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Diamonds in the Rough: New Orleans Edition

Reflecting on past drafts, some NFL stars have been revealed as undrafted free agents. With no call from an NFL team, Kurt Warner contemplated where his efforts would take him. After bouncing from arena football leagues to NFL Europe, an NFL team finally took a chance on the 1993 Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year. In 1998, the Rams signed Warner and the rest is history. The accolades for Warner are endless. From winning a Super Bowl MVP to two league MVPs, he has the greatest Cinderella story in all of sports.

Every team wants to emulate what the Rams did with Warner in 1998. More specifically, the New Orleans Saints have had success in their recent undrafted free agent signings. They signed Weber State wideout Rashid Shaheed in 2022. He stepped up and became the starter New Orleans needed, especially after they lacked wide receiver depth due to roster injuries. Can the Saints find success again as they did with Shaheed by uncovering several new diamonds in the rough?

Here are all the Saints’ undrafted free agent signings for the 2023 NFL season:

1. Anthony Johnson, DB, Virginia

The transfer from Louisville was voted by his fellow teammates as one of five Cavalier team captains at the end of the season. He started all ten games for the Cavaliers, becoming the seventh-ranked cornerback in the country with 1.4 passes defended per game. He also tied for second in the ACC in total passes defended and tied for fourth in the ACC in total pass breakups.

2. Jerron Cage, DT, Ohio State

After playing 12 games this past season, Cage ended his career playing in 42 games for the Buckeyes. In five seasons, he only started five of those games. Recording only 12 tackles for the season, he finished his collegiate career with 33 total tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 3 quarterback sacks.

3. Lou Hedley, P, Miami

The Australian native is no stranger to the art of punting. After being selected as a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2020, he averaged 45 yards a punt in his last season with the Hurricanes. In the years to come, Blake Gillikin better watch out because there’s a new punter in town who goes by the name of Lou Hedley. 

4. Sy Barnett, WR, Davenport

Before attending Davenport University, Barnett played all 12 games in the 2021 season at Ferris State University, recording 12 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown. Due to a lack of playing time, he decided to transfer where he’d find success. In this past season at Davenport, he recorded 53 receptions for 694 yards and 4 touchdowns. Remarkable improvement for Barnett.

5. SaRodorick Thompson, RB, Texas Tech

Despite having to split carries with starting Texas Tech RB Tahj Brooks, Thompson still managed to play in all 13 games for the Red Raiders this past season. Out of the 13 games, he started six times, recording 139 carries for 684 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. He also was the team leader in yards per carry averaging 4.9 yards every time he touched the ball.

6. Alex Pihlstrom, C, Illinois

In his senior season, Pihlstrom started all 13 games for the Fighting Illini. During his collegiate career, he received experience from all spots on the offensive line. After being named a member of the All-Big Ten second team, he was a part of the first offensive line in Illinois history to be named a Joe Moore Award finalist. 

7. Joel Wilson, TE, Central Michigan

Despite being a two-star recruit coming out of high school, Wilson had a full career at Central Michigan. In five seasons with the Chippewas, he achieved his most success during his senior season. He recorded 44 receptions for 445 yards and six touchdowns in the nine games he started.

8. Mark Evans II, LT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Evans received first-team All-SWAC in his last season with the Golden Lions. After starting all games at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he solidified himself as one of the best left tackles in the league. Arkansas-Pine Bluff was also home to ex-Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. Maybe Evans will find the same success Armstead did with the Saints.

9. Anfernee Orji, LB, Vanderbilt

During Orji’s senior season, he led the SEC with 9 tackles per game, regardless of the defensive competition in the conference. Despite this accolade, he only qualified for second-team All-SEC. He led the Commodores in total tackles for the third consecutive season and started in 32 straight games. 

10. Shaq Davis, WR, South Carolina State

Davis is not only breaking records on the field but off the field too. He managed to receive one of the largest undrafted free agent contract guarantees the Saints have ever handed out. With $216,000 guaranteed, the Saints are investing in the HBCU alumni receiver after Davis recorded 45 receptions for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Bulldogs during his senior season. 

11. Nick Anderson, LB, Tulane

After winning the Anderson auction, the Saints believe he will be a perfect fit as long as they see production. Although undersized for his position at 5’10, he recorded 113 total tackles, second on the team to third-round draft pick Dorian Williams. He also recorded 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. 

12. Blake Grupe, K, Notre Dame

The Arkansas State transfer was perfect on point-after attempts for the Fighting Irish during this past season. Though only making 73.7% of his field goals, the leg strength is there. Grupe needs to show more consistency on field goal tries if he wants the compete with Will Lutz in this upcoming season.

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