Martez Wilson and Chase Thomas
Who would have thought the Saints could grab a guy who might start at outside linebacker in 2013 as an undrafted free agent? In grabbing the Stanford Cardinal star, Chase Thomas, the Saints found a player who can hold the point of attack against the run right now and provide perseverant effort as a pass-rusher.
Martez Wilson is also the Saints' most complete outside linebacker candidate right now, hence he earns the other starting nod.
Backups: Victor Butler and Junior Galette
Interestingly, upon signing with the New Orleans Saints this offseason, Victor Butler stated, "I just want to compete." Well, he will get that opportunity. In successfully courting Chase Thomas, though, Butler looks to have been doomed to a backup role once again. No matter, he will still play 500-750 snaps and earn eight to 10 sacks in 2013.
Junior Galette is the weak link of this group. He's not a bad weak link.
Waiting in the Wings: Rufus Johnson and Braylon Broughton
Rufus Johnson (drafted Saturday in the sixth round from Tarleton State) and Braylon Broughton close out the all-no-name outside linebacker crew. All six of these players have tremendous potential as outside linebackers. Likely only the first four will get significant snaps in 2013.
Strong Side Corner: Keenan Lewis
Weak Side Corner: Patrick Robinson
Nickel Corner: Corey White
In the NFL, a nickel corner is now considered a starting player; thus Corey White can be considered a starter. Keenan Lewis, because of his physical nature, will play mostly press coverage to the strong side of the offensive formation.
Patrick Robinson will play off coverage (hopefully not zone) to the back side of the offensive formation, on most defensive snaps. Some variability, of course, will be required.
Strong Side Corner: Patrick Robinson
Weak Side Corner: Jabari Greer
Nickel Corner: Kenny Vaccaro
Patrick Robinson is the Saints' second best press corner, though Jabari Greer is also more than capable of getting up and getting physical with opposing receivers.
With his injury history, size and age it just seems dangerous. He is best playing off-man. Kenny Vaccaro's immediate role figures to be one where he plays a lot in the slot, especially in a dime package.
Starter: Kenny Vaccaro
With the incumbent starters at safety, Roman Harper and Malcom Jenkins, still on the Saints' roster, it seems unlikely that Kenny Vaccaro will start at safety from day one. Instead, the team will essentially make up a role for him. The most technically sound name I can come up with is "hybrid defender."
Vaccaro will do a bit of everything. That's what his skill set allows for, so Rob Ryan must take advantage of that now.
Waiting in the Wings: Rafael Bush, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper
Interestingly every safety on the Saints' roster has a level of adaptability and flexibility to his game. Each of them are adequate enough in coverage that they can be placed over either a slot receiver, a running back or tight end and be expected to hold their own.
Each can roam the field and make plays. Each is, at least in theory, good against the run. In reality, the Saints should probably just play all six safeties equally, with three or four of them on field at once, and see what happens. It can't be any worse than last year.
Saturday on NFL Network's draft coverage, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was talking about his safeties and referred to them as "right or left" safeties. In reality, most NFL defenses today operate by the same premise, though the media still pushes the farce of a "free safety" or "strong safety."
In reality, the Saints may actually be one of the few teams who may operate by "strong" and "free" rules. But that makes no sense. I prefer Kelly's modus operandi.
Left Safety Starter: Roman Harper
Why did I put Harper on the left side? I don't know. The point is he will be one of the Saints' starting safeties.
Backups: Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush
Because I'm operating as if there is no distinction between "strong safety" and "free safety" I am also not worried about distinguishing skill sets. It makes no difference that Bush is the lightest of the Saints' safeties and looks more like a corner.
Right Safety Starter: Malcolm Jenkins
Fans won't like this, but it is a virtual lock that the same duo that's begun the previous three seasons at safety will open in the defensive backfield for Rob Ryan.
Backups: Jim Leonhard and Isa-Abdul Quddus
Don't bother that I put Leonhard ahead of Quddus. All six of these players will see defensive reps at some point in 2013. That is assuming all six make it through training camp.