A Few Observations From 2019 Saints Rookie Camp

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

The New Orleans Saints concluded their 3-day Rookie Camp yesterday afternoon for all five of their 2019 draft picks along with 17 undrafted players and another 48 that were given tryout opportunities to make the team’s Final Roster later on this summer during training camp.

Although both Friday and Saturday’s practices were closed to the general public, local media were allowed access to the designated practice on Saturday. I was there, being the eyes and ears for New Orleans Saints fans; here are just a few of my personal observations regarding some of the events that took place, along with some names of a handful of players that stood out individually.

Last year only 3 of the team’s draft picks made the roster – this year, all 5 drafted players might make it

As we’ve mentioned many times in recent weeks, of the Saints’ seven picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, only three (defensive end Marcus Davenport, wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, and O-Lineman Will Clapp) made the team’s final 53-man roster. But it would appear, based on first glance at least, that all five of the team’s picks from last month’s 2019 NFL Draft Class would seem to have a great shot at making it past the final cut on the first weekend of September.

This year’s top pick, 2nd Round center Erik McCoy along with 4th Round selection safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson both appear to be what is commonly referred to as draft “steals” (McCoy was taken at #48 overall and Gardner-Johnson at #105 overall). Both appear to be destined for future NFL greatness (more thoughts on both of them, coming up in a moment).

But 6th Round pick safety Saquon Hampton also looks to be very talented in his own right, and 7th Round choices TE Alize Mack and Linebacker/jack-of-all-trades Kaden Elliss each had some impressive moments during practice that would lead one to believe that  all three of them are quite capable of earning back-up spots on the Final Roster. Training Camp and the Pre-Season will ultimately determine if that actually proves to be the case; but as of this moment, it would seem that possibility could indeed become a reality.

The Saints are “set” at the center position for the next decade

There’s a long-held tradition that says that if an offensive lineman isn’t “standing out” and getting noticed, then it’s actually a good thing — because it usually means that player is doing his assigned job. That was certainly the case during the practice that I saw with McCoy, who not surprisingly only yielded a single sack in his brilliant college career at Texas A&M University; that came while he was matched up against some of the nation’s very best interior pass-rushers within the SEC.


What impressed me even more, however, was how McCoy handled himself with the media in the team’s locker room after practice had ended. He came across as a very mature, articulate, well-spoken, and well-mannered young man who, with great dignity and pride, proceeded to break down with precise detail and knowledge what the expectations were for himself and the team at the center position moving forward.

McCoy is what you’d consider a very “cerebral” player, and his Football IQ level is completely off the charts. When you add to that the rather obvious elite-caliber talent that he possesses, that this young man is destined for greatness at some point in his career. One thing that definitely seems likely: with the selection of McCoy, the Saints should now be “set” at the center position, at least for the next decade.

4th Round Pick Chauncey Gardner-Johnson looks like he can become a future NFL “superstar” for the Saints’ defensive secondary

While McCoy might have been even more impressive off the field, there wasn’t any doubt whatsoever about who “stood out” on the field (or who was the MVP) during Saturday’s practice: 4th Round selection and former University of Florida “ball hawk” safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. He turned in a phenomenal performance and appeared to be the best defensive player on the field without question.


Gardner-Johnson led the entire Southeastern Conference in the lowest passer rating allowed by a defensive back against opposing quarterbacks while he played for the Gators; given his elite-caliber speed and athleticism, which allows him to close in quickly on ball carriers and track down receivers in open space, it would seem that the Saints are going to waste little to no time at all by getting him involved in the action early on.

To that point, the Saints, and specifically defensive back coach Aaron Glenn, had Johnson line up at nearly every single spot in the defensive secondary during Saturday’s practice. Johnson impacted a handful of different plays with either blanket coverage or directly affected several passes, including one that he tipped in pass coverage against TE Alize Mack that was subsequently intercepted by fellow rookie safety and 6th Round pick Saquon Hampton.

Now while it’s a bit too early to bestow a bunch of “hype” on any one particular player at this very early stage of their young careers, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson certainly appears to look every bit of a future NFL defensive “superstar” along the lines of  legendary safeties such as Ronnie Lott or Ed Reed.

The Saints might have found their replacement for Alex Okafor at the back-up Edge Rusher spot, with undrafted rookie DE Carl Granderson

While Gardner-Johnson was easily the best performer on the field at Saturday’s practice, my personal favorite rookie Saints player was undrafted EDGE pass rusher/defensive end Carl Granderson out of the University of Wyoming, who last week I had listed as one of the UDFA’s that I felt had the best chance to make the team’s Final Roster.

The Saints’ team brass gave the 22-year old Granderson a $70,000 guarantee and a $15,000 signing bonus, despite the fact that he still is facing charges on one count of third-degree sexual assault and one count of sexual battery against two alleged victims that are students at the school. Granderson has pleaded innocent to both counts but is awaiting a trial that begins on July 15th. Obviously, Granderson went undrafted due to the pending charges, though he was originally projected to be a mid-round pick.

However, as we noted: it is very likely that the Saints organization believed that Granderson (whom they met with privately prior to the Draft itself) has a good chance at being cleared and found innocent of the charges, or possibly even have them dropped altogether. It wouldn’t have made sense for them to have offered him the guaranteed money and signing bonus otherwise, which Payton essentially confirmed to the media in the post-practice press conference, “We felt real comfortable with everything we knew, and so far he’s done a good job here,” Payton said.

Granderson did a good job, true to Payton’s word. He showed great explosion off the snap of the football on a handful of different passing plays at Saturday’s practice while showing the raw talent that allowed him to put up 173 tackles (35½ for loss), 16½ sacks, 3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles in his 4 seasons with Wyoming. And while it’s probably a bit too early to make any predictions at this point, it can’t be helped but to think that if Granderson is able to stick around and show what he can do if given the opportunity, that the Saints might have even found their replacement at the back-up EDGE rusher spot for Okafor (who signed with Kansas City in Free Agency) behind Davenport.

The Saints have a few “hidden gems” among their UDFAs that should push hard for roster spots during training camp

As it’s been well documented, the Saints’ front office brass this year was able to put together what might be one of the team’s deepest UDFA classes in recent memory, as they were able to land several players who were originally projected to be mid-to-late round picks — several of whom could be labeled as “hidden gems.” While Granderson was one of them that stood out Saturday, he wasn’t the only one; in fact, there are a few undrafted players that might be able to push very hard throughout the Summer, to earn a spot on the Final Roster.

Two other UDFA rookies that stood out in particular Saturday were former USC linebacker Porter Gustin and former University of Texas wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Gustin, whose notable versatility allows him to essentially play wherever you line him up at throughout the defensive formation, split time at the EDGE rusher spot in a rotation with Granderson; and then also lined up at the strong-side linebacker position as well (and something that didn’t go unnoticed by several members of the Saints defensive coaching staff).

Humphrey in the meantime, had an impressive performance overall also; which was highlighted by a terrific catch that he made in heavy traffic while blanketed in one-on-one coverage. While Humphrey displayed nice ball skills in particular, he’s no “speed demon” by any means; but somehow you can’t help but seem to be reminded of former Saints WR Marques Colston who, like Jordan, just seemed to have a knack for getting open or making big catches for Drew Brees.

While it’s probably smart not to label him as the “next Marques Colston” or anything to that effect just yet, the bottom line is that Humphrey possesses some real serious talent which at the very worst, could land him a spot on the Practice Squad later this year. One thing that’s almost a guarantee: the “battle” that’s likely to take place between Humphrey and returning 2nd year WR Keith Kirkwood in Training Camp for the final WR spot, could become an epic one.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.

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