Jake Haener has been here before.
The Saints' rookie quarterback is back at the bottom of the depth chart, sharing a temporary locker with another newbie and trying to get noticed during his limited practice reps. As a fourth-round draft pick, he didn't even get to pick a jersey number. The equipment staff assigned him No. 14, a number he's never worn in his life.
This is nothing new for the Danville, Calif., native. He was in a similar position when he started his college career as an overlooked three-star recruit with only one major college scholarship offer.
Six years later, he was the sixth quarterback selected in the NFL draft, ahead of more heralded prospects like Stetson Bennett, Max Duggan and Tanner McKee.
"I've had to prove people wrong and outwork everybody my entire career," Haener said. "It's in my DNA."
Haener talked as he sat on a stool amid the hustle and bustle of the Saints post-practice locker room on Tuesday afternoon. Few reporters noticed Haener as they scrambled for interviews with Jameis Winston, Alontae Taylor and Rashid Shaheed.
Haener is easy to overlook. Standing 5-foot-11 and 5/8 inches and weighing just 200 pounds, he is the smallest quarterback drafted by the Saints since the club selected 5-11 Edd Hargett in 1969. Haener is a half-inch shorter than Drew Brees, the player he tried to emulate during his standout career at Monte Vista High School and Fresno State University.
For a team that emphasizes physical prototypes in its draft process, Haener was a notable exception. He stands almost 4 inches below the standard the Saints prefer at the position.
But the Saints brain trust was willing to overlook Haener's size because he possessed so many strong intangible traits, including elite-level processing ability.
Heaner reportedly scored in the highest 96th percentile on the S2 Cognition Test, which measures a player's ability to process information and make split-second decisions. The S2 has become a valued evaluation tool for NFL executives, who have long sought a way to measure players' instincts, decision-making and reaction skills, especially at the game's most important position.
Haener's score was the second highest among quarterbacks in the draft, trailing only Bryce Young. And it certainly caught the attention of Jeff Ireland, the Saints assistant general manager who oversees the club's draft process and was an early S2 devotee.
The Saints were one of the first NFL teams to use the S2 and believe strongly in its effectiveness as an evaluation tool. Drew Brees and Joe Burrow, among others, recorded elite scores on the test.
Haener's high S2 score helped validate his 20-3 touchdown-interception ratio and 72 completion percentage last season.
"I've always been able to process well, and I feel like it's definitely a strength to my game," Haener said. "The biggest thing is having a really good pre-snap idea and knowing where your outlets are when things break down. That all comes from preparation and my understanding of what's going on."
The Saints are betting on those intangibles. During a post-draft interview last month, Ireland compared Haener's intelligence, vision, processing skills and quick release to Brees.
"You wouldn't think he was 6-foot tall when you watch him," Ireland said of Haener. "...There's some similarities to No. 9 (Drew Brees). He's undersized, the way he creates windows and processing speed, quick release, the accuracy."
It's still early, but Haener has made a positive impression on the Saints since arriving in New Orleans a few weeks ago.
After rookie minicamp last month, head coach Dennis Allen praised Haener for his intelligence, command of the huddle and timing and accuracy as a passer.
"He has a lot of qualities that you like at the quarterback position, particularly from the neck up," Allen said.
For his part, Haener said he's just trying to do his best to learn and keep pace with Carr and Winston.
"Sometimes I also have to tell myself that it's only my fourth practice," Haener said. "I know it's a learning curve and it takes time and reps, but I expect myself to be ready to play if I have to this season.
The Saints' evaluation of Haener was enhanced by his MVP performance at the Senior Bowl, where offensive coaching staff members Ronald Curry and D.J. Johnson served as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks. Ireland also spent time with Haener in Mobile, Ala., and later brought him to New Orleans for one of the Saints' 30 pre-draft visits.
Haener is only the fifth quarterback selected by the Saints in the first four rounds of the draft since 1971. Ireland called the investment a smart business decision. The club's vision is to develop Haener behind veterans Derek Carr and Jameis Winston.
It remains to be seen whether that development ends with Haener as the eventual heir apparent to Carr or a backup role like Chase Daniel, the role many draft analysts have projected for Haener.
"The game has continued to evolve," Haener said. "The door is open for guys 5,10, 5-11, 6-foot. If you throw the ball accurately, you're a great leader, you process at a high level, and (you have) great weapons around you, you can thrive."
Haener's track record suggests it wouldn't be wise to bet against him. He might be undersized, but he's overachieved his entire life.