Or, this year, a whopping six.
Add to that number the four draft picks that made the team, and the Saints are poised to enter the regular-season opener Sunday against Atlanta with 10 rookies on the roster of what is believed to be a good team, something General Manager Mickey Loomis said he doesn’t recall seeing in his 30 seasons of football.
Actually, it’s dog-bites-man news for a drafted rookie to claim a spot and to contribute. Nothing unusual there, considering that a financial investment has been made in a draft pick and often, those investments warrant a closer, longer look if the rookie doesn’t immediately impress.
But six undrafted rookies are closer to man-bites-dog level, and they are glaring examples of Coach Sean Payton’s mantra, that the franchise will keep the best 53 players, regardless of how they arrive.
“We look closely at how they’re going to fit into the plan, how they’re going to play in the kicking game and the progress they made in their position group,” Payton said.
“What’s unusual is that we have a handful of undrafted free agents right now. And that’s encouraging.”
Encouraging for them, because it means they were assessed on a level playing field, as promised. And encouraging for the franchise, because that has attracted, and will continue to attract, future undrafted free agents, who have seen that they will be given an opportunity in New Orleans.
This year, the undrafted rookie free agent class consists of defensive end
Hill was able to fend off tight ends that had more seasoning, and more familiarity with the Saints' offense, to gain his position.
“He’s a very athletic young man who probably made our team based on what he can contribute on special teams,” Loomis said.
“I think it’s just about me coming to work every day, like the other guys did,” Hill said. “Just working every day. It shows that they really recruit whoever they think can play.”
Hill (6 feet 5, 229 pounds), from Idaho State, caught 152 passes for 1,338 yards and nine touchdowns at Idaho State, after transferring from Boise State. He redshirted at Boise in 2008.
“I guess it shows that they know what they’re doing, they know the talent that they want and they bring in guys that can play no matter where they come from,” he said. “The offense fits me well. They do a lot with their tight ends and it just seemed like the right situation for me.
“I just tried to focus on, not the whole aspect of how many guys they had in, but just coming to work and doing what I could.”
Hill said he was brought to the Saints’ attention by area scout Terry Wooden, who evaluates college prospects in the West. And he was given the news about making the roster Saturday by tight ends coach Terry Malone.
It was the latest example of the team’s ability to sell undrafted players on the fact that they’ll receive a long, fair look in New Orleans.
“I think, at times, it’s helped us to sign a player,” Payton said. “One of the selling points is, we’re going to play the best players and a guy who’s a free agent out of college will have the same opportunities as the draft picks.”
Sometimes, as many of six of them will.