9 toughest Saints roster cuts from our 53-man projection

The 2024 NFL draft was the last big event for the New Orleans Saints as they build their team for the upcoming season, so it made for a great opportunity to guess at what the final 53-man roster may look like in September. And that meant considering many of the same tough decisions the Saints will be facing later this summer.

9 toughest Saints roster cuts from our 53-man projection
9 toughest Saints roster cuts from our 53-man projection

Some players are going into training camp as long shots to make the team; that’s just the reality and the challenge they must overcome. Others are in more complicated circumstances. Between a former first round draft pick and some of the best stories from last year’s squad, here are the nine toughest roster cuts we had to make in this projection:

Jan 7, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Payton Turner (98) reacts to recovering a fumble against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for Payton Turner to sink or swim. The Saints didn’t pick up his fifth-year option for 2025, meaning he’ll be a free agent next spring — if he makes it through roster cuts. He’s on the wrong side of a numbers game at defensive end. New Orleans likes to roster five of them and activate just four on game days, which means that this group is safe: Cameron Jordan, Carl Granderson, Chase Young, and Isaiah Foskey, last year’s 40th overall pick (who has his own challenges to overcome). It’ll be either Turner or Tanoh Kpassagnon in that final slot, and Kpassagnon has been more effective and more available than Turner by leaps and bounds. Turner needs to play so well this summer that the Saints can’t justify letting him go after training camp.

Oct 8, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New Orleans Saints punter Lou Hedley (39) greets a fan as he leaves for the field after warmups prior to a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Lou Hedley must show improvement from his rookie year. He can’t rank last in hangtime again, at 4.04 seconds; the gap between him and the second-lowest punter, Jamie Gillan, was as wide as that between Gillan and the 19th-ranked punter, former Saints fan-favorite Thomas Morstead. Hedley also ranked last in yards per punt (43.0) and was bottom-five in net yards per punt (39.7). New Orleans was very fortunate that their coverage unit was able to limit gains on so many short punts. Matt Hayball, another Australian, rookie, could take this job from Hedley if he can improve his own hangtime issues (just 3.88 seconds per punt at Vanderbilt last year).

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 04: Offensive lineman Mark Evans II of Arkansas‐Pinebluff speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 04, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The road to the NFL hasn’t been easy for Mark Evans II. He made the jump from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and was asked to move inside to guard after having played left tackle for five years in college. Then he was let go during roster cuts and not brought back until late September, having spent most of the month in limbo. The plan for him now is anyone’s guess. Klint Kubiak’s coaching staff may want to keep him at guard, or move him back to tackle — or they might move on from him altogether. Wherever he lines up, Evans must show he can execute the assignments asked of him this summer.

Aug 20, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Elijah Dotson (42) stiff arms New Orleans Saints linebacker Anfernee Orji (58) during the third quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Like Evans, Anfernee Orji was one of the Saints’ top-paid undrafted free agents a year ago — earning $216,000 in guarantees, just beneath Evans ($241,000) and tight end Dallin Holker ($235,000), this year’s fan-favorite find out of Colorado State. He led the team in special teams snaps during preseason and did everything he could to make the roster, but wound up being waived and brought back on the practice squad. He wasn’t activated for any games as a rookie. And now the Saints have added a ton of competition at linebacker (more on that in a second). Orji has to make a strong argument that he’s a better option to round out the depth chart than new pickups like Khaleke Hudson and Monty Rice.

Aug 13, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Tennessee Titans linebacker Monty Rice (56) runs to the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of him: Monty Rice was a third-round pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2021 draft, having played college football at Georgia before turning pro. But he fell out of favor with the coaching staff by 2023 and was waived late in the season, at which point the Saints snapped him up. Rice is in the mix for one of those last spots at linebacker behind Demario Davis, Pete Werner, and Willie Gay, meaning he’s competing with guys like Orji, Hudson, D’Marco Jackson, and Jaylan Ford (as well as Nephi Sewell once he returns from a December ACL injury). Rice has the skills to make the roster, but the numbers game isn’t on his side.

Aug 20, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick (2) throws a pass pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Niko Lalos (54) at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Niko Lalos first got his shot in the NFL with the New York Giants, back in 2020, but he tried out for the Saints at their 2022 training camp and ended up joining the practice squad later that season. Then he spent a year with the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons, returned to New Orleans, and made enough plays in preseason to warrant another look on the practice squad. Is the third time the charm for him? It’s going to be tough for him to outweigh so many other players at such a crowded position. If there’s the possibility of the Saints waiving Payton Turner, their 2021 first round draft pick, then Lalos has even longer odds of making the team.

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Jack Heflin (90) participates in training camp at Ray Nitschke Field, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via Imagn Content Services, LLC

While we’re talking about XFL alumni — Jack Heflin has taken a similar path to Lalos, having gotten opportunities with other NFL teams before developing his craft in the XFL (he even spent time with the Giants, too). And he has a shot after the Saints let Malcolm Roach walk in free agency this spring. But we’re expecting the Saints to retain four defensive tackles on the 53-man roster, as they did last year, with rookie draft pick Khristian Boyd joining Nathan Shepherd, Bryan Bresee, and Khalen Saunders. Heflin needs to convince the coaches to roster five this time.

Aug 12, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer (78) in action against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

We’re expecting a different depth chart with Klint Kubiak and his staff sharing their input, and players like Tommy Kraemer may get squeezed out. He backed up Ryan Ramczyk at right tackle and both guard snaps last season, so he has some versatility. The question is whether he has the movement skills to execute the wide zone blocking scheme that Kubiak will be emphasizing, and whether he’s a better option to keep Derek Carr clean than, say, a veteran free agent like Shane Lemieux or a rookie pickup like Kyle Hergel. Those are major questions he’ll have to answer this summer.

Jul 27, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Stanley Morgan (17) smiles as he runs to a spot during training camp practice at the practice fields beside Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints acted quickly to sign Stanley Morgan, a New Orleans native who went to St. Augustine prep school, so they clearly value him. And he was eager to join the Saints given how thin their receiving corps was in March. Now it’s May, and he’s going to be competing with veterans like Equanimeous St. Brown and Cedrick Wilson Jr. as well as rookies like Kyle Sheets, Mason Tipton, Jermaine Jackson, and Bub Means. Morgan was primarily a special teams contributor with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he’ll need to catch passes and show he can make moves with the ball in his hands to make the team.

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