The Saints have a logjam at cornerback heading into OTAs, mini-camp, and training camp. Keenan Lewis has been the most consistant factor in the secondary during his two seasons with the team, and he's also the longest tenured player at corner.
He's gone from prized free agent pick up to a valued leader this off-season: "I'll take that role, I have to step up and show them the ropes. I'm ready for the challenge. I push them every day to be the best player that they can be." Brandon Browner was added this off-season to play opposite of Lewis, but there are a number of players that are fighting for time in the sub packages on defense, including Delvin Breaux. "You are definitely going to hear from him. I can promise you he's going to be a starter in this league this year," Lewis said of Breaux.
Rookies P.J. Williams and Damian Swann were also added to the mix of an extremely crowded lot of cornerbacks. Veterans Kyle Wilson, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Brian Dixon, Terrence Frederick are among the other players that will compete for playing time this season.
Lewis also said the leadership and professionalism has improved: "You can see the change in the team already. We're hanging with each other outside of football. Everybody is holding themselves accountable. I'm excited to see where we go this year!"
Frankly the accountability and maturity lacked severely last season, as the Saints stumbled their way to a 7 and 9 record.
A day after Shayne Graham told reporters he was "not worried about competition" at the kicker postion with two other players on the roster, the Saints announced Tuesday that they have released the veteran kicker. Now, Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker will be the two players competing for the Black and Gold kicking duties.
That position has always been a revolving door in the Sean Payton era, and Graham started to lose a litle leg strength last year. Hopkins and Hocker both have strong legs, but lack the experience.
The move doesn't surprise me - you're rolling the dice a little bit, because these guys dont have a proven track record like Shayne, but then again, the team must think highly of Hopkins and Hocker and I would say right how Hopkins praobly has the inside track to get the job.
Here's the full release from the Saints:
The New Orleans Saints announced Tuesday that they have signed wide receiver Lance Lewis and terminated the contract of kicker Shayne Graham. The announcements were made by Saints' Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.
Lewis, 6-2, 207, comes to New Orleans after spending the entire 2014 campaign on the practice squad of the San Francisco 49ers. Originally signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2012, Lewis appeared in three games for the Redskins in 2013 after starting the season on their practice squad and was also on the Dallas Cowboys practice roster for Week 17 of that campaign
The Concord, N.C. native played two seasons at East Carolina and following his senior campaign, ranked first in school record books in touchdown receptions (22), third in receptions (149) and fifth in receiving yardage (1,716).
Graham, 6-0, 210, is a 15-year NFL veteran who was first signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2000 out of Virginia Tech and has played for nine clubs. The 37-year old kicker ranks seventh in NFL record books in field goal accuracy (85.5%), booting 266-of-311 career attempts. Overall, in 173 games, he has scored 1,219 points, tied for 35th in NFL history.
In his first full season with the Saints in 2014, Graham drilled 19-of-22 field goal attempts (86.4%) and finished as the club's leading scorer with 103 points. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October based on his first three games in the month when he converted all nine of his field goal attempts and led conference kickers with 36 points.
When the Saints selected offensive tackle Zach Strief in the seventh round back in 2006, he was a longshot to make the roster, but almost 10 years later, he's held down the starting right tackle position for nearly half of his tenure in the same role we could see rookie offensive tackle Andrus Peat play this year as the extra offensive lineman and in goal line plays.
Peat was selected 13th overall this past draft, and clearly he was brought in to replace Strief. "He's taking my job eventually, that is happening at some point. My job and role is to make that take as long as possible. At the same time, and the entire time, I will do everything I can to help him do just that. At this point in my career I feel like that is my job," Strief candidly explained. That response from Strief is just another reason why he's such a valuable leader for this franchise.
When the Saints drafted Peat, it lead to speculation the team might look to move Strief to guard. Strief doesn't expect that to happen. "A lot of people don't know how good Tim (Lelito) and Sieno (Kalemente) are, those are two excellent football players. They are going to let those to guys battle it out for that spot, and it's going to be a battle," he added.
Peat's role seams pretty clear to me. He'll provide tremendous depth to the left and right tackle spots, and be the 'swing' offensive tackle should an injury occur and play in the goal line and short yardage sets when the Saints go to their "heavy" formation and bring in an extra offensive lineman. Strief has been around a while and knows how this all works. "I understand I'm not playing forever - I don't know that anything changes this year for me or him (Peat), and maybe it does, but that's fine too, because that is a result of your performance and the fair way is the right way."
The Saints offensive captain also said he's as healthy and in the best shape of his career going into this season. "My role is to play the best football I can play, be a leader, and pass on as much information to the next group of guys, and that hasn't changed," Strief explained. In fact, he welcomes the competition. "The reality is I still have a lot to give the team, and I still think I'm playing at a high level. I think if you play well, you play, and if you don't play well you won't."
Strief has it in perspective and it's not surprising he's probably lived in reality more than any other NFL player I've covered. Hearing his humility, and honesty is in part the reason he's played as long as he has in the league, and of course he's a talented player. I wouldn't rush to push Strief out the door just yet, I think you will continue to see the same steady play you've seen in the past in 2015.
The Saints coaches had their first peek at the draft haul this weekend in rookie mini camp, and so far the draft looks like it could have some solid early returns. "I would say this camp is further along than some of the rookie camps we've had in the past. These guys are coming in an picking things up pretty quickly, it's been impressive," explained coach Sean Payton following practice this morning. Immediately on Draft Day you could see the vision of this year - "Smart, tough, and physical players." The Saints are making an effort to upgrade the locker room maturity as well as production on the field. "You do start the process, in the very beginning this is what we're looking for, but yet the idea is just drafting good football players," Payton added.
Grayson: When the Saints drafted Garret Grayson in the third round, it was a clear indication the Saints are looking at the post-Brees era at QB. Payton said Grayson has been impressive in camp thus far. "He's a quick decision maker, he's been real effective." Payton went on to praise Grayson's accuracy. "He's a quick study, he's been sharp," he added. The Saints have three QB's in for rookie camp, but Grayson is the only player that is under contract. Taylor Graham (Hawaii) and Justin Worley (Tennessee) are on a three day tryout contract. "All three of them have been one of the better combinations of quarterbacks in a rookie camp that we've had," Payton said. I had a chance to talk to Grayson following practice and asked him if he had a chance to meet Drew Brees. "He came up and introduced himself to me, and shook my hand. It was a real honor to get a chance to meet a future hall of fame quarterback," Grayson said.
Cornerback log jam: The Saints have a ton of cornerbacks on the roster, and three in camp that have raised some eyebrows. P.J Williams and Damian Swann are both draft picks, and Delvin Breaux is a travelled "season rookie" as he put it. Breaux's journey to the NFL has been a long one at 25, after suffering a severe neck injury in high school and two seasons in the CFL he has a chance to stick with the Saints. Payton highlighted Breaux's play twice in his post-practice press conference. "You can see that he's in shape, he's been real good and active in this camp," Payton said. "Those guys have all stood out here (Swann, Breaux, Williams). 75% of the defensive snaps come in the nickel, so it's really the new base (defense). "I'd say Swann specifically, Williams is a guy that will have a chance to compete at the nickel spot," Payton said.
Veteran looks: NFL rules allow teams to also bring in some veteran players on a try out basis during rookie camp. An interesting player on the list of tryout players is defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. In 2011 the Tampa Bay Bucaneers drafted Bowers in the second round, and it just didn't work out in Tampa, but the Saints have had some luck in finding some veteran players in the past during this weekend. Tight End Billy Miller was discovered during this try out period back in 2006, and contributed for the Saints for four seasons from 2006 to 2009. Running backs Chris Ivory and Khiry Robinson were also unearthed in the rookie mini-camp work outs in the past.
The Saints announced today the team has agreed to terms with two more draft picks. LB Stephone Anthony and CB P.J Williams both will sign 4 year deals. Anthony was selected with the 31st over all pick in the draft. Williams, a talented cornerback, was picked up in round 3 (78th overall).
The Saints will hold rookie mini camp this weekend and OT Andrus Peat is the lone unsigned draft pick (13th overall). It's merely a formality, not to worry.
Here's the full text of the announcement:
New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis announced Tuesday that the club has signed linebacker Stephone Anthony, a first-round draft pick (31st overall) and cornerback P.J. Williams, a third-round draft choice (78th overall), to four-year contracts.
Anthony, 22, was selected by the Saints in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 31st overall pick out of Clemson. The 6-foot-3 inch, 245-pound Anson, N.C. native appeared in 52 games with 35 starts and recorded career totals of 330 tackles (210 solo), 9.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. In 2014, Anthony was a consensus first-team All-ACC selection as he recorded a team-high 90 tackles (61 solo), 10.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 13 games with 12 starts. Anthony also led the Tigers with 131 tackles in 2013 as a junior.
Williams, a 6-foot, 196-pound cornerback out of Florida State, was the Saints' second selection in the third round of the draft. The Ocala, Fla. native played in 40 career games with 24 starts for the Seminoles, making 123 tackles (82 solo) with four interceptions, 18 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Williams earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and was a Thorpe Award semifinalist as a junior in 2014 when he started all 13 games he played in, posting a career-best 74 tackles (52 solo) with one sack, one interception, 10 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Williams, 22, captured Defensive Most Valuable honors in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game vs. Auburn when he made seven stops, including a half-tackle for loss and an interception on consecutive plays at the start of the fourth quarter when the Seminoles trailed 21-13, leading to a Florida State touchdown.
Ahead of this weekend's Rookie Mini Camp, the Saints have begun inking deals with their 2015 draft class.
The club's two 1st round picks are the only unsigned players at this point, but it's merely a formality at this point.
Offensive tackle Andrus Peat and LB Stephone Anthony are expected to have deals in place by this weekend.
Here is the news release from the Saints.
New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis announced Monday that the club has agreed to terms with LB Hau'oli Kikaha and QB Garrett Grayson on four-year contracts and has signed LB Davis Tull, DL Tyeler Davison, CB Damian Swann and RB/RS Marcus Murphy to four-year deals.
Kikaha, 22, was selected by the Saints in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft with the 44th selection overall out of Washington. The 6-foot-3, 246-pounder played in 44 games in his career and recorded 206 tackles, a school-record 36 sacks, six passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Last season, Kikaha started all 14 games he played in and led the nation with 19 sacks as he became only the fifth unanimous All-American in Husky history.
Grayson (6-2, 220) was selected 75th overall by the Saints in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Colorado State. The Vancouver, Wash. native established or tied 16 school records over his four-year career, including passing yards (9,190), 300-yard passing games (11), completions (688) and touchdown passes (64). Grayson started all 13 games as a senior in 2014 and completed 270-of-420 passes for 4,006 yards and 32 touchdowns, leading the Mountain West Conference in passing yards and touchdown passes. He was named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team All-Conference selection.
Tull, 23, was selected by the Saints in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft with the 148th selection overall out of Chattanooga. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder played in 48 games in his career and recorded 196 tackles and 37 sacks. Last season, Tull played in all 14 games on the defensive line and finished with 58 tackles and a Southern Conference-leading 10.5 sacks in earning conference player-of-the-year and Associated Press FCS first-team All-American honors.
Davison, 22, was selected by the Saints in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 154th selection overall out of Fresno State. The 6-foot-2, 309-pounder played in 53 games and registered 161 total tackles and 18 sacks. Last season, Davison was a first-team All-Mountain West selection, as he racked up single-season career-highs in tackles (61), sacks (8.5) and forced fumbles (two).
Swann, 22, was selected by the Saints in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 167th selection overall out of Georgia. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder played in 50 games with 40 starts over his career and registered 180 tackles, four sacks, eight interceptions, 21 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He was an AP second-team All-SEC selection as a senior when he started all 12 games he played in and finished with 65 tackles, four interceptions, a team-best and SEC-high four forced fumbles and one 99-yard fumble return brought back for a touchdown.
Murphy, 23, was selected by the Saints in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 230th selection out of Missouri. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder played in 52 games over his career and carried 337 times for 1,957 yards (5.8 avg.) with 16 touchdowns, caught 50 passes for 318 yards with two touchdowns, brought back 75 punts for 801 yards (10.7 avg.) with four touchdowns and returned 87 kickoffs for 2,036 yards with three scores. As a senior, he was named the Southeastern Conference's Special Teams Player of the Year when he led the conference with 1,921 all-purpose yards, finishing with 924 rushing yards, 212 receiving yards, 281 punt return yard, 504 kickoff return yards and nine total touchdowns.
The Saints have the draft in the books, and are already parting ways with some veterans on the roster.
According to a league source, the Saints have released LB Kyle Knox after a nine-member draft class saw six selections (including 3 linebackers) on defense. Knox was largely a special teams contributor for the Saints.
Sources also says the Saints are releasing safety Marcus Ball. Ball was brought in last off-season from the CFL.
This is usually the day all the experts hand out draft grades for the Saints and other NFL teams, and I've see anywhere from B+ to C- for the Black and Gold. While I don't get into the grading of the draft until a full season with that class has been played, I will tell you what I like about this class on the surface. I think the A+ grades are reserved for teams that make a splash with a big time playmaker or a top quarterback, because that's what fans want to see. The Saints didn't have flashy picks like that. There wasn't a lot of sizzle to this class, but there was plenty to like and a few things to dislike.
Favorite pick: Hau'oli Kikaha (OLB/Washington) is super productive and fits exactly what the Saints are looking for with intelligence, character, production, and work ethic. He'll be in the league a long time, and will become a really good player. I think when we look back on this draft, we might say he should have gone higher. Sean Payton said "He's the player you hope to get a chance to coach" after the selection. Kikaha might not flash and contribute as much as the club's first round pick in ILB Stephone Anthony, but only because of the position he plays. I had a hunch the Saints were going to grab him in the second round if he was there. I was impressed with this guy from the moment I met him at the Senior Bowl.
Questionable pick: Garrett Grayson (QB/Colorado State) only because I'm on record as saying that if the Saints used a top pick on a QB it would be a waste of a selection. I don't mean that Grayson will be a waste of a pick, but they could have gone elsewhere. He might indeed turn out to be the eventual successor to Drew Brees, or the Saints could be drafting another quarterback of the future in two or three years. Bottom line is with Grayson there is a chance that he will be a suitable option post Drew Brees, but you could have found that option in the draft next year or when Drew Brees retires. Now, it could end up being the best pick of the group if Brees has another drop off in production. What I like about this pick is even Drew Brees will be pushed a little bit. Grayson isn't on his level, but knowing that the team drafted his replacement should spur Brees to an even higher competitive spirit.
Underrated pick: P.J. Williams (CB Florida State) will be a valuable player for the Saints as a rookie. He'll come in and contribute right away, and if not for a minor off the field incident a month before the draft, Williams probably would have gone in the second round. Williams will compete with Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2014 2nd round pick) and a host of others for playing time. The cornerback spot in general should be highly competitive this pre-season. Williams has nice size and can also contribute on special teams.
Now let's recap the whole class, and how I see them fitting into the Saints plans this year and beyond.
Andrus Peat: Offensive Tackle (Stanford) The teams first pick in the 1st round (13th overall) will contribute this season as a the teams swing offensive tackle if not the starting tackle. Peat will give the Saints some grade A depth should injuries occur with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. Bryce Harris' roster spot comes in jeopardy with the selection of Peat. Harris was the swing tackle the last couple of seasons and while he was OK, he's not going to provide the insurance that Peat will. Peat will be the Saints starting right tackle for the 2016 season.
Stephone Anthony: Inside linebacker (Clemson) The Saints second pick in the 1st round (31st overall) will come and play in the middle of the Saints defense from day one. Donnell Ellerbe might be ahead of him on the depth chart right now, but come September 13th Anthony will be the guy. I really like the attitude he'll bring even as a rookie, he's going to be an aggressive player with a nasty streak. Frankly it's something the defense didn't have last year.
Hau'oli Kikaha: OLB/Pass Rusher (Washington) 2nd round. Hau'oli is the exact style of player the Saints covet. This guy has no ego, and will come in and outwork nearly everyone of his rookie team mates. He's got a motor that won't quict and plenty of talent with some untapped ability. I think he'll play a role in his rookie season on passing downs and sub packages on defense. He'll know the playbook by training camp.
Garrett Grayson: QB (Colorado State) 3rd round. Grayson is the 'Quarterback of the Future', at least that's the plan. Grayson will probably sit for a season or two and be the understudy to Drew Brees all the while watching a hall of fame player operate on and off the field. He's super smart, and this pick could prove very wise. We just won't know the results for a couple of seasons.
P.J Williams: CB (Florida State) 3rd round. As I mentioned above, I like this pick a lot. He's a player that will compete in the nickel and dime packages on defense and plus it pushes last year's second round pick in Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Williams will have a chance to learn behind two really solid pro's in Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner.
Davis Tull: OLB (Tennessee - Chattanooga) 5th round. His testing numbers are off the charts, so why did he last so long? Small school competition? Probably that, and he's dealing with a labrum rehab, but the Saints saw enough on tape to draft him, and admitted they would have been willing to trade up to get him. Tull is the fastest linebacker in the entire class, and while he'll have to play standing up at the NFL this is a player that I think you look for significant snaps on special teams and on defensive sub packages. Tull could end up being a really nice find a couple of years down the round and could turn into a solid starter.
Tyeler Davison: Defensive Tackle (Fresno State) 5th round. This is a depth move, with a hope that he'll be able to contribute more significantly in 2016. He will be in the defensive line rotation this year and push John Jenkins for playing time. Jenkins had a drop off in production last season, and Davison could possibly slide out to defensive end and provide some depth to Akiem Hicks.
Damian Swann: CB (Georgia) 5th round. Swann was high on the board for the Saints, so much so they were willing to trade two sixth round picks for him. He might have the best last name of the class, and I expect him to also be in the mix at cornerback this fall. Swann will make this team, and will be a good contributor on special teams.
Marcus Murphy: RB (Missouri) 7th round. The Saints believe they've found their kick returner to compete with Jalen Saunders this year. Murphy is a fun running back to watch - he's not Sproles but he can be a solid answer for the Black and Gold. I think he'll beat out Saunders as the teams return man on kickoffs, and serve as the teams primary fourth running back and will eventually find a way on the field in a limited role on offense. When the Saints grabbed Murphy in the seventh round, I received a text from an NFL executive that said "If it wasn't for his size, he would have gone much earlier. Some teams are just scared to draft smaller players. Payton will know exactly how to use him. That is a really good pick."
Overall, I like the haul for the Saints, I'm curious to see which pick doesn't make the final roster. I mean there are 9 players here, and I don't think there is room for all nine. If all nine make the roster it shows you just how good the class is, and a lot of what they think of their 2014 class, which wasn't very good last year.
Rookie mini-camp will be May 15th-17th.
The organized team activities (OTAs) will be on
The Saints will then hold minicamp June 16th-18th.
The Saints own three selections on day two of the draft, and could go in a number of directions with the 44th pick (12th pick in round 2). Here are a few players to keep an eye on: wide receivers Jalen Strong (Arizona State) Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Sammie Coates.
Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan really likes Coates, "That's a well put together player, and he can absolutely run. I like him a lot and think he would be a good fit. He's raw, but his height, weight and speed is salty," confirmed Gajan. Coates is 6'1 and 212lbs, and had an impressive pro day. Smith and Strong will likely be off the board before the Saints pick in the second round.
If the Black & Gold decide to draft an interior defensive lineman, keep close tabs on DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson) Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma) and Eddie Goldman (FSU). "It's a pretty big need for the Saints to add a defensive tackle," said Gajan. "They need a big punching bag in the middle who can disrupt plays in the backfield," continued the former Saints scout.
With three selections today the Saints won't have to force a pick, if the player they like isn't there. "The Saints need defensive help in the front seven regardless if it's inside or outside," Gajan added. Hau'oli Kikaha OLB (Washington) is another possible target, if the Saints are looking for a pass rusher.
In the third round, New Orleans might consider the tight end out of Ohio State, Jeff Heuerman.
For the first time in the Sean Payton era, the Saints grabbed an offensive lineman in the first round…Stanford's Andrus Peat. This continues the off-season effort to rebuild the offensive line. "He's a plug and play player, and well-schooled technically…sound offensive lineman," said NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier. Sean Payton clearly wants to re-establish solid protection for Drew Brees and the running game.
The Saints promised "smart, tough, and high-character players" was what they wanted this off-season and with the draft pick of Peat, they're getting just that. New Orleans also loves pro pedigrees on their roster - Peat joins DE Cameron Jordan, RB Mark Ingram & S Vinnie Sunseri as players on the Saints roster with fathers who played in the NFL. Peat's father Todd played for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.
What did our resident pro, Hokie Gajan, think of the Black & Gold’s first choice? “I really thought if they were to take an offensive lineman, it would be an inside guy. However, I like the pick. They might be looking to move Zach Strief from tackle to guard," concluded WWL’s Saints radio color analyst.
Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan on Andrus Peat Tbob yeah he just loves it
The Saints also feel really good about the depth at pass rusher to pass on Alvin Dupree out of Kentucky. Look for the Saints to target that position with the 31st pick. I like Hao'li Kikaha out of Washington for New Orleans.
The Saints select Stanford OT Andrus Peat with the 13th pick in round 1 - hear what our pros have to say and then tell us what YOU think! Are you happy with the pick?