It’s a little over a week until the NFL Draft, although probably a day longer for the Saints, who don’t have a first-round pick after last year’s big trade. While they could always make another big move, it’s more likely, I think, that they try to find a few pieces to plug some roster depth with the handful of picks they do have. (Lacking a third- or fourth-round pick, it would be hard to make a big impact unless they traded away even more future picks.)
The roster is pretty stacked, though, so there isn’t a need for one big move here. Just plugging and improving some depth at a few positions would be a solid outcome given the picks they have. So let’s look at some offensive positions, and some guys that, just as a Saints fan, I’ve been keeping my eye on:
Latavius Murray is the new backup to Alvin Kamara, but there’s opportunity behind him. The team drafted Boston Scott last year in hopes he would fill that role, but they weren’t able to keep him on the 53-man roster and the Eagles snatched him from the practice squad.
Given the presence of Kamara, it’s hard to imagine they’ll use their second-round pick on a running back. (If they do, Darrell Henderson of Memphis is an intriguing option, with his ability to break big games and his usefulness as a receiver.) More likely is that they’ll use a later-round selection on a running back– with five picks starting in the late fifth, they have opportunity to roll the dice on a few players. One name I’ve been hearing a lot is Alexander Mattison of Boise State. Mattison isn’t a major athlete with breakaway speed, but he’s got the kind of vision and patience that make for a quality running back, and good balance and ability to break tackles. He might be available in that range, and could be a good option for a long-term between-the-tackles guy to back up Kamara.
Honestly, if Cameron Meredith is healthy and the young receivers (Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, and especially Tre’Quan Smith) take a step forward, this unit could go from what was a liability outside of Michael Thomas (with Ted Ginn missing ten games last year) to a real strength. It’s not necessarily a priority position.
That said, a couple of names are intriguing with the Saints pick at 62. Probably most intriguing of all is Hakeem Butler, whom the Saints hosted on a pre-draft visit, although he’s unlikely to last that long. Butler has enormous size and very good speed, and is considered by some observers to be a Calvin Johnson-lite player. He had his issues with the finer points of route running and breaking certain coverages, but the idea is that his physical talent at the catch point and his ability to get downfield at his size and speed will overwhelm those concerns in the areas where he wins.
Another intriguing name is Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (pictured in the header). He’s probably more like a third-round pick and might be a little bit of a reach at 62, but he’s got a prospect profile that reminds me a bit of last year’s selection Tre’Quan Smith, someone who uses size and hands and ball awareness to win on deep catches. Other options include Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, or possibly Missouri’s Emanuel Hall, a major athlete who was a huge big-play threat there. (Hall and Campbell were official pre-draft visits.)
The best tight ends in the class are Iowa’s duo of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, and it’s unlikely either one makes it to New Orleans’ pick. Next up are two intriguing options, Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama and Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M. (Yes, Irv Smith Jr. is the son of that Irv Smith, the Saints’ first-round pick and tight end from 1993-97.) Sternberger is more of a seam receiver (like Jimmy Graham was), whereas Smith is a more complete all-around tight end while still being a good receiver. Either one would be very helpful to the team’s rotation.
As far as later options go, San Diego State’s Kahale Warring, Ole Miss’ Dawson Knox, and LSU’s Foster Moreau are all potential options if they remain on the board that long, and all were underutilized in college and could have better pro careers. (Warring and Knox were pre-draft visits, and the Saints attended LSU’s pro day seeming to have an eye on Moreau.)
With the signing of Jared Cook, this position is less of an immediate need, but the Saints probably want to develop a quality long-term starter at the position anyway. Don’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick goes here.
The Saints compensated for Max Unger’s retirement by signing Nick Easton as the new starter, but the team could still use some young depth to develop for the future. With rumors the team might be open to trading Andrus Peat (whose contract expires after this season), the interior line in particular is a worry. While several interior players will likely be first round picks– including Dalton Risner, whose position is uncertain but who was another pre-draft visitor of the Saints– the best interior lineman likely to be available when New Orleans picks is probably Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy (a center) or perhaps Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom (primarily a guard). If the Saints want to draft a tackle for the long term at 62– which seems unlikely given how few picks they have and that they have two younger starters entrenched– Ole Miss’ Greg Little and West Virginia’s Yodny Cajuste are potential options.
Later in the draft, Wisconsin has three linemen regarded as draft-worthy– David Edwards, Michael Dieter, and Beau Benzschawel. The Saints have done well picking from Ohio State recently, and Michael Jordan and Isaiah Prince are also options.
I saved this for last because I don’t think they’ll do anything here; it sure seems like there’s an unspoken plan to keep Teddy Bridgewater around as Drew Brees’ heir apparent, and without a first-round pick it’s hard to find a franchise quarterback anyway. That said, I think Will Grier of West Virginia has been underrated in the process, and should be available at 62 even though I’d bet he’ll have a better career than at least one guy taken before him. Boise State’s Brett Rypien is a day-three guy who has the skills that could allow him to outperform his draft position long term.
NEXT TIME: Same article, but on the defensive side of the ball.