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Saints roster breakdown: Young risers

3/19/2015

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have proven they're willing to trade just about everyone as they aggressively reshape their roster. But there's a difference between “considering all options” and “actively trying to dump players.” Some players are still vital to the cause going forward.

This is the last in a five-part series highlighting the most valuable players remaining on the roster -- and attempting to rate their job security.

YOUNG RISERS:

TE Josh Hill -- Saints coach Sean Payton raved about the third-year pro at the end of last season as “exactly what we're looking for” because he brings so much value as both a backup tight end and a core special teams player. And now Hill has become even more valuable to the offense after the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham.

Though Hill will generate a lot of fantasy buzz since he caught five touchdown passes in a limited role last year, I'm not ready to predict a major breakout just yet. The former undrafted free agent from Idaho State caught only 14 passes total for 176 yards last season while averaging 17 snaps per game.

So I don't expect Hill to slide directly into Graham's old spot -- I think it will be more of a committee approach. But he's definitely a young, valued player on the rise.

WRs Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones -- I think the Saints are also high on the potential of their two undrafted rookie receivers from last year who spent most of the season on the practice squad -- which may be part of the reason why Kenny Stills was deemed expendable before his trade to the Miami Dolphins.

It's too early to project whether either guy will have a path to significant playing time, since they're still behind Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon, and the Saints could wind up using one of their early draft picks on a receiver. But their progress will be an intriguing summer storyline.

G Tim Lelito -- Yet another former undrafted free agent, Lelito couldn't lock down the vacant starting center job last year when the Saints brought in veteran Jonathan Goodwin late in the summer. But now the third-year pro has another chance with the left guard spot open after the Saints traded away Ben Grubbs.

Lelito played well in spurts last year as an injury replacement for Goodwin and might be even better suited for the guard spot. At the very least, he's a good, reliable option as the top “swing” backup at both spots.

RB Khiry Robinson -- A year ago, Robinson would have topped this list when it appeared that the Saints were extremely high on his potential as yet another undrafted free-agent gem. And I still believe the Saints are high on that potential. But Robinson missed much of last season with a broken arm. And now his path to playing time is a lot more crowded since the Saints just invested $4 million per year to re-sign Mark Ingram and another $4 million per year to add C.J. Spiller.

With so many injuries at running back, Robinson will probably have opportunities to shine this year, but they'll be limited when everyone is healthy.

Others -- Third-year nose tackle John Jenkins (an actual draft pick) might belong in this category, but he underachieved a bit last year after an impressive rookie season. So while he has as much potential as anyone on this list, he needs to exploit it even more this year.

Safety Pierre Warren only partly qualifies among the Saints' long list of undrafted gems, since they actually let him go last fall before re-signing him later off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. Warren may have earned his way onto this list because of his strong play last year when New Orleans thrust him into the starting lineup because of a rash of injuries. However, the safety position is now a lot more crowded with guys like Jairus Byrd, Rafael Bush and Vinnie Sunseri coming back from those injuries.

The jury is still out on other rookies from last season like Sunseri and linebackers Kasim Edebali and Ronald Powell, who played sparingly.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN SERIES:

Shocking if they get traded

Wild cards

Vital if they stay

Oldies but goodies