The New Orleans Saints begin the start of their 2019 preseason tomorrow night when they host the Minnesota Vikings inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m. Central time and will be broadcast locally on television by FOX 8 WVUE or on the radio at WWL 870 AM and 105.3 FM.
As most Who Dat fans are aware: the team doesn’t play their veteran starting players in either of the first two preseason games, which means that there will be plenty of backups and rookies that will see playing time tomorrow night; particularly the UDFAs (undrafted rookie free agent players) that were signed after the recent 2019 NFL Draft.
UDFAs don’t have a single thing guaranteed to them, and they have to fight their way to earn a shot at making the final cut by impressing the coaching staff and demonstrating the capability to make big plays as well as showing that they have a firm mental grasp of the assignments for the position that they’re playing.
They’ll be hoping to stand out against the Vikings, to either earn a spot on the team’s final 53-man roster or to fill one of the 10 available slots on their practice squad. Last season, only two undrafted Saints rookies made the team: wide receiver Keith Kirkwood and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth.
With all of that in mind, here are five undrafted rookies — all of whom are expected to see significant playing time tomorrow night against the Vikings— that will need to stand out or else face the possibility of being out of a job when the team makes their final roster cuts on Labor Day Weekend.
PORTER GUSTIN LINEBACKER / EDGE RUSHER (#58)
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) July 26, 2019
And he did it again.
Gustin is having a productive evening. https://t.co/KrC5BsFs6D
— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) August 5, 2019
With an incredibly chiseled and muscular physique reminiscent of a WWE pro wrestler, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Gustin’s undeniable play-making ability was never a question in college. But the primary (and overwhelming) concern with him has always been his lengthy injury history during his time with the legendary University of Southern California Trojans program.
Those injuries included a surgically-repaired toe, a torn biceps muscle, and an ankle fracture that ended his senior season. It was the ankle injury specifically, however, that ultimately led to his being passed over by all 32 teams in the Draft. However, the good news is that now the Riggins, Idaho native appears to have put his injury issues behind him.
In four seasons in Los Angeles when he was on the field, Gustin racked up a total of 21.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. He also tallied 137 tackles (84 solos). If you were to project those stats over the course of time that he missed (a total of 16 games in four years), those numbers potentially could have been much greater.
Gustin has had his share of impressive moments sporadically throughout the first two weeks of Training Camp while primarily working with the 2nd and 3rd Team defense, but seemingly just simply hasn’t been given enough opportunities as of yet to completely stand out like he’s quite capable of doing. But as mentioned above undrafted rookies usually get to play A LOT of snaps in the first two games of the Pre-Season; and If Gustin can see plenty of action tomorrow night against the Vikings and next week against the Chargers. he could improve his chances of sticking around, most likely on the team’s Practice Squad.
LIL’JORDAN HUMPHREY, WIDE RECEIVER (#84)
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 3, 2019
A player that quickly became a favorite among Saints fans after the team signed him as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Texas, this is a young man who, after riding the bench for the first few years, eventually became the top weapon on the Longhorns offense.
The underrated college star hauled in 86 receptions for 1,176 yards and 9 TDs in the 2018 Season. He also led all wide receivers in the Big 12 conference by forcing a total of 22 missed tackles by opposing defenders according to the good folks over at Pro Football Focus. And despite his unique name, there’s actually nothing ‘little’ at all about the 6-foot-4, 225 pound Humphrey.
Humphrey has had his share of highlight plays and stand-out moments so far in camp, but he has simply been outperformed by fellow undrafted rookie wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, who has emerged as one of the stars of this year’s Saints undrafted rookie class — and who at this point seems to have already earned a permanent spot on the team’s 53-man Final Roster
Humphrey is expected to see plenty of action against the Vikings tomorrow night, and he’ll need to make the most of his opportunities to catch up to Butler and challenge him for one of those final available Final Roster spots, or at the very worst: earn his way onto the Practice Squad.
CORBIN KAUFUSI, DEFENSIVE END (#69)
Corbin Kaufusi big af. pic.twitter.com/hZ8mV846hB
— AllSaintsConsidered.com (@AllSaintsBlog) August 2, 2019
A former basketball star in the state of Utah, Kaufusi played football with Brigham Young University, and the massive two-sport athlete is a sight to behold when you see him up close; he quite literally towers over most people at 6-foot-9, 280 pounds. Kaufusi totaled 154 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, (tackles for a loss), and 17 sacks at BYU, and as a senior last year in 2018 led the Cougars program with 8.5 sacks and 9.5 TFLs.
The BYU defensive coaching staff used him in a variety of ways, and he was noted for his versatility to play anywhere along the D-Line; and was considered an early-round draft pick, but late-season injuries and a total of three separate off-season surgeries prior to the 2019 NFL Draft affected his draft stock.
Nevertheless. NFL scouts praised his athleticism. and gushed over the manner in which he was able to overpower and simply manhandle blockers or use his natural strength to toss them aside. But as with Gustin, the intimidating Kaufusi hasn’t done anything thus far in Training Camp to stand out and get noticed more. Perhaps as with Gustin, maybe Kaufusi too will see plenty of action tomorrow night.
However, if he fails to make an impression, chances are he could get released when the team makes its final roster cuts on Labor Day Weekend, if not before then. Clearly, he hasn’t recovered fully from his injuries in college, and he’ll need a top-notch performance against Minnesota tomorrow night, just to even merit consideration to stick around on the practice squad.
DEVINE OZIGBO, RUNNING BACK (#32)
— Full Press Coverage (@FPCoverage) July 19, 2019
The “numbers game”. Depending on how many running backs that Saints head coach Sean Payton ultimately decides to keep on the Final Roster, will determine the future in NOLA for the very-talented Ozigbo — who at the moment is the team’s #4 RB on the current depth chart behind 3rd-year superstar Alvin Kamara, veteran star RB Latavius Murray, and 3rd string RB Dwayne Washington.
After spending his first three seasons relegated to a back-up role, Ozigbo virtually exploded onto the college football scene last season at the University of Nebraska, rushing for 1,082 yards and a very impressive 12 rushing TDs, nearly matching his entire grand total from his first three seasons combined. In fact, he became the first Nebraska running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since former Cornhuskers RB Ameer Abdullah (now with the Vikings), who was the first Nebraska RB to ever accomplish that feat back in 2014. .
And despite having only one year of starting experience at the D-1/FBS level, Ozigbo averaged 7.0 yards per carry in the Big 10, which is no small feat. But many teams in the Draft were concerned by his inexperience, and he went undrafted although he had been projected to be a mid-round pick. However, since he signed with the Saints following the Draft, he certainly has displayed the lateral quickness and burst that’s needed to survive in today’s modern-era NFL.
Ozigbo has shown some flashes of his true ability and has had a few stand-out plays in Camp, and a big performance against the Vikings tomorrow night would undoubtedly will make it difficult for the team to cut him and only keep 3 RB’s on the Final Roster. Barring a catastrophe of some kind, Ozigbo is a guaranteed “lock” for the Practice Squad — but a stand-out game against Minnesota in the Superdome could propel him to a much more permanent role moving ahead into the future.
DEONTE HARRIS, PUNT / KICK RETURNER (#11)
Punt returner update with the pads on: Saints are rotating Marcus Sherels, Deonte Harris, Austin Carr and Cyril Grayson. pic.twitter.com/90Ln3RoK2m
— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) July 28, 2019
Harris arrived in NOLA with a lot of “hype” surrounding him despite his small-school pedigree at tiny Division-2 Assumption College (located in Massachusetts) , which likely stems from him setting the single-season NCAA all-division record after he ran back an amazing 8 return TDs during the 2017 Season.
Additionally, Harris set the NCAA all-division record for career return touchdowns (combined punt and kickoff returns) with an unbelievable total of (14). Amazingly, this young man was able to gain 2,051 yards (a remarkable 32.6 yards per return average) and 6 touchdown returns as a kick-off returner; and additionally, he gained another 981 yards (a jaw-dropping 20.4 yards per return) and ran back 8 more return TDs as a punt returner.
— Rod Walker (@rwalkeradvocate) May 7, 2019
Most likely the biggest “longshot” at making the Final 53-man Roster because of his diminutive size (only 5-foot-6, 170 pounds), Harris nevertheless is an explosive player who clearly is a threat to “take it to the house” anytime that he has the ball in his hands, which is exactly how he could end up earning a spot. But having done all of that while playing at the D-2 level and then trying to repeat that same success again at the NFL level, are two entirely different things.
Harris has made some nice plays here or there so far in Camp while returning kicks in practice but hasn’t really had the opportunity yet to make an indelible impression. Perhaps a stand-out play or two against the Vikings tomorrow night will be Harris’ first opportunity to show everyone, that he’s actually capable of pulling it off. Otherwise, he could very quickly (no pun intended) find himself out of a job come Labor Day Weekend — and would be fortunate just to remain with the Black and Gold on the Practice Squad.
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. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius