If the New Orleans Saints hope to reclaim the NFC South this season after losing it on a tiebreaker to the also 9-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they need some rookies to step up and help the team improve. The good news is that there are some intriguing Saints rookies who will push veterans for playing time in camp, including at the most important position in football where Spencer Rattler could challenge Derek Carr for the starting job.

Saints rookies stepping up and taking playing time from veterans is more important for New Orleans than most teams. Since Drew Brees retired and Sean Payton left, the Saints are an organization without an identity. Sure, they brought in Carr, but that’s just about the most middle-of-the-road move a franchise can make.

This team is desperate for some young players to step up and become stars, and after what seems like a solid 2024 NFL Draft, they just might have a few future faces of the franchise. With that in mind, let’s look at the three Saints veterans who face challenges from rookies in training camp.

QB Derek Carr vs. Spencer Rattler

There’s no need to beat around the bush or save this for the end. The best thing that could happen to the Saints franchise is for fifth-round pick Spencer Rattler to beat out Derek Carr in camp (or at some point in the season) for the starting signal-caller job.

Now, thinking that a fifth-round pick could potentially steal a job from a Pro Bowl QB is usually crazy talk, but Carr is no longer that Pro Bowl QB, and Rattler is no ordinary fifth-round pick.

Carr is the definition of an average quarterback. He’s actually made four Pro Bowls, so he has had some excellent seasons, but he’s 72-87 as a starter and lost the lone playoff game he started in his career.

Saints fans got the full Car experience last season. He was fine. He threw for over 3,800 yards and had 25 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Still, the team barely scraped out a winning record and missed the playoffs. That’s Derek Carr in a nutshell.

At 33, this is who Carr is, and there is a much better chance he regresses next season than kicks it up a notch. If the Saints can find a long-term, much younger replacement, that would be great.

Enter Spencer Rattler, who has already had a tumultuous football career, and he’s only 23 years old.

Rattler is the most prolific QB in Arizona high school football history and starred in the Netflix reality show QB1: Beyond the Lights as a teenager. Then he got kicked off the team cheating, lied about it, signed with Oklahoma as a top recruit, won the starting job, lost the starting job to Caleb Williams, transferred to South Carolina, and became a fifth-round pick.

Spencer Rattler is a study in the downside of today’s reality show, social media, NIL culture, and his once-promising career may have been snuffed out before it truly got started.

That said, underneath all the drama there is a supremely talented QB, and maybe after all the fame and controversy, finally getting to the NFL and becoming a professional will unlock that talent once again and give the Saints a sleeper steal.

WR AT Perry vs. Bub Means

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Bub Means (16) runs receiver drills during the rookie minicamp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints wide receiver situation heading into the 2024 NFL season is Chris Olave as the star, Rashid Shaheed as the No. 2, and then about seven guys competing for the WR3 slot.

Heading into camp, second-year wideout AT Perry is in the driver’s seat to earn that third receiver role. The 2023 sixth-round pick showed flashes last season, catching 12 balls for 246 yards and four touchdowns.

However, outside of proving himself as a dangerous red zone threat, Perry didn’t lockdown the WR3 role. Proof of that is that the Saints drafted Pitt WR Bub Means in Round 5 of this year’s draft.

While not as big as the 6-foot-5 Perry, Means is a big, physical wideout at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds with a 4.43-second 40 speed. He gets good separation and has plus run-after-catch ability.

Means was a fifth-rounder, so it’s not like this is a prediction that he will come in and dominate right away like Olave did as a first-rounder. That said, with the fact that his competition on the roster all come with similar (or less) pedigree the former Panther means Means is as likely as anyone to grab ahold of that WR3 role.

LT Trevor Penning vs. Taliese Fuaga

It’s almost time to officially declare that the Saints made a massive mistake drafting Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning at No. 19 in the 2022 NFL Draft. Penning has dressed for 22 games in two seasons and started six.

With Andrus Peat, last year’s starter at LT moving on to the Las Vegas Raiders, it’s even more damning for Penning that the Saints spent the No. 14 overall pick on Oregon State OT Taliese Fuaga.

The intriguing thing here is that the 6-foot-6, 324-pound Fuaga is a right tackle by trade. That’s where he made his 25 starts with the Beavers in college. New Orleans already has an entrenched right tackle, though, in Ryan Ramczyk who is still only 30 and has made one first-team and two second-team All-Pro squads at that spot.

So, the big question becomes will Fuaga be one of the Saints rookies who unseats one of the team’s veterans while switching to a new position? Or will Penning be able to stave off the bust label and earn the job at a spot on the O-line he is more familiar with?

We’ll see during Saints training camp, and the answer could go a long way to dictate the type of season Derek Carr (or Spencer Rattler) has in the pocket.