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The 5 Most Intriguing Saints Players to Watch During Training Camp and Pre-Season

An undrafted rookie "steal" who with just the right training and mentorship, could potentially blossom into the NFL's next young superstar at the tight end position. An athletic "freak of nature" with glaringly-obvious elite-caliber talent, but who's considered a big risk because of how much it cost to get him. Those are just a few descriptions that appropriately fit our look this morning at 5 of the most intriguing Saints players to watch for the next few weeks of Training Camp and next month's 4 Pre-Season games.

So with that in mind, brew yourself a pot of coffee or grab your favorite breakfast-time beverage, as we take a brief but detailed look at the 5 Saints that should keep Who Dat fans enamored with their exploits, when padded practices begin starting next Saturday.

Starting with this young man......

 

DEON YELDER, TIGHT END

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch

We begin our list of the 5 most intriguing Saints to watch with the undrafted rookie out of Western Kentucky University, who is considered very rough around the edges still; with him having only played one full season at the tight end position as a senior last year.

But Yelder has outstanding receiving skills (he's essentially just a "big" WR lined up as a TE), so much so that he actually has a legitimate shot at blossoming into a "superstar" at the NFL level if he can learn the other requirements of the position, specifically in-line blocking. For a Saints team looking for an injection of talented youth at the position, Yelder seems like a blessing sent straight from heaven.

One thing to keep in mind: Yelder is being trained by one of the best in the business with Saints TE coach / assistant head coach Dan Campbell, while at the same time being mentored by 15th-year veteran TE Ben Watson. With that kind of help, Yelder could become yet another UDFA "steal" that ends up earning a spot on the team's Final 53-man roster.

 

MARCUS DAVENPORT, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE RUSHER

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Our description used at the beginning of the article was completely accurate when applied to the Saints' top draft pick, taken with the #14 overall selection in the 1st Round of this year's 2018 NFL Draft after the Saints had to give up their top pick in NEXT YEAR'S 2019 NFL Draft to move up from the 27th overall spot, in a trade with the Green Bay Packers.

Essentially, Davenport is considered by most observers and analysts particularly within the National Media, as an athletic "freak of nature" with glaringly-obvious elite-caliber talent — but who's considered a big risk because of how much it cost to get him.

But yet despite a thumb ligament injury that required minor surgery after last month's Mini-Camp, Davenport looked every bit as good as he's been advertised during OTA's and in limited snaps at Mini-Camp, and barring any unforseen set-backs, should continue to wow everyone with his raw but incredible talent. It's the very same raw talent that the Saints are hoping can be quickly developed and used for him to have an IMMEDIATE impact this year, and justify in their eyes what it cost to get him to NOLA.

 

TAYSOM HILL, QUARTERBACK

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

We won't waste much more of your time talking endlessly about the talented 27-year old, who as most Saints fans know is a former record-breaking QB as both a passer and a runner back during college at Brigham Young University (BYU), but went undrafted largely because of lingering injury concerns as well as underdeveloped skills as a classic pocket passer.

But now with Sean Payton guiding him, all eyes are on Hill to see if he can become the next player on the list of notable QB's that Payton has developed throughout the years (like former Cowboys QB Tony Romo). Hill's athleticism is his biggest attribute, and I'd personally compare him to a poor man's version of former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame QB Steve Young — with the same running prowess but minus the pure throwing ability and precision accuracy that Young possessed during his legendary career.

Whether or not Hill can LEGITIMATELY be the "heir apparent" to Drew Brees is still up for debate and likely will continue to be debated for at least the next several weeks; but with the scrutiny that he's certain to get in these next few weeks of Camp and especially during next month's Pre-Season games (where he's certain to see plenty of game-action), Hill is easily one of the most intriguing players to watch.

 

ALEX ANZALONE, LINEBACKER

(Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

When the Saints drafted Anzalone (pronounced An-zuh-loan-ee) in the 3rd Round (#76 overall) of last year's 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of Florida, they did so with the knowledge in advance that despite his immense talent, they were also taking a "big risk" on a player with a very notable injury-history. Unfortunately for both the Saints and Anzalone, that concern over his past health issues was validated rather quickly when his rookie season came to an abrupt end, after only playing in a grand total of 4 regular season games

Now we fast forward a little bit over 8 months later, and a now-healthy Anzalone is expected to regain his starting role just so long as there aren't any setbacks with that very same right shoulder, which is the same one that he also dealt with previously in college. Clearly when healthy: Anzalone is one of THE BEST players on the field. Period. But staying ON the field remains his biggest issue.

Anzalone had successful surgery for that injury a few days after he was placed on IR, and has looked good this off-season thus far, and there's no reason at least right now to suspect that he won't be ready to line-up at the starting "Will" LB spot against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2018 regular season opener at the Superdome on September 9th. But nevertheless, the question still remains: can the big risk that the Saints took by choosing a player with a notable reputation for being "injury-prone", end up paying off as a big reward if he can stay healthy?

 

ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch

We finish our list with the team's indisputable #1 most popular player at the moment, who of course was named the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year, and along with teammate and fellow rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore — who took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors — helped the Saints win the 2017 NFC South Division Championship and become only the 2nd team team ever in League history dating back nearly 100 years, to have two players claim the awards in the same year.

Expectations for the franchise fortune-changing star will certainly be very high going into the upcoming 2018 NFL season, as he prepares to enter into Year 2 of his incredibly blossoming NFL career. And while he might not achieve or accomplish the remarkable feats similar to those of which he did last year, he's definitely aware that the media and the team's fan-base will be scrutinizing his every single move while at the very same time: expecting him to repeat last year's success.

Photo courtesy of Chris Granger, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

But with the suspension of teammate and fellow RB Mark Ingram for the first 4 games of the 2018 regular season, Kamara's role is expected to be somewhat different than last year's ; and additionally it'll be intriguing to watch just how much of a work-load that Payton will give him, although he will have plenty of help behind him with RB's Terrance West, Jonathan Williams, Boston Scott, Shane Vereen and Trey Edmunds chipping in as well.

Bottom line: Kamara remains the most popular player on the roster right now other than Brees, and with his role slightly altered and changed up a bit with the Ingram suspension; fans wanting to see how Year #2 of his NFL career will shape up for him, easily makes Alvin Kamara one of the 5 most intriguing Saints to watch during 2018 Training Camp and the Pre-Season.....

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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