These 4 Saints could be the next wave of undrafted talent to make an impact – NOLA.com

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kirk Merritt (85) greets his teammates during organized team activities at the Saints practice facility in Metairie, La. Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kirk Merritt (85) greets his teammates during organized team activities at the Saints practice facility in Metairie, La. Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
The two leading receivers for the New Orleans Saints last year were Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harty (formerly Harris), both of whom joined the squad as undrafted rookie free agents prior to the 2020 season.
Justin Hardee earned a lucrative free agent contract by excelling as a special-teamer with the Saints, with whom Hardee originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. His departure was made easier to stomach by the rise of J.T. Gray, another former undrafted rookie-turned special teams demon.
The list goes on and on. New Orleans has consistently found young contributors in the hours after the conclusion of the draft.
So who may be the next to make some noise for the Saints? Let’s take a look at four of them here, two of whom are entering their rookie season and two others who have experience. All but one signed with the Saints directly after the draft.
It’s not necessarily easy for an undrafted rookie to step in and make an impression in organized team activities and minicamp, when the team goes through very basic practices and never puts on pads.
Yet there was Krull, a 6-foot-6 tight end out of Pittsburgh, consistently flashing and drawing praise from his coaches.
There’s a long way to go for Krull, and like about everyone on this list, there is not necessarily a clear path to the roster. New Orleans already is bringing three tight ends back from the 2021 team, and that’s not counting Taysom Hill, who is expected to take on a larger role in the tight end room this season.
Still, Krull appears to already have one foot in the door, and he could force a difficult decision for the Saints if he manages to keep it up during training camp.
Krull took a winding path to the NFL. He was a highly-touted baseball prospect who started his career as a pitcher at the University of Arkansas. He gave up baseball after he was selected in the 2018 MLB draft, instead deciding to play football at the University of Florida.
He spent two seasons there behind star tight end Kyle Pitts before transferring to Pittsburgh. Krull didn’t really take off until his senior season, when he caught 38 passes for 451 yards and six scores.
Could the Saints have found a gem who is just starting to scratch his potential as a player?
Perhaps it’s unfair, but the metaphorical ink was barely dry on Smith’s free agent contract by the time he was tabbed as the next undrafted rookie to make an impact on the Saints.
The reasoning feels pretty sound, though. Smith has an NFL-ready build (5-11, 221) and was well-regarded as a prospect going into the 2022 draft after backing up his superb senior season at Baylor with a strong performance at his pro day. Combine that with an apparent path to the roster, and it all made sense.
Like Krull, Smith took an interesting path to the Saints. He missed his freshman season with a torn ACL and then spent most of his first three seasons playing linebacker (he recorded 48 tackles as a redshirt junior). But he blew up in his final season, leading the Big 12 with 1,601 yards rushing.
It will take some time for Smith to truly show what he can do as a runner once the pads come on in training camp, and what looks like a possible path to the 53-man roster could snap shut in a hurry if the Saints sign or trade for a veteran to bolster their running back room — which would not be surprising after New Orleans pursued Sony Michel in free agency and brought in David Johnson for a tryout.
But if he shows his college skills translate to the NFL, there’s reason for that initial excitement.
Thompson isn’t exactly a new player. He spent training camp with the Saints last season, then re-joined the team midway through the year on the practice squad.
But the added year might prove beneficial for the young defensive back. The Saints showed little hesitation letting Thompson work in with the first team defense in its dime package, and Thompson showed why by making several splash plays during team periods.
Thompson is undersized at his natural safety position (5-11, 190), but he’s shown both the willingness and ability to defend the slot, which helps his case. He’s also shown a nose for the ball, particularly at the University of Tennessee, where he intercepted eight passes in three seasons.
Of these four players, Merritt has the most experience and the toughest path to the roster.
The Saints are anticipating the healthy return of Michael Thomas, and they gave him two new running mates in Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave. Behind those three are the three top receivers from a year ago in Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harty (formerly Harris). Teams don’t often keep seven receivers on their initial 53-man roster.
That said, Merritt consistently flashed during the lead up to training camp. The former Destrehan star showed off an impressive burst with the ball in his hands and made several noteworthy plays during OTAs and minicamp.
Merritt also has been around the NFL game for a while now, having spent time each of the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins (including a two-game stint last season in which he caught one of three targets for 13 yards).
He’ll have to pick up his strong performance where he left off to have a legitimate shot, but he’s definitely worth keeping on your radar as the Saints near the start of training camp.
When debate pops up over the most valuable member of the New Orleans Saints, the conversation most often turns to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
Email Luke Johnson at ljohnson@theadvocate.com.
Past performance is not always a predictor of future success in the NFL; injuries happen, circumstances change, the game is fluid and ever evolving.
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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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