Saints have long list of undrafted success stories
The New Orleans Saints have demonstrated a propensity for unearthing undrafted free agent college players, many having gone onto become extremely productive additions to the franchise. I am not including former NFL players who were signed as free agents, nor do I list players who previously played with teams from the USFL or Canadian football.
With a little spit, polish, patience and luck the Saints staffs helped many undrafted hopefuls into reaching their top potential.
Pierre Thomas, undrafted out of Illinois in 2007, led the team is rushing in 2008 (625 yards) and the Super Bowl campaign of 2009 (793 yards), holding off more heralded players Reggie Bush and Deuce McAlister. The Black and Gold cut their 2007 fourth round pick, Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman, in order to keep Thomas. Pierre scored the first touchdown in the Super Bowl XLIV victory. He finished his days in the Big Easy with 3,745 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns plus 327 catches for 2,598 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Lance Moore is my one exception, since he initially signed with the Cleveland Browns in April 2005 before being released a month later. He joined the Saints that season, spending the next nine years in New Orleans. He had 79 grabs for 928 yards and 10 scores in 2008 before improving to 1,041 yards receiving in 2012. Moore, another major contributor to the Super Bowl XLIV wun, totaled 346 catches for 4,281 yards and 38 touchdowns as a Saint.
Chris Ivory from obscure Tiffin College, spent 2010-12 with New Orleans. He led the team in rushing as a rookie in 2010 with 716 yards (5.2 yards/carry) and five scores. Ivory had a career performance his rookie campaign with 158 yards in 15 carries against the Bills. He played in 24 games for the Black and Gold, producing 1,307 yards and eight scores before moving on to other NFL opportunities.
Tight end Josh Hill (6’5-250) joined the squad as an undrafted prospect in 2013. He has caught 67 passes for 614 yards and 10 touchdowns while sharing time with talented performers like Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson. The product of Idaho State signed a $2 million contract for 2018.
Travaris Cadet was used in an assortment of ways while with Saints, providing depth a running back, receiver, kick returns and special teams. He was in New Orleans from 2012-’14 and then made a return trip for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Cadet had 94 catches for 772 yards and three scores in Black & Gold. As a kick returner, he averaged 24.2 yards on 63 kick return and made 18 special teams tackles. He is currently on the Buffalo Bills roster.
Tim Lelito, another small school find from Grand Valley State, signed with Saints in 2013. He immediately grabbing the starting right guard spot that was vacated by Jahri Evans. Over four seasons in the Crescent City, Lelito lined up at center and guard, making 24 starts for Saints with 63 game appearances. He is now with Detroit Lions.
Isa Abdul-Quddus made it with the Saints from 2011-’13 out of Fordham University. A great addition on special teams contributing 74 tackles, he added a pair of interceptions at safety as well. Abdul-Quddus last played in the NFL with Miami (2016) after a pair of seasons in Detroit.
Tyrunn Walker hails from Westgate High School in New Iberia. Following his three seasons with Saints (2012-’14), the defensive tackle spent time with Lions and Rams.
How about an undrafted free agent going to Pro Bowl and later the Saints Hall of Fame? Sammy Knight, who was with the franchise from 1997-2002, is third all-time in franchise history with 28 interceptions. The USC product tallied 436 tackles for Saints and returned four of his interceptions to the house.
Jonathan Casillas, a linebacker added to roster in 2009 out of Wisconsin, spent four seasons with Saints. He was major contributor on the Super Bowl XLIV squad and won another Super Bowl ring while with Patriots.
Defensive tackle Elex Price (1973-’80), undrafted out of Alcorn State, played in 103 games with Saints and started 68 of them. The Yazoo City, Miss. native played alongside some quality line talent while with the Saints – Derland Moore, Elo Grooms, Bob Pollard, Billy Newsome, Andy Dorris, Joe Campbell and Don Reese.
Tony Baker out of Iowa State answered the call in 1968 and remained with Saints until 1971. He led team in rushing in 1970 and finishing second in ’69. Baker totaled 1,106 yards rushing while wearing Saints colors with 42 catches for 443 yards. He played five NFL additional seasons with the Eagles, Rams and Chargers. Always a very determined, north-south runner, Baker battled for every inch of turf.
Frank Wattelet, a safety out of Kansas, played in 91 games and had 12 interceptions from 1981-’87, sharing the defensive backfield with notables Russell Gary, Dave Waymer, Tommy Myers and Johnnie Poe. He played both safety spots and played a key role in one of the best defenses in franchise history.
Khiry Robinson, an all-effort runner out of West Texas A&M, played 2013-’16. He has 766 rushing yards (4.1 yd. average) and eight touchdowns.
Brett Maxie was a heady player who spent nine seasons with the Saints out of Texas Southern. Now entering his 20th campaign as an NFL assistant coach, he played in 118 games and made 15 interceptions with New Orleans. Maxie was a big time hitter from his safety spot and played many years along side fellow safety/thumper Gene Atkins.
Offensive guard Emanuel Zanders, affectionately called “Z Man,” is a member of Saints All Time Team from the franchise’s first 25 years. He was voted offensive lineman of the year for Saints in 1979. A member of the Jackson State Hall of Fame, Zanders played collegiately with Walter Payton. Z Man played both RG and LG with 78 starts, joined by memorable line mates like John Hill, Fred Sturt, Kurt Schumacher, Conrad Dobler and Terry Stieve.
Jake Delhomme, undrafted out of ULL in 1997, started for the Ragin Cajuns as true freshman in ’93 and departed as the school’s all-time leading passer with 9,216 yards and 64 touchdowns. The Teurlings Catholic product backed up Aaron Brooks and Jeff Blake before getting his chance to shine with Carolina in 2003 where he guided Panthers to Super Bowl. Delhomme is a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famers who holds the record for longest completed pass in Super Bowl history, an 85 yard touchdown strike to Mushin Muhammad in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Rich Mauti, a true “Jack of All Trades” joined the Saints out of Penn State in 1977 and stayed until 1983. In 1978, he was team’s Special Teams MVP with 31 tackles. The next season, he was first in NFC in kick return average (25.7 yards per return) and added 10.1 yards per punt return, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl in 1980. Mauti had 21 catches with Black and Gold for 314 yards and two scores. He also covered kicks and punts while filling in at several skill position spots on offense over his 79 games for New Orleans.
Jack Holmes, another Texas Southern product, was the lead blocker for two 1,000 yard rushers while with the Saints – Chuck Muncie (1979: 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns) and George Rogers (1981: 1,674 yards and 13 scores). As a ball carrier, Holmes had 393 yards and four touchdowns. He was also a reliable receiver with 71 catches for 453 yards.
J.J. McCleskey played eight years in NFL, spending four with New Orleans. He lined up at cornerback and receiver while also returning punts and kicks at times. In 32 games with the Saints, he recorded one interception and tallied 43 tackles. A former walk-on at Tennessee, McCleskey ended up not only earning a scholarship but was even voted team captain in 1992. He is currently an assistant at Tulane working with defensive backs.
Tom Dempsey played at Palomar College before he booted kicks for the Saints in the 1969-’70 seasons. He played a total of 11 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl with the Saints in 1969. A member of the Saints Hall of Fame, Dempsey is famous for his record-setting 63-yard game-winning field goal against the Lions on Nov. 8, 1970
Ray Hester made the New Orleans roster in 1971 and stayed until 1973. He was a starter in high school locally at Holy Cross before moving onto to Tulane. In 27 games for the Saints, he played mostly on special teams. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at age 28 from Leukemia.
Ken Crawley from Colorado has made 18 starts for Saints past two seasons. He emerged in 2017 as a surprising bright spot on a much-improved defense with 97 tackles, 25 pass break-ups and an interception.
Richard Cooper arrived in 1990 after playing defensive tackle at Tennessee. The Saints converted him to offensive tackle, leading to great success. Cooper made 71 starts from 1991-’95, first at left tackle before moving to right tackle with the arrivale of the legendary Willie Roaf.
Junior Gallette (2010-’16) emerged a true speed rusher. Undrafted out of Stillman College, he played in 64 games for New Orleans and recorded 31.5 sacks, 93 tackles and five forced fumbles. He has been with Redskins since leaving the Saints on bad terms and has been contemplating retirement lately.
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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…