While the NFL draft is just on the horizon, and the Saints have quite a few picks, don’t forget that they already have players who could fill roles this season.
With the 2022 NFL Draft just on the horizon, many people are focused on who the New Orleans Saints could take to fill holes on the roster, and rightfully so. However, this time of the year tends to make people forget about players already on the roster, and what type of role they could play to fill the needs of the team. Regardless, there are options for the Saints in the draft, as they have extremely good depth at most positions (other than a few like WR) where they could have an incumbent starter already on the roster. Here are 5 of which to keep an eye on once camps begin.
DB – P.J. Williams
First up, we have recently re-signed defensive back P.J. Williams. Early on in his career, Williams got overlooked as he struggled as an outside cornerback and really was not great overall. However, in the past two seasons, we have really seen him come into his own at the safety position as a rotational option behind Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. So, what about now? With both Marcus and Malcolm leaving via free agency and retirement respectively, there is a new position opening at free safety (presuming that Marcus Maye plays strong safety). As of this moment, the other safety position is up in the air, as Tyrann Mathieu has met with the Saints, but no deal is imminent as of now. The Saints could look to take one in the draft or, if one does not fall that they like to any of their picks, they could roll with Williams for 2022 and see what he can do full time for the team at safety.
LB – Pete Werner
Many fans outside the Saints fanbase have overlooked Pete Werner, either not knowing who he is or not knowing his level of play last year. However, Werner had an absolutely phenomenal rookie season as a run defender and had the highest run-defense grade in a rookie season since 2014 according to PFF.
Rookies with the highest run defense grades in a season since 2014
1️⃣ Pete Werner (’21): 91.0
2️⃣ Aaron Donald (’14): 90.8
3️⃣ Chris Borland (’14): 90.7
4️⃣ Khalil Mack (’14): 90.3 pic.twitter.com/B9NhLUFXuy
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 4, 2022
The names on the list he coincides with are also extremely impressive, including Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Chris Borland (4th in DROY voting in 2014). Giving Werner more snaps will be the key to his success statistically, as he only took 40% of defensive snaps in 2021 according to Pro Football Reference. Regardless, Pete should be a stalwart player for the Saints’ defense for the foreseeable future and should be viewed as such for the time being.
OT – James Hurst
Another player who is overlooked was last season’s starting left tackle James Hurst. James started 15 of 17 games last season for the Saints, with Terron Armstead being injured for over half the season. While Hurst had a very solid year, he is still seemingly being viewed as depth rather than a potential starter. Hurst played 941 offensive snaps for the Saints last season, and only gave up 3 sacks (1 per 313 snaps) and had 4 penalties.
Dennis Allen: Have all the confidence in the world that James Hurst can step in at LT if that’s the direction team takes
— John DeShazier (@JohnDeShazier) March 29, 2022
Saints HC Dennis Allen believes that if the Saints are to go in the direction of keeping their tackle room the same, James could step in as the starter full time. While not immaculate, he has proven his worth as a starting tackle. If the Saints are in a debate between reaching for a tackle in the draft or getting the best player available and keeping Hurst as the starter, the latter should be their choice.
WR – Marquez Callaway
Next up we have a UDFA from 2020 in Marquez Callaway, who likely will not make up for a relatively poor receiver room outside Michael Thomas and Deonte Harty. However, Callaway showed that if he needs to come in as the Saints starter, (whether that be due to injury or otherwise) he can produce at a solid enough level. Having him on the roster is great for the Saints and if they can get a true #2 receiver via the draft or free agency, they will have Callaway as a great depth piece to rotate in on specific downs.
DT – Shy Tuttle
Finally, we have defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, another UDFA but this time from 2019. While Tuttle may not be the biggest name, he has been a solid player for the Saints so far in his career and even got to start 15 of 17 games last season, taking a career-high 44% of defensive snaps. While the Saints are a team that loves to rotate defensive linemen on and off the field for certain scenarios, Tuttle received nearly half the snaps at the position last year and showed he could be a quality defender on the inside of the line. Tuttle should 100% be in consideration for the second starting DT spot alongside David Onyemata in 2022.