The luxury of the 2009 Super Bowl Champion team was the incredible amount of depth the Saints had at numerous positions. Of course since then the value of many of the players on the roster went up and the Saints have had to pick and choose who they wanted to retain. For the most part they've kept their key players, at times wrecklessly (see Roman Harper's original contract), but what's suffered is the Saints' ability to add quality depth behind them due to a soaring cap number. The Saints haven't been outstanding at drafting, either, and losing two second round picks in the Bountygate fiasco certainly didn't help matters. But despite the lack of depth at some positions and being so cash strapped, the competition at safety is incredibly elevated.
The Saints currently carry seven safeties on the roster and I only view one of them as a probable cut. That's second year man Jerico Nelson, who I don't view as a slouch as he spent last season on the Saints' practice squad before getting called up to the active roster late last season. Nelson is a promising young player, but due to the talent at the position I assume he's not going to make it. Other than him there's six guys and I'd be uncomfortable dropping any of them.
The two guys I like the least of those six are probably the starters, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, who have both grossly underperformed the past two seasons. At some point you need to cut your losses and move on with the vets if they aren't cutting it (pun), but signs point to them at least getting one last chance early this season. Then you've got Isa Abdul-Quddus, a guy I love and have been consistently lobbying for to start at free safety. From what I've seen IAQ has the best playmaking and ball skill abilities of the bunch. Rafael Bush is another guy I like a lot who showed some nice things last year. Not only is he a capable safety that made plays, he's also an outstanding special teamer. I think he's at risk because of the numbers game, but I would be sick to see the Saints let him go. He's too talented.
Beyond that there's obviously Kenny Vacarro, the team's top pick in this year's draft, who's clearly a lock to be in the final 53 and figures to be included right away in sub packages. Lastly the Saints signed veteran Jim Leonhard who is the oldest of the bunch. Leonhard has been a starter and solid special teams contributor in his own right. I know that Rob Ryan likes him so I'm not sure what to expect out of him. I feel like the Saints have young talent that makes Leonhard expendable but I'm sure the Saints like his character and experience.
I would think with IAQ's, Bush's and Leonhard's prowess on special teams that's enough to probably keep a total of 5 safeties on the 53 man roster, which is high. But I'm not even sure who those five would be, assuming Nelson is cut. I assume Jenkins, Harper and Vacarro are locks, beyond that anything can happen. Thus, I view IAQ, Bush, Leonhard battling for two spots or maybe just one. To me IAQ is ahead in that race, but if the fifth safety spot comes down to Bush vs. Leonhard I fear Ryan would lean Leonhard and drop Rafael Bush which I wouldn't be comfortable with. At the end of last year I really felt IAQ and Bush were the best safeties on the roster. Should be interesting. Either way the Saints have great depth, their depth possibly being much better than their current starters, and the competition playing out in training camp should be very heated. It's a good problem to have.
Do you think the Saints keep four, five or six safeties? Which of these seven do you think will make the 53 man roster?