BAYHAM: Saints Rookies Make Case For Roster Spots, Playing Time

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has a mixed record when it comes to making the optimal choice with the team’s first round draft pick in the NFL draft.

Since 2006, only two of his first round selections have truly played up to expectations- and that’s including Reggie Bush, which is a charitable assessment.

Loomis’s real talent seems to be not in evaluating top talent (he did choose Malcolm Jenkins over Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews) but finding bargains in later rounds (Jahri Evans, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston) and in the bargain bin of players not selected in the draft.

And there’s probably not a better “dumpster diver” in the league when it comes to signing quality undrafted free agents.

Granted many of those hype-less college players develop into superstar players, though every once in a while he finds a starter, with his greatest discovery being running back Pierre Thomas.

Fifth round selection Kenny Stills, a speedy wide receiver from Oklahoma, quickly stepped into the third receiver void left by Joseph Morgan’s season ending injury suffered in a scrimmage. Stills established himself in the Houston Texans game hauling in a tough 40-yard reception and making a 14-yard touchdown catch. Stills has the 14th most receiving yards in the league.

Fellow 2013 draftee John Jenkins made his presence known in the Miami game. The big bodied Georgia defensive lineman made five tackles and a sack, solidifying his spot as backup to starting nosetackle Brodrick Bunkley.

Loomis seems to have really hit paydirt with this class of undrafted free agents, several of whom have impressed coaches and fans in training camp and in preseason games and have legitimate chances of not only making the 53-man roster but also seeing some field time.

Illinois defensive end Glenn Foster has been the defensive breakout player in preseason, leading the team and ranking second in the NFL in sacks with four. Putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks was a struggle for the Black and Gold over the past few years and Foster, whose spot on the roster is assured, will have an opportunity to help change that trend in the regular season.

On offense, running back Khiry Robinson has turned heads and helped folks forget about the traded Chris Ivory. The tough running Robinson racked up 115 yards on 22 carries for a very respectable average of 5.2 yards per carry against the Miami Dolphins, though he coughed up two fumbles in that game.

Despite his butterfingers in the final preseason game, Robinson brings a unique rushing style to the Saints’ running back stable and the team may very well have to either keep five running backs on the roster (Robinson joining Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and last season’s rookie sensation Travaris Cadet).

If the Saints ended up keeping only four running backs on the roster, Cadet’s poor preseason play, particularly against the Oakland Raiders where he fumbled twice and ran for -5 yards on 5 attempts, might lose his spot on the team to the most recent flavor of the preseason.

And though it’s not a position that produces stats, offensive lineman Tim Lelito of Grand Valley State has made his case for a roster spot as well. The undrafted rookie free agent has also enjoyed a good training camp and preseason, coming up big in the Miami game, recovering one of Robinson’s fumbles in the end zone for a Saints score.

If the Saints are able to rebound from last year’s disappointing season, it will be due in no small part to the contributions that the team’s less prominent draft picks and unheralded rookies have been able to make in short order.

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