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Examining the New Orleans Saints Undrafted Free Agent Crop

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Every year since Payton has been coach, he and Mickey Loomis have managed to find gems in the lower rounds of the draft, and in free agency. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Adrian Arrington: all major additions to the team. This year, we're hoping things are no different; because with only four draft choices, the influx of young talent will have to depend to a large degree on undrafted players.

After looking over this year's crop, I'm convinced that it's a good one. I won't say it's the best in the NFL—mainly because I've paid little attention to what the rest of the NFL has done. I'm only concerned with the Saints; and it seems to me that along with the camp bodies, we've added some promising depth, and at least two intriguing players who may play more important roles. One may even be a star.

So here are my completely non-objective (no: I'm not ever going to let that go), swimming-in-Kool-Aid assessments of this year's crop of free agents.

Name

College

Position

Height

Weight

40 Time

JONATHAN CASILLAS

Wisconsin

LB

6-1

228

4.46

Out of all the free agents, possibly the most promising is Jonathan Casillas. A lightning-quick, hard-hitting, but undersized linebacker from a Big 10 school, Casillas may be more of a threat to Roman Harper than Scott Shanle. That's because his 228-pound frame just isn't big enough to take on linemen on a regular basis, but is big enough to rule just about any encounter with a wide receiver further downfield.

Casillas is nearly 30 pounds heavier than Harper, and noticeably faster. Harper was credited with a 4.58 40 coming out of Alabama in 2006. Casillas is better than a full 10th of a second faster. At a flat-out sprint down the sidelines, that's an extra step closer to the receiver. He's also a hellacious blitzer; hits like a pile-driver; and once he has his hands on you, you don't get away (really...watch the video).

What's wrong with this drool-inducing scenario? Casillas has never played safety. Yet he reportedly has good coverage skills—as a linebacker. That's not an exact match, but it's close enough to shake up the depth chart. A 230-pound enforcer-type strong safety who hits like a linebacker could make the Saints' secondary a nightmare for receivers.

"Casillas may be able to move to strong safety, which would fit his build better. Nevertheless, his athleticism is too good to pass up in the draft, and if nothing else, he'll be a solid special teams player early on." (SN)

"One of the fastest linebackers in this class, Jonathan Casillas always seems to make the right plays on defense. The question is whether or not he's too small to play in the NFL." (WF)

"Will be a great special teams player in the NFL. Maybe a safety in the NFL. I think he will make a NFL team happy. He's good in coverage. Has good speed. Character issues my be an issue but I don't think it will hurt him. If he has good combine numbers he could very well slip into a first day pick." (FFJ)

VIDEO


HERB DONALDSON

Western Illinois

RB

5-10

225

4.66

Behind only Casillas, Donaldson gets my vote as the most promising free agent. A concentrated "bowling ball" of a runner, he reminds one of a poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew. He ate the competition alive in the Missouri Valley Conference—I'm not sure what to make of that—but he also had healthy averages against major programs like Wisconsin and Arkansas. He's not particularly speedy (though his 40 time is as good as Pierre Thomas') or shifty, and his pass catching skills are nowhere in evidence; but he could be that short-yardage back that Payton has been coveting all offseason.

Andif he is, he could turn out to be a more significant pickup than Casillas.

"Herb Donaldson debacled Division 1-AA yet again, accumulating 1,784 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns." (WF)

"Donaldson is a big, brushing back who likes to pound defenders. A good inside runner, he has a thick build with good leg drive. Although, he is not a great athlete because he does lack speed (4.52). His hands are suspect, causing him to not be a receiving threat.(FFT)

"This bowling ball of a running back racked up more than 1,400 rushing yards three consecutive years, including a 1,784-yard, 21-touchdown effort as a senior. The All-American finished third in Walter Payton Award (the FCS Heisman) voting in 2008 and put himself on the national radar by rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns (on 35 carries) against Arkansas early in the season." (SI)


ALEX FLETCHER

Stanford

C

6-2

297

5.40

Alex Fletcher is the kind of overachiever that Saints fans have grown to love ever since the days of Danny Abramowicz. He got almost no press in a conference that boasted Alex Mack and Max Unger, but was chosen second-team Pac-10 in both his junior and senior seasons—first as a guard, then as a center. He displays the sort of versatility beloved of coaches, and could provide depth for any of the three positions in the middle of the line.

Fletcher's biggest problem is his size. He's about the same size as Jeff Saturday, who has proven that small (!) centers can make it in the NFL; but he's 20 pounds lighter than almost anyone else on the Saints' line, and a whopping 50 pounds lighter than the S.S. Carl Nicks. So he's probably not a threat to unseat anyone right now; but if the injury bug hits the Saints anywhere along the interior of the line, Fletcher is a good man to have.

"Fletcher is an overachiever who must do everything right to compensate for his athletic deficiencies. His move back to center this season (after starting at right guard two years ago) may help him be more consistent and productive." (SN)

"Made the All-Pac 10 Second Team after transitioning to center this season." (WF)

"A versatile contributor with extensive starting experience at right guard and center, Fletcher ranks among the nation's most underappreciated talents. While he lacks the flashy athleticism and big name to earn high-round consideration, his size, versatility and tenacity could result in a middle-round selection and early playing time in the NFL." (SI)


AUGUSTUS PARRISH

Kent State

T

6-4

302

5.35

Parrish is like Fletcher in that he projects to be a career backup at best. He's an athletic and highly-regarded small school prospect, but with the emphasis on "small." It's hard to imagine calling anyone who is 6-4 and 302 pounds "small," but compare him to Jammal Brown, John Stinchcomb, Jermon Bushrod, or Zach Strief and you see that he's 10-15 pounds lighter. Perhaps he has the athleticism to earn himself a spot on the 53-man roster in a backup role; perhaps he can add more weight without losing speed or agility. Perhaps; but still, I can't see him becoming a starter any time soon—not on one of the most talented lines in the league. Except in case of disaster.

"If he plays with greater intensity and better technique, he could become a starter; however, the odds are Parrish will end up being a backup tackle." (SN)

"One of the more athletic linemen in the country, Augustus Parrish has vastly improved every year." (WF)

"Parrish received limited exposure playing at Kent State in the Mid-American Conference. He started the past three seasons at left tackle, receiving second-team All-MAC honors as a junior and senior. Although he may fit best inside in the NFL, scouts believe he can make the transition because of his mobility and determination. Don't be surprised if Parrish is one of the two or three MAC players typically drafted in the first three rounds next April." (NFLDS)


PATRICK COWAN

UCLA

QB

6-4

222

4.94

Cowan was at one time a highly-regarded pro prospect, until wrecking a knee wrecked his career. Now the knee is supposedly healed, and Sean Payton—who has had good results working with other formerly-injured quarterbacks—is taking the chance that Cowan's still got what he showed off earlier in his college career. Who knows? He may be right. This is what Don Banks of Sports Illustrated had to say, in profiling Cowan as one of the most intriguing free agent prospects of this year:

"It was ages ago, but Cowan was the quarterback for the Bruins when they upset the cross-town USC Trojans in 2006, and though he has been beset with injuries the past two seasons, scouts are still intrigued with his 6-4, 235-pound body. He's healthy again after having ACL surgery last summer, and his Bruins offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, has talked up his football instincts and intelligence to NFL teams this spring. A crisp pro day showing helped Cowan considerably, and the Bengals are reportedly among the teams who are interested." [Heh heh...nice try, Bengals.]

Opinions are, however, divided:

"Cowan missed his senior season with a knee injury. He has no future in the NFL." (SN)


CEDRIC DOCKERY

Texas

G

6-3

314

5.31

Right about here is where we start to enter "camp body" territory. Cedric Dockery could wind up becoming a great pickup if he can be coached up: he has good size and decent speed. But he's competing for a spot on a stacked roster. It's going to be very, very hard to crack the lineup of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

"It's doubtful Dockery will improve enough to become more than an inconsistent backup guard." (SN)

"Now two years removed from an ACL tear, Cedric Dockery was an All-Big XII honorable mention." (WF)

"Dockery has the size to play at the next level, and he has shown ability the past three seasons. He must improve his fundamentals and increase the strength of his lower body to have any chance of sticking on an NFL roster.(SI)


P.J. HILL

Wisconsin

RB

5-10

218

4.60

P.J. Hill is almost more of an object lesson than a player. His college career all but ruined by injuries, he proceeded to ruin it further by being arrested on charges of DUI and fleeing from the police. And he chose that precise moment to abandon his scholarship and declare for the NFL draft. Of course, he wasn't chosen; and now, a couple semesters short of a degree, he'll have to find a paying job to afford the education that could have been free. Perhaps the practice squad pays well enough...if he can avoid being hurt.

"As a freshman, he looked like the next Ron Dayne, but his career has gone south since." (SN)


DANNY GORRER

Texas A&M

CB

5-11

185

4.40

A small but quick corner, Gorrer finds himself competing in what is now a stacked position. He probably stands little chance of making the team.

"Off a torn ACL, Danny Gorrer had 29 tackles, two TFL, two sacks and two passes broken up in 11 games." (SN)


REGGIE JONES

Portland State

CB

5-11

193

4.43

It's very hard to find information on the cellar dwellers among NFL draft prospects, and Reggie Jones flew under almost everyone's radars. Curiously enough, however, there is a YouTube video of his hair. Apparently, that, and his inability to cover receivers, are what he's famous for: pay attention to the comments section. (There's also a video of Fred Thomas in the "related Videos" column, titled "Worst Cornerback Ever." Unfair, in my opinion, but it's too late to do anything about that.)

Also, curiously enough Jones is the second player named Reggie Jones to sign with the Saints. The other Reggie played...cornerback.

 


KEN HARRIS

Georgia

WR

6-3

208

4.59

MATT SIMON

Northern Illinois

WR

6-1

206

4.61

CHRIS VAUGHN

Louisville

WR

6-3

224

4.50

Finally, we have a trio of virtual unknowns trying to claw their way through the most talented part of the roster. Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore have demonstrated that it can be done; but it's damned hard...and I wouldn't bet the house.


KEY: SN Sporting News        WF Walter Football        FFT Fantasy Football Toolbox        SI Sports Illustrated