In two days, the draft will begin, and all the mystery and intrigue surrounding what teams might do will give way to the drama of what will actually happen.
The Saints are in a spot where, as a team that was a serious contender last year and that doesn’t seem to have any pressing needs, might well just let wait and take whoever grades as the top player regardless of position. On the other hand, the team still has a few identified need areas, and while it’s not worth reaching for a prospect at any of them, I still suspect they’ll try to add some talent at those positions during the draft.
Some transactional updates first: The Saints signed Brandon Coleman from his restricted free agent tender to a one-year, $1 million deal. In addition, the team declined to match Willie Snead’s two-year offer sheet from Baltimore; Snead is now a Raven. It looks like the receivers on roster next year will be Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, and Austin Carr. This, of course, doesn’t mean the Saints won’t draft a receiver, but it looks like most of the team’s roles there are fairly set, barring an injury or something like Meredith being unable to return to form. Recent reports also indicate that Meredith is recovering well and may be healthy enough to get some practice reps in at the June minicamp, a positive sign for his ability to contribute in 2018 fully.
Now, with two days until the draft, let’s take a look at one possible draft scenario. Here’s your seven-round mock draft, with a few alternate possibilities at each selection.
ROUND 1, PICK 27
Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State
In a press conference Tuesday, Sean Payton identified three remaining areas of need: Tight end, sixth offensive lineman, and “pressure player,” a reference to needing more pass rush– but not specific as to whether he wanted an exterior or interior pass rusher. Given the flexibility of someone like Sheldon Rankins, who lined up at end at times in 2017, and the potential breakout seasons for players like David Onyemata and Trey Hendrickson, I don’t think it matters specifically where he gets that additional help, as long as the team gets players who get after the quarterback.
Sweat is not a name I’ve heard linked here, but I like his athleticism, ability to turn the corner, and variety of moves, even though he wasn’t always asked to rush the passer at Florida State. He could be a more effective rusher in the NFL than he was in college, if he lands on a team willing to turn him loose. This might even be a high projection for him, based on what I’m seeing else where. I’d say someone like UTSA’s Marcus Davenport is more likely, but there’s a solid chance he’s gone before the Saints’ selection.
DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan, or Taven Bryan, Florida— As mentioned, Payton is interested in pass-rushing pressure and less concerned at what position on the defensive line it comes from. Hurst was considered the top interior penetrator, although rumors are that he’s slipping on team’s boards, as a heart condition (which eventually checked out) prevented him from most workouts. Bryan is a tremendous athlete with an outstanding first step but not much idea of what to do after that. Still, though, that raw disruption is a rare trait, and if it can be harnessed, the upside is an interior sack-master capable of making multiple Pro Bowls. (Stanford’s Harrison Phillips, perhaps the only player to get the best of guard Quenton Nelson, widely considered the best non-QB in the draft, is also a possibility along the defensive line.)
C/G Frank Ragnow, Arkansas – As Ragnow’s athletic testing measured out as among the tops at his position, matching his tape, he started moving up on media boards, as teams began to make their interest known. Ragnow would be a great sixth offensive lineman for this year (the team does have Jermon Bushrod for that role this year, but at Bushrod’s age, it’s clear they need to take precautions and build for the future). Center is Ragnow’s natural position, but he should project to guard well. Max Unger is 32, and the team will need a long-term replacement for him by 2020 at the latest; he can also fill in at either guard position, and both Larry Warford and Andrus Peat missed time last year. (Peat also moved to left tackle at times when Terron Armstead was hurt, though it’s not clear if that arrangement will continue.)
WHAT IF THE SAINTS TARGET A QUARTERBACK?
Despite the rumors of certain players (particularly Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen) sliding in the draft, it’s unlikely they’ll slide all the way to 27. It might take a big move to get a quarterback, so if they go this route, I’m predicting something like this…
TRADE: New Orleans sends #27 and their 2019 1st-round pick to Green Bay for the #14 pick, and selects Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Given the costs of trading up for quarterbacks last year, this seems reasonable. (The Chiefs gave up their #27 pick, their 2018 first, and a third-round pick to move to #10 for Patrick Mahomes; the Texans gave up the #25 pick and their 2018 first to move up to #12 for Deshaun Watson.) Arizona picks at 15, and if there’s still a top-5 QB on the board, there’s a strong chance they take that player. Green Bay is supposedly most interested in one of the top three defensive backs– Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, or Denzel Ward– and likely would be willing to trade down if none were available, a strong possibility. This trade seems like it has a realistic chance of happening– unless the Patriots also have interest in Jackson; their ability to offer two first-round picks this year might mean they can outbid the Saints. Jackson and Rosen are currently projected as the two quarterbacks most likely to slide; both would do so for specious reasons and I think they’re the two best prospects in the draft, so it would make sense if they ended up on perennially strong, functional franchises.
ROUND 3, PICK 91
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
While the addition of Cameron Meredith answers some questions on the receiver crew, Michael Thomas could still use a long-term running mate. Hamilton is a potentially underrated receiver in this class who shows a lot of high-end traits on film, though his college production didn’t live up to that potential.
Alternate Possibilities: Martinas Rankin, OL, Mississippi State; Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers; Jaylen Samuels, TE/RB, North Carolina State; Genard Avery, LB, Memphis
ROUND 4, PICK 127
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF – I’m skeptical he’ll last this long myself after his workouts showed many of the same traits on film, but Griffin, twin brother of Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin, was born with only one hand, and that alone might be enough to make teams wary of taking him. New Orleans is always looking to add athleticism to their linebacker crew, and Griffin would be a major boost there and another potential long-term starter.
Alternate Possibilities: Marcell Frazier, EDGE, Missouri; Kameron Kelly, CB/S, San Diego State; Foley Fatukasi, DL, Connecticut
ROUND 5, PICK 147 (from Miami for Stephone Anthony)
Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin – Another identified need area addressed.
Alternate Possibilities: Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana; Bradley Bozeman, C/G, Alabama; Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
ROUND 5, PICK 164
Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis – A developmental player from a productive offense.
Alternate Possibilities: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah; Durham Smythe, TE, Notre Dame; Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
ROUND 6, PICK 189 (from Arizona for Adrian Peterson)
Kevin Toliver, CB, LSU – These late picks will primarily be used for depth and special teams, assuming the team doesn’t trade them to move up elsewhere.
Alternate Possibilities: Ade Aruna, EDGE, Tulane; Kurt Benkert, QB, Virginia; Alex Cappa, OL, Humboldt State
ROUND 6, PICK 201
Jordan Wilkins, RB, Ole Miss
Alternate Possibilities: Tyrone Crowder, G, Clemson; Byron Pringle, WR, Kansas State; Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
ROUND 7, PICK 245
Siran Neal, S, Jacksonville State
Alternate Possibilities: Coleman Shelton, C, Washington; Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU; Ja’Von Roiland-Jones, LB, Arkansas State