Whether the national media wants to admit it or not, New Orleans will enter training camp as one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
Marshawn Lattimore, Demario Davis, Cameron Jordan, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Ryan Ramczyk are among the best players in the league at their positions. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Paulson Adebo, David Onyemata, Eric McCoy and Jameis Winston look poised to take their place among the league’s best players.
The Saints also have arguably the best depth in the NFL. There are starter-caliber players third or fourth on the depth chart at several positions. Earning spots on such a deep team is a tough climb, but it will make for a hotly contested training camp.
Three players who came to the NFL as high draft picks will also try to crack the Saints’ depth chart after disappointing starts to their careers. All three are looking to revive their careers after disappointing starts.
TACO CHARLTON, DEL
Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, Michigan’s Taco Charlton was considered one of the top draft picks. He had a standout career for the Wolverines that included 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a senior. He would be the fifth rusher off the board, ahead of TJ Watt, taken by Pittsburgh.
Charlton was the 28th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Despite some pass rushing skills, the Cowboys released him after just two seasons. He has played with the Dolphins, Chiefs and Steelers over the past three years.
In his career, Charlton has amassed 11.5 sacks and 38 tackles in limited action, but is on his fifth team in six seasons. It may seem like he has an uphill battle to make this list given the outstanding depth at defensive end. However, Charlton has the ability to revive his career and make an impact at the Saints.
At 6’6” and 270-lbs., Charlton doesn’t have the versatility to play the interior. He will also need to improve his positioning and discipline against the run. What he does bring is the ability to disrupt opposing defenders.
Charlton has great quickness on the snap for his size and good bend around the rim. When he wants to, he also has adequate strength as a rushing bull to collapse opposing pockets.
Only 27 years old, Charlton has a chance to jumpstart his career with New Orleans. He will have to battle through a crowded defensive end position, but has the skills to contribute as a situational pass rusher.
JUSTIN EVANS, S
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Evans out of Texas A&M in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the 50th overall pick. He was the seventh safety selected, behind current St. Marcus Maye (39th overall) and Marcus Williams, who went 42nd to New Orleans. Evans was a two-year standout for Texas A&M who recorded 4 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, 5 tackles for loss and 87 total stops for the Aggies as a senior in 2016.
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A starter less than a month into his rookie campaign, Evans showed the speed, range and aggressive approach that attracted the Buccaneers in the draft. He intercepted 3 passes in 2017, tied for the team lead, and broke up another six while recording three tackles for loss. An ankle injury sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season.
Evans started 2018 strong, returning a punt for a touchdown and recording five tackles in an opening day win at New Orleans. Despite playing in just 10 games, his 59 tackles finished second among Tampa Bay defensemen. He also had an interception and broke up two passes on the year. Evans suffered a toe injury that caused him to miss six of his team’s last seven contests.
An Achilles injury sustained in practice cost Evans the entire 2019 season. The injury was severe enough to keep him on injured reserve throughout the 2020 campaign. Tampa Bay released him toward the end of 2020. Evans spent last year out of football as he continued to rehabilitate his foot and Achilles.
Before his injury, Evans was a quick and physical linebacker capable of playing in a high alignment or near the line of scrimmage. He’s a bit smaller, but he’s aggressive and packs a punch as an attacker. He also showed exceptional range as a deep safety during college and early in his pro career.
Evans, who turns 27 in August, is looking to put his injury problems behind him. However, he will have an uphill battle to overcome the safety position in New Orleans, which has Maye, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu and PJ Williams, along with promising rookie Smoke Monday and mini-camp star Bryce Thompson.
Evans once had the athleticism to effectively drop into slot coverage. Once the pass is thrown, he has the skills to handle the ball as a receiver. Achilles may have affected his once outstanding change of direction. However, he should still have the raw speed to close plays quickly.
FOREST LAMP, G
Lamp was a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft taken by the Chargers with the 38th overall selection out of Western Kentucky. He was the first interior lineman selected that year and the fourth offensive lineman overall. A left tackle for most of his college career, he was moved inside upon his arrival in the NFL.
A torn ACL in his first training camp sidelined Lamp for his entire rookie campaign. He was a little-used reserve in 2018, appearing in just two contests. In 2019, Lamp appeared in seven games, including two starts. However, a broken leg midway through the season ended his year.
Lamp finally earned a starting role for the Chargers in 2020. He also stayed healthy for the first time, appearing on an NFL-high 1,174 snaps in 16 games. With Lamp at left guard, the Chargers finished ninth in total offense, including sixth in passing yards.
Signed by Buffalo as a free agent last season, Lamp was placed on injured reserve at the end of training camp, then subsequently released. The Saints added him to their practice squad in mid-October. Lamp appeared in one game, registering five snaps on special teams and none on offense. He re-signed with the team this offseason.
A 6’4” and 310-Lb. mauler, Lamp brings starting experience to an injury-ravaged New Orleans offensive line in 2021. Capable of playing either guard or tackle, Lamp adds the type of versatility the Saints value at forward. He even took snaps under center during OTAs and mini-camp sessions.
Despite their pedigree as former high draft picks, none of these three players will compete for a starting role. However, this could also be the last opportunity for Taco Charlton, Justin Evans and Forrest Lamp to build a career in the NFL. They are still young players who had the talent to be drafted in the top 50, and now they can be further motivated to contribute to a deep New Orleans squad.
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