The New Orleans Saints 2017 Mini-Camp is now in the history books, and the entire Saints organization -- players, coaching staff, and front office personnel -- begin their month-long summer vacation before returning to New Orleans late next month at the end of July, in time for their 2017 Training Camp as they prepare for the arrival of the upcoming 2017 regular season.
It's safe to say that while there were a handful of players at several positions that "stood out" at this week's just-completed Mini-Camp, there were quite a few of them who are only rookies --- and were getting their first real taste of live action in front of the adoring Saints fan-base who braved the muggy New Orleans heat to attend the 3 days worth of practices that were made accessible to the general public.
This morning, the Saints News Network is taking a quick look at the 5 Saints rookie players that were easily the most impressive players at this year's Mini-Camp; all of whom are expected to make significant contributions in the months and weeks ahead that hopefully will lead the team to eventual success, in 2017.
And we begin first, with this young man.......
#5. MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK
It will be worrisome for some Saints fans that I have the Saints top draft pick of a few months ago ranked this "low", but don't be alarmed. All rookies -- especially those who play the cornerback position -- are prone to experiencing some growing pains as they acclimate themselves to the professional game, and especially with having to defend much bigger and faster WR's.
Lattimore had a "mixed bag" performance at Mini-Camp; getting beat a few times during 1-on-1's on Day #1; but then bounced back and looked great on Day #2 with a few nice PBU's against Michael Thomas and Brandon Coleman --- only to come back yesterday during the final practice and get "taken to school" by Thomas, who made an incredible over-the-shoulder grab despite good, tight coverage by Lattimore.
All in all, it still was a solid overall Mini-Camp performance by the former All-American "lock down" CB from Ohio State. If the hope is that Lattimore will be right in the mix to start opposite of #1 CB Delvin Breaux at the #2 CB / outside boundary spot on opening Monday Night at Minnesota on September 11th, then it can be said that he should be "right on track" to do so.
#4. ARTHUR MAULET, CORNERBACK
Some fans will no doubt find it a bit disconcerting that I have an UDFA cornerback ranked ahead of the team's top draft pick at the same position, but remember: this list is based on the players whom were the MOST IMPRESSIVE rookie performers, and Maulet actually seemed to have the more impressive Mini-Camp performance than Lattimore at times in the consensus opinion of most observers in attendance.
Maulet, a NOLA native who was an all-state soccer player, an all-district punter, and a all-district cornerback at Alfred J. Bonnabel High School, consistently turned heads of observers and analysts in attendance with good coverage especially when he was on the field with the 1st unit in team drills; and had one of the memorable plays of the entire Mini-Camp --- when he stepped up on the final play of Day #2 practice and undercut a Chase Daniel pass to make a nice interception, and thereby giving the defense "a win" for the day against the offense.
The Saints made Maulet the highest paid UDFA in guaranteed money ($27,000 in total guarantees : a $12,000 signing bonus, and a $15,000 base guarantee) that they signed this off-season, and he showed everyone just why that was. As of now, if there's any one UDFA player with a LEGITIMATE shot to make the Final 53-man roster, it's easily Maulet, hands down.
#3. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
The Saints traded up to take Kamara in the Draft a few months ago, and he quickly showed everyone why he will become the team's brand new 'scat back' in the revitalized Saints offensive attack in 2017. During team drills on Day #1, Kamara had one of the "highlight plays" of the entire Mini-Camp, when he broke off and ran a pass route -- where he was picked up by veteran linebacker Mantai Te'o in pass coverage.
Kamara then caught the ball and completely "juked" Te'o right out of his shoes on his way to what would have been a huge gain had it been live action in an actual NFL game. The play drew an entire chorus of "oooooohs" and "aaaaaaahs" from a majority of Who Dats watching faithfully from the bleachers in the muggy South Louisiana plus 90-degree heat, who clapped mightily in approval of the play that they had just witnessed.
Kamara is expected to fill the old role within both the offense's running game as well as the passing game that was previously held by former Saints RB's Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles; and based on the 3 days worth of live action that was witnessed at Mini- Camp, Kamara will give the Saints exactly what they are and were looking for.
#2. ALEX ANZALONE, LINEBACKER
Let's be completely honest: they were many among both the media covering the team as well as a large portion of the team's fans, who questioned the Saints' selection of Anzalone in the 3rd Round over some notable edge pass rushers that were still available at that time. But make no mistake about it: the Saints knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they grabbed Anzalone.
Anzalone quickly established himself with the coaching staff by becoming a fixture in the Saints starting defensive line-up; as he received a good portion of snaps with the 1st unit --- while displaying his versatility to play all 3 LB spots, and also his outstanding capability to provide tight pass coverage against opposing RB's and TE's on pass defense.
As of right now, Anzaolne appears to be one of the true "locks" among the team's rookies to see plenty of action as a starter; and if I were a betting man: I'd put EVERY PENNY on the fact that by the time the 2017 regular season is over, Anzalone will have replaced veteran Dannell Ellerbe as the team's starting weakside / Will" linebacker.
#1. MARCUS WILLIAMS, FREE SAFETY
Let's not even mince words here: the New Orleans Saints got an absolute "steal" in the 2017 NFL Draft, when they were able to take University of Utah free safety Marcus Williams with their #42 overall pick in the 2nd Round. This kid was vastly underrated by NFL scouts --- and may end up being the best free safety in the entire 2017 Draft class when it's all said and done.
Williams consistently showed his "ball hawk" skills throughout the 3 days worth of Mini-Camp practices, just as he had for the duration of 3 weeks worth of the team's OTA practices prior to that. In his outstanding article published a few weeks ago on Williams, New Orleans Advocate beat writer / analyst Nick Underhill made the observation that perhaps Williams has been able to "get up to speed" a little bit quicker than most rookie NFL safeties, since he played 'single high' coverage while at Utah (which isn't common at the collegiate level).
That became evident once again at Mini-Camp, where Williams once again showcased the poise and demeanor that is uncommon to see from rookies at this stage of their development; especially for one who was clearly overlooked by the so-called experts prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.
The bottom line is that the Saints were able to get a player who should have been a 1st Round pick for a 2nd straight year (they "stole" WR Michael Thomas last year also in the 2nd Round); and now find themselves with a rookie starter and potential future All-Pro for their defense --- and who is also more than capable of immediately filling the role that departed veteran Jairus Byrd was unable to do for the past 3 years and $54 million dollars worth..........