Good morning and Happy 4th of July. With the arrival of the holiday today, the New Orleans Saints are now only slightly over 3 weeks away from the official start of their 2017 Training Camp, and just 2 weeks away from their drafted and undrafted free agent rookie class reporting to began the preparations for the upcoming 2017 NFL season in earnest.
It's with that in mind that this morning, we here at the Saints News Network are giving you a bit of an early primer (as well as a reason, if you actually needed one) to get EXCITED about the imminent return of Saints football for another season.
Specifically, we're taking a look at 5 youngsters whom we feel are primed and ready to 'break out" and make a name for themselves during Training Camp and the subsequent Pre-Season that follows.
Some of them are (or have been) well-known in the world of college and Pro Football, while a few others are not.
Players in the past that would have been on this very type of list include Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Delvin Breaux, and Willie Snead.
Some of these names you may already be familiar with, and we've likely covered them previously in articles of ours over the course of the past several weeks --- so consider this morning's list a bit of a "refresher" to help you get hyped for the arrival of Saints Football in just a few more weeks (if you weren't already).
So let's get started, with our quick thoughts on each one of these young men --- starting with this one.........
MARCUS WILLIAMS, FREE SAFETY
Many analysts, observers, and writers within the media that cover the Saints team exclusively (such as myself) are calling this young man THE BIGGEST "STEAL" of the 2017 NFL Draft. It's jaw-droppingly unbelievable to think that this young man lasted until the 42nd overall pick of Round 2, considering that he is a Top 20 talent.
Part of the reason for that is that he played in obscurity at the University of Utah, and although Utah is a major college program, they just tend to get overlooked or even forgotten about by the National Media at large.
But there's no way you can possibly overlook this kid. He's an elite defender in every sense of the word, with superior athleticism (with a leaping ability that has to be seen in person to truly appreciate it) and "ball skills" that are completely off the charts.
He's a noted "ball hawk", and has a knack for creating turnovers via an interception or forcing a fumble with his hard-hitting "lay the wood" tackling style.
The bottom line for Saints fans to remember is that Marcus Williams will be the player that former veteran free safety Jairus Byrd was supposed to be --- but a whole lot better and 10 years younger.
ARTHUR MAULET, CORNERBACK
While this year's top 2017 Draft pick and fellow rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore will get most of the attention at the CB position and rightfully so, the young man that Saints fans really need to be on the look-out for is one of New Orleans' very own.
Undrafted rookie free agent and former University of Memphis star Arthur Maulet is a New Orleans native and was an all-around athletic high school superstar at Alfred J. Bonnabel High School in the NOLA suburb of Kenner, which is right off the I-10 interstate approximately 13 miles away from downtown.
Maulet was an all-state soccer player, an all-district punter, and a all-district cornerback at Bonnabel, and he's already had one "break out" performance already: when he had 11 tackles and three sacks against Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl.
That got him noticed by NFL scouts and eventually the Saints, and he made a name for himself already at last month's Mini-Camp when he consistently turned heads of observers and analysts in attendance with good coverage when he was given an opportunity to start with the 1st unit in team drills.
He also had one of the memorable plays 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. 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.
ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
Now granted: this one is a little bit 'easy' to consider a "break out" candidate / player, because this young man is a virtual LOCK to be a star within the parameters of the Saints offensive attack.
Make no mistake about it, the Saints view 3rd Round rookie draft pick and former University of Tennessee stat Alvin Kamara in the very same manner as they did with previous Saints players Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles: filling the designated "scat back" role in head coach Sean Payton's offensive scheme.
Kamara has already shown flashes of his capability before the team has had a chance to begin Training Camp, which was last month when he had one of the "highlight plays" during the team's Mini-Camp --- where he broke off and ran a pass route and then made the catch of a short dump-off pass before he completely "juked" veteran linebacker Mantai Te'o right out of his shoes in pass coverage.
The play would would have gone for a huge chunk of yardage had it been live action in an actual NFL game, drawing some "ooooooh's" and "aaaaaaah's" from the fans watching in attendance; and was an early indication of the type of talent and blend of speed and elusiveness that Kamara will be able to provide the Saints with once again.
Essentially, we're labeling him a "break out" player because Kamara isn't a household name (not yet, anyway) outside of Tennessee and New Orleans. But that's about to change, and change really QUICK.
TRAVIN DURAL, WIDE RECEIVER
Out of the 5 players listed here in this article, Dural is the player I'm the least confident in becoming a "break out' player in Training Camp, just because he will have to prove himself capable of playing at the pro level --- after an injury-prone and less than stellar college career at LSU.
Dural is immensely popular with a large segment of Saints fans, given that he played at LSU and also because he is a native of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana (just outside of Lafayette) and was a high school star at Breaux Bridge High School. But his career at LSU didn't exactly go as planned, though he did manage to show flashes of potential throughout his time in Baton Rouge with the Tigers.
For Dural, it will all come down to simply making the most of his opportunities, which he seems to have already done when he drew the praise of head coach Sean Payton, who told reporters at Mini-Camp earlier last month that he didn't see any lingering signs of the injuries that he suffered at LSU; and that he seems to have transitioned well so far in making the "step up" that's required to play at the professional level.
However, whether Dural is actually 'NFL ready' or not remains to be seen, considering that the 23-year old rookie will be locked in a heated battle with a handful of other players for what most likely will be the team's 5th and final WR spot; which won't be decided until the final cut-down from 90 players to 53 near the end of the Pre-Season in late August.
Dural at this point seems to be a "long shot"; but I'll give him the benefit of a doubt and list him as one of the young Saints players poised for a "break out" performance. No matter what happens eventually, the Saints and Sean Payton seem intent on giving Dural an opportunity to prove himself and to prove that he does in fact 'belong' in the National Football League -- which is all that any undrafted rookie could ever hope for.
ALEX ANZALONE, WEAKSIDE / "WILL" LINEBACKER
I've saved Anzalone for last simply because knowledgeable Saints fans that follow the sport of college and Pro Football very closely, are a bit divided on what type of impact Anzalone can make upon the Saints defense as a rookie.
As someone who covers the team daily, my personal opinion of Anzalone's ability is probably a bit higher than some, but I base it off what the Saints coaching staff has said about Anzalone and more importantly: HOW the coaching staff has been using him in the line-up thus far throughout the off-season which included OTA's and Mini-Camp.
It's easy to see that the Saints brass liked what they saw in Anzalone in college, despite his reputation (and a "false narrative", to be honest) that he always seemed to be hurt while playing for the Gators. One thing is certain: when Anzalone is on the field, his raw talent is undeniable. Anzalone quickly established himself with the coaching staff by becoming a fixture in the Saints starting defensive line-up during team drills last month at Mini-Camp.
Not only did he receive a good portion of snaps with the 1st unit, but it became fairly obvious that he was selected for 2 important reasons: his speed and ability to quickly cover a lot of ground by moving 'sideline to sideline'; and also his outstanding capability to provide tight pass coverage by "blanketing" RB's and TE's on pass defense.
It's for that reason why the Saints coaching staff appears intent on using that speed and coverage ability where it makes the most sense: at weakside / "Will" linebacker, a position that requires your fastest / quickest linebacker who can run with RB's and TE's in coverage.
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 rotational player thanks in part mostly to the very notable injury issues that continue to plague veteran weakside / "Will" linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who missed Mini-Camp with a toe injury.
Given Ellerbe's age (32) and his propensity for ALWAYS being hurt, it's become fairly evident that the Saints coaching staff views Anzalone the future at "Will" linebacker, and he can get an early jump on that assessment with a "break out" performance, in Training Camp.....