This coming Friday morning, the New Orleans Saints begin their initial preparations for the upcoming 2017 NFL season, when they conduct their annual Rookie Mini-Camp (May 12-14) for their 2017 Draft class; along with 12 undrafted free agents and some of the team's younger and more inexperienced players.
The Saints' 7 draft picks are cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, free safety Marcus Williams, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone, and defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad.
The 12 undrafted free agents added to the roster after the draft who will be competing for a roster spot throughout the summer and into the Pre-Season are long snapper Chase Dominguez, wide receivers Travin Dural and Ahmad Fulwood, defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence, offensive lineman Andrew Lauderdale, guards Collin Buchanan, Cameron Lee and Clint Van Horn, cornerback Arthur Maulet, fullback John Robinson-Woodgett, linebacker Sae Tautu and center Cameron Tom.
With the Saints about to get their off-season training program going into "full swing" with this coming weekend's Rookie Camp and then the official start of Organized Team Activities (OTA's) a few weeks later beginning May 23rd, the eventual start of the 2017 Saints regular season (September 11 at Minnesota on Monday Night Football) will be getting closer with each passing day.
This morning, I'm looking at 5 of those players that will be at Rookie Mini-Camp, whom I believe Saints fans will find the most interesting ones to watch out of all of the drafted and undrafted rookies that will take the practice field for the very first time Friday Morning.
Starting with this dynamic and very talented young man......
ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
While I could have put any of the Saints' top few picks (CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, and FS Marcus Williams) on this list, Kamara gets the nod over those players for the most obvious reason: which is that he is expected to give the Saints offense a weapon that they've lacked since the 2013 season: the "scatback" role that was previously filled by former star RB's Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles.
Kamara had 1,294 rushing yards, 683 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns (including a punt return) in two seasons at Tennessee, and although he wasn’t used in an 'every down' role for the Volunteers, he's just as adept being an every down runner as he is being a receiver out of the backfield.
New Orleans Advocate Saints beat writer Nick Underhill noted in his article the other day that the elusive and hard-to-tackle Kamara will likely do a little bit of everything; and that there’s no question the Saints will figure out a way to use him in a variety of different ways and get the most out of his talents. Underhill adds: it's a "win-win situation" for both the Saints and Kamara, as he begins his NFL career.
ALEX ANZELONE, OUTSIDE / INSIDE LINEBACKER
Let's face it: the Saints have had a horrible history dating back entire decades now, with drafting linebackers. In fact, you literally can go back over 30 years (31 to be exact) -- when the Saints drafted defensive end / outside linebacker Pat Swilling of Georgia Tech in the 1986 NFL Draft -- as the last linebacker drafted by New Orleans who amounted to anything in the NFL (Swilling was a 4-time All-Pro and 1991 NFL Defensive Player of the Year during his time as a Saint).
Anzalone has a chance to put an end to that period of frustration for the organization, despite the hesitations of some based on what was a string of injuries throughout his college career. There was a false narrative after his selection that Anzalone was "damaged goods", but that simply isn't the case. He appears to have just been the victim of some bad luck, not a guy who was 'injury-prone' in the classic sense.
Anzelone is one of a handful of players who will be participating in this Rookie Camp, with a chance to become a "steal" for New Orleans. His quickness and ability to pursue the ball-carrier from sideline-to-sideline, along with his versatility to play ALL 3 linebacker positions (Middle / "Mike", Weakside / "Will", and Strongside / "Sam"), make him one of the more intriguing Saints rookies to follow throughout the course of the next several months.
TREY HENDRICKSON, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE RUSHER
Many Saints fans were a bit upset last week when the team waited until the third round with the 103rd overall pick, to select an Edge rusher -- a position that head coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis both had said was a "priority" for the organization prior to the Draft. Nevertheless, the team may have gotten lucky when 'small school' star and Florida Atlantic University defensive end Trey Hendrickson (who has often been compared to former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro Jared Allen) was still on the board at the time.
Palm Beach Post contributing writer Jake Elman says that despite not being founded until 2001 and not having a winning season since 2008, the Owls have had players drafted in six of the last eight NFL Drafts; including Hendrickson, who was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. Despite being double and even triple-teamed on the majority of his plays, Hendrickson totaled 9.5 sacks last season and led the nation with four blocked kicks.
Usually a player from a 'small school' like FAU wouldn't warrant this type of adulation, but nevertheless numbers such as 28 sacks, a whopping 39.5 tackles for loss, and forced seven fumbles can suddenly present one with a fresh and unique perspective. Hendrickson excels at generating pressure on opposing QB's, and if he's given an opportunity to showcase his raw talents, can make a real impact and could end up being one of the true “steals” of this year’s 2017 Saints Draft class.
TRAVIN DURAL, WIDE RECIEVER
A large segment of Saints fans were giddy as a group of love-struck teenage girls at a boy-band concert, after the Saints announced that they had signed LSU wide receiver Travin Dural as one of their 12 undrafted free-agents; which isn't a surprise given that those same segment of fans are also indigenous to the state of Louisiana and are huge LSU fans.
The Saints have developed a reputation (fair or not) that they intentionally avoid drafting players from LSU, so it's obvious that they chose to overlook the fact that Dural -- a Breaux Bridge native -- played his college ball just up the road in Baton Rouge. Dural put together a decent career at LSU, although his potential as a pro is up for debate. But making the Saints' final 53-man roster could prove to be a difficult challenge, nevertheless.
Dural had 100 career receptions at LSU, totaling 1,716 yards receiving and 13 receiving touchdowns, but it would be accurate to say that he struggled with injuries, inconsistent play from the quarterbacks, and cleanly catching the ball (a.k.a., "the dropsies") at times.
My good friend and Saints / NFL Draft Analyst John Sigler of Canal Street Chronicles says that Dural needs to show that he can be a four-down player by chipping into a couple of special teams units (field goal blocking, punt protection, kickoff fielding, etc) while helping the offense. Once he does that, then he also has to "leapfrog" Corey Fuller, Jake Lampman, and Tommylee Lewis for the 5th and final receiver spot before worrying about competing with Ted Ginn, Jr. and Brandon Coleman for looks as the fourth or third guy in the rotation.
Translation: for those Saints fans who are also LSU fans that have already began celebrating Dural making the team as the #5 WR, you might not want to pop the top of your Abita beers just yet.
ARTHUR MAULET, CORNERBACK
Maulet, a NOLA native who was an all-state soccer player, an all-district punter, and a all-district cornerback at Bonnabel High School, put himself on the map of NFL scouts after he had 11 tackles and three sacks for the University of Memphis against Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Maulet joined the University of Memphis football program after transferring from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi, about 45 miles south of Jackson, the state capital, and 145 miles north of New Orleans. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound cornerback recorded 111 total tackles, 22 pass breakups and four interceptions in his two years at Memphis while starting 21 games.
Memphis Commercial Appeal Tigers bear writer Tom Schad says however that it was as a senior last year when Maulet blossomed into a team leader and proved to be stout both in coverage and against the run, finishing fifth on the team with 72 tackles, including 7.5 for loss.
Pro Football Focus notes that Maulet:
- Played over 960 snaps in 2016, the second most-used player of the team.
- Was the most targeted cornerback of the 2017 draft class, with 93 throws in his direction but only allowed 46 receptions (49.5 percent catch allowed).
- Only allowed two touchdowns, while registering 11 pass breakups and two interceptions, as well as five sacks over the course of the season.
- Only allowed 9.1 yards per reception, which ranked him 2nd overall in the deep cornerback draft class of 2017
The reason why he went undrafted appears to be his lack of height (he's been listed as tall as 5-foot-11 but actually is closer to 5-foot-9) and a history of getting torched on the deep throw, along with getting "pushed around" by bigger, more physical WR's.
However despite his lack of size, Maulet possesses an aggressive, ball-hawking style that the Saints found appealing, perhaps the reason why they chose to give him a $12,000 signing bonus. Maulet will likely need that money, since he'll be in a dog-fight with a handful of other DB's currently on the roster trying to make it as a slot CB.
If nothing else, it'll be fun to watch and see if a local guy who is trying to make his dream come true of one day playing in the NFL; make it onto the roster of the very same team that he grew up loving as a young boy.......