Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saints Nation: Top 15 Bubble Players to Make Final 53 Man Roster for New Orleans Saints

Below are the players I consider "bubble players", or players that are right in between being the last to make the squad and last to get cut. Here's 15 guys I believe will stick around till the very end and have their future as New Orleans Saints decided on the final day of cuts:

15. WR/PR Rod Harper: Harper was a surprise to make the 2009 roster thanks to his impressive explosiveness on punt returns. In fact, he likely cost Courtney Roby his opening day roster spot thanks to his special team prowess (Roby would later come back to the team in week 2). Harper also showed some impressive ability as a receiver, but he was placed on IR early in the season and never saw the field during the season. He'll have to bounce back from injury, and have an equally improbable run this camp/preseason to have a chance at landing another roster spot.

14. DE Jeff Charleston: The Saints went out and added both Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson this offseason to add depth at defensive end, while subtracting Charles Grant. With Will Smith now less likely to serve a suspension, and Bobby McCray still on the roster, Charleston has an uphill battle to climb. Remember Anthony Hargrove can also play defensive end and the Saints like his versatility, so that also plays against Charleston's chances. Charleston had a lot of opportunities last year thanks to Charles Grant going down to injuries and Bobby McCray dealing with back issues all season, and he never impressed. He showed more promise in less reps in 2008, so he'll need to return to that form if he wants any chance to make the team.

13. LB Troy Evans: As always, Evans will make this team if he can prove his value on special teams. Evans also made it clear last year that he's a complete liability on defense in two spot starts. He's a proven commodity on special teams, so to me that's the only way he's making the team. He's got to prove once again that his abilities there are too good to pass up.

12. CB Leigh Torrence: Torrence, like Evans, will have his best shot at making the team by proving his worth on special teams. Drafting Patrick Robinson in the 1st round, as well as the return of Darren Sharper (which means Malcolm Jenkins stays at corner for now) has all of a sudden made for a very crowded, very good, and very young cornerback rotation. I'm not sure if Torrence factors in the equation there anymore, especially given his average play in spot duty last season. There is no question he's one of the best Saints on special teams, but that will dictate odds.

11. C Nick Leckey: Leckey was a backup most of last season to Jonathan Goodwin, and he's an experienced veteran that the Saints trust. The Saints drafted Matt Tennant of Boston College in this year's draft, however, and Leckey will face stiff competition from a promising youngster. I think the Saints hope, in a perfect world, that Tennant outperforms Leckey so they can trust him longterm with the backup center responsibility.

10. WR Adrian Arrington: The infatuation and buzz that most Saints fans have with this player is starting to wear off. He's shown promise, but has two flop seasons to show for it. After spending 2008 on IR the entire season, Arrington didn't make the final roster in 2009 and was shipped to the practice squad, before getting a late season call up. Ultimately, Arrington is never going to pass Colston, Henderson, Meachem and Lance Moore on the depth chart. I think Courtney Roby at kick returner is a lock, too, so Arrington's odds are based on whether or not the Saints keep 5 or 6 receivers. If they keep six, he has to prove that he's their 5th best (because Roby, while not better, will make the team). Right now that spot belongs to him, but it's no given he can stay healthy, and it's no given he'll outperform guys like Rod Harper that are playing hard behind him. An injury to one of the top guys helps his chances immensely, but he's going to need an impressive and injury free camp/preseason to pull this off.

9. S Chip Vaughn: I like this guy, but it's an uphill battle when you're only season with the Saints as a rookie in 2009 was spent on IR in it's entirety. We pretty much have no idea how good this guy is. Here's what we do know: the Saints will probably keep 5 safeties, and Roman Harper and Darren Sharper are locks. That leaves Chris Reis, Pierson Prioleau, Usama Young and Vaughn to battle for 3 spots. Vaughn will need to be healthy, and prove he's more valuable on special teams than at least one of those three players. No easy feat, but Reis, Young and Prioleau are all excellent special teamers.

8. LB Stanley Arnoux: Like Vaughn, he spent all of 2009 on IR. Tough way to spend your rookie season to be sure. Arnoux is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, though, so his injury was a major one. It's going to be tougher for him to come back than most of the others listed above. The Saints invested a relatively high draft pick in him last year, but Sean Payton has shown in his time with the Saints that he's never afraid to cut a player the Saints have invested in in favor of a better performer. Guys like Colston, Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore, to name a few, have become roster staples because Payton is committed to playing the best. Arnoux is going to have to show his abilities and prove he's recovered from that serious injury. 

7. FB Jason McKie: McKie is a solid player that under normal circumstances should be a lock, but the Saints have historically only carried one fullback on the roster. Assuming he's recovered from his knee injury, which is no given, Heath Evans is the unquestioned starter at fullback. That said, McKie's hopes of making the team are contingent on either Evans not being 100% or the team making a change in philosophy. I actually think both are possible. Evans sustained a major injury that's tough to come back from, and I'm sure the Saints will want to gradually ease him into the fold. Also worth considering is that Mike Karney in 2008 and Evans in 2009 sustained injuries as the lone fullback on the roster, leaving the Saints depleted at the position in consecutive years. The Saints went scrambling on the open market to find replacements, and never really found anything suitable. Past history has burned the Saints, so they may be looking at keeping two fullbacks this year to start the season to leave themselves less vulnerable to the same problem. David Thomas filled in ok last year, but let's be serious, fullback is not his position.

6. S Pierson Prioleau: Given the fact that he's 32 and a 12 year veteran, I think Payton would ideally like to see Chip Vaughn perform well and steal a roster spot away from Prioleau. That said, we also know that Prioleau is a favorite of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, as he's played for him on three different teams. Prioleau is no lock, but he's a steady rotation defender and a great special teamer. He's been around the league long enough that he knows what he needs to do to make the team.

5. S Chris Reis: Reis is not only a standout special teamer, he emerged as the primary backup to Roman Harper at strong safety last season. That was a little surprising, but Reis performed fairly well when he played. I think Reis' standing with the team is currently more secure than Prioleau's and Vaughn's, because he's #2 at strong safety and a better special teamer than both, but we'll have to see if that remains the case.  

4. DT DeMario Pressley (pictured): I'm surprised Pressley didn't get more reps last year because he played well when he was in, but the drafting of Al Woods complicates things for Pressley. Last year's starters Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis are locks, and you figure Hargrove and Al Woods are locks too. It's hard to imagine the Saints keeping 5 defensive tackles on the roster, and there is no way the Saints are letting Hargrove or Woods go. Pressley will have to outperform Ayodele, who's a much more efficient run stopper, to make the team. An injury ahead of him would also increase his chances.

3. LB Marvin Mitchell: Mitchell saw the field a decent amount last year when Gregg Williams decided to employ a 3-4 defense and played pretty well. Mitchell is the primary backup to Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker and I don't really see that changing unless Stanley Arnoux comes in and blows the staff's socks off. That scenario is possible, but also pretty unlikely.

2. S Usama Young: Young was the primary backup at free safety last year, and it seemed like he handled himself pretty well. He did record an interception when he came in in a spot start for Darren Sharper. He also was burned badly on a touchdown pass in the SuperBowl. I think Young's roster spot is pretty safe, but I'm not really certain how the move from corner to safety is going for him. Not only are Prioleau and Vaughn vying for his playing time, but a possible move from Malcolm Jenkins to free safety somewhere down the line could really threaten his roster spot. That may be this year, or it may be two years from now. Usama Young is one of the most reliable special teamers with the team, though, so that alone should keep him safe.

1. CB Randall Gay: Gay didn't have a great year last year, and all of a sudden the Saints have an influx of young talent at corner. What a difference a couple of years makes. With Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Malcolm Jenkins all currently ahead of Gay in the pecking order at corner, Gay becomes a rather old and expensive player to be the #4 guy in the rotation. Gay isn't a standout special teamer, either, and typically the further down on the depth chart you are, the more important it is you contribute on special teams. Don't forget the Saints drafted Patrick Robinson, too, in the first round. Still, the Saints will likely keep 5 corners, at least, and it's an uncapped year. I think Gay is pretty safe this season, but he makes a lot of money to be that far down on the depth chart. That's going to come back to bite him eventually. I'm sure the Saints will want at least another year of development from Robinson and Jenkins before they cut the cord. Gay is still a physical and tough player that plays the slot pretty well. I don't see the Saints going with Leigh Torrence over Randall Gay, but it's possible.