Longshots to watch during Saints preseason
As sports fans, we all love to pull for the underdog player.
We can identify with someone who few really gave a shot to succeed but beat the odds to become a player with purpose.
Saints fans have become accustomed to watching as fringe players rise to prominence, coming as undrafted invitees to somehow out beating out the more established veterans or highly touted draftees.
When payers like Willie Snead, Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet and Delvin Breaux arrived one the scene, they were given just an opportunity to show what they can do.
Sean Payton and his staff have demonstrated the ability to unearth a few nuggets that may have slipped through the cracks, polish them up and enjoy a sparkling gem or two.
The 2017 season is no different. There are a handful of players that the average fan knows little about, but these underdogs have earned a chance to become members of the squad as we embark on the first preseason contest. Some may seize an opening due to injuries or simply work their way up the depth chart.
At times, making it in the NFL is a process where a player is initially cut and signed to the practice squad before eventually earning a spot on the 53-man roster.
Here are a few names you may want to keep an eye on as preseason continues. There maybe another Snead, Breaux or even Sammy Knight, an undrafted safety in 1997 who went onto earn a Pro Bowl invite in 2001 and enter the Saints Hall of Fame.
#15 WR Jake Lampman
Don’t know who he is? The Ferris State (Div. II) product inked as an undrafted free agent in May 2016. He was added to the practice squad that season, eventually being promoted to the final 53 on Oct. 15.
While at Ferris State, Lampman demonstrated a solid pair of hands, totaling 2,200 receiving yards for his career.
His work ethic grabbed the Saints’ attention. Payton has mentioned his name on more than one occasion. Lampman treats blocking as an art and takes special teams opportunities seriously to the point of being a dynamo coverage guy. He may not be a deep threat in the passing game or a dynamic athlete, but you can bet he will be tough to cut.
#37 CB Arthur Maulet
The talk of camp is a local (Bonnabel alum). He is not terribly fast (4.62), but he also did 18 reps on the bench press test at this year’s Combine, good for fifth at the Combine among all corners.
Last year as a senior at Memphis, Maulet had a pair of interceptions and broke up eight passes. He has quick reactions to the thrown balls and increasingly more comfortable in his new pro surroundings. Very aggressive, he also has a high football IQ.
“I think (Maulet) is tough. I like his physicality. You can see he is put together well,” Payton said during training camp. “He’s smart. That’s a good trait. He’s someone I think can possibly play in the nickel. I said the other day, he was a sought after free agent for us. We had competition from other teams to sign him. I am anxious to see how he does once we start getting into preseason games. I would say (I am) encouraged.”
Although cornerback is a crowded position for the Saints in camp, we all know how quickly players at that spot have evaporated in recent seasons due to injuries. If Maulet can contribute on special teams, he may just find a way on to the team regardless.
#99 LB Adam Bighill
Don’t sell him short. The 5-foot-9, 230 pounder ended up with the Saints following a stellar career north of the border in the CFL, producing 489 tackles (including 69 special teams stops), 33 sacks, eight interceptions and eight forced fumbles. While with the B.C. Lions from 2011-16), Bighill he was a four-time CFL All-Star.
In his rookie campaign (2012), he paced the Lions with 104 tackles, second most in all of the CFL. In 2015 following a 117-tackle season, Bighill was named the top Defensive Player in the league. He had nothing left to prove in Canada, and he’s doing his all to show his stuff in the NFL.
The 29-year old is an explosive tackler, possessing good power and awareness for a linebacker who was tested in coverage in the pass-happy CFL.
The Central Washington product is an incredibly hard worker. Born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, Bighill is on the board for Toronto-based charity Making Faces which is designed to help those with facial differences.
Bighill is used to climbing big hills of adversity and coming out on top.
#92 DT Justin Zimmer
The loss of Nick Fairley due to a heart condition opened a spot for someone to grab a roster spot. Players like Zimmer, an athlete with crazy strength, can take advantage. On the bench press test at 225 pounds, he put up 44 reps. He also squats 615, hang cleans 405and runs a 4.85 forty at 286 pounds. His test numbers are elite for someone his size. Super strong, Zimmer has great pad level and explodes off the ball.
Recruited as a linebacker for college, Zimmer moved to defensive line as a redshirt freshman to become a three-year starter. He was twice named Division II All-American and rewarded as a three-time Academic All American at Ferris State. He recorded 81 stops, 13 sacks and an a D-II second best 26 tackles for loss in his final season.
Very muscular, Zimmer sometimes plays a little stiff. He could land on practice squad. I have a feeling he’ll be around somehow.
#77 OL John Fullington
Undrafted out of Washington State in 2014, Fullington, signed with the Packers and eventually spent time with the 49ers. Next, he signed with Arizona in 2015 before landing with Black and Gold in 2016.
As a freshman for Cougars, the started the first of 43 straight games including 27 at guard and 16 at left tackle. His versatility and uncertainty regarding depth up front for the Saints could offer Fullington an opportunity.
#70 DE/DT Mitchell Lowen
Lowen joined the Saints in 2016 as undrafted free agent. While at Arkansas, he lined up at linebacker, tight end, fullback and both sides of the line.
An Honor Roll student at Arlansas, he also has good football blood lines. His father Chuck was an offensive lineman with the Chargers from 1980-84, sharing the huddle with Dan Fouts, Chuck Muncie, Wes Chandler and Kellen Winslow.
#39 CB Taveze Calhoun
Calhoun has good size for the position (6-0, 192) but average speed (4.58). He signed in 2016 with Bears as undrafted free agent in 2015 but was released in September. Calhoun ended up on the Saints roster, active for one game.
In 36 starts at Mississippi State, he led the SEC with three interceptions and 101 return yards in 2013. Ankle surgery his senior season set him back in his pro hopes.
He is a quick-twitch athlete with high character. He was rarely assessed a pass interference penalty in college despite consitent tight coverage. He is fighting an uphill battle at a crowded position in camp this year.
#96 DT Ashaad Mabry
A bug run stuufer prospect out of UTSA, Mabry inked the with Saints originally in September 2015.
Originally signed out of high school by Oklahoma State, he transfered to join the Roadrunners and started 28 contests.
The 315 pounder’s calling card is run stuffing, and he has outlasted the competition from past Saints camps. Broderick Bunkley, John Jenkins, Lawrence Virgil and Tyrun Walker, all former Saints, are gone while Mabry continues to fight for his spot. This might be his last opportunity in the Big Easy. The Saints have seen enough in 2two seasons to determine whether he has imprved enough as a pro to stick.
Mabry is currently running behind Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata at the tackle spot, but the aforementioned loss of Fairley’s services mean the Saints have one extra spot open for the taking.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…