The NFL Draft draws as much coverage as the games themselves. USA Today has an entire branch of their sports coverage network dedicated to it over at the Draft Wire. Draft analyst Luke Easterling (a must-follow on Twitter for any football fan) recently completed an extensive mock draft projecting selections through three rounds in 2017.
Easterling made some decisions that will probably be popular with New Orleans Saints fans. He picked up two defenders at positions of need and a hopeful successor to Drew Brees. Let’s further analyze his picks:
First Round - Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
With the 6th overall pick, Easterling has pegged University of Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers as a fit for Dennis Allen’s scheme. Here’s what he had to say about the 6-foot-1, 208-pound dynamo:
The Saints need all kinds of help on defense, and in this scenario, one of the most dynamic talents in the entire draft falls right into their lap. Peppers can line up anywhere in the secondary and make big plays, and is an explosive return specialist. Regardless of where you play him, he’s going to find the ball and make good things happen when he gets there.
As Easterling says, Jabrill Peppers is a versatile defender who has played every position from weakside linebacker to free safety in his three years at Michigan. The 21-year-old currently leads the charge for the Wolverines defense with 27 solo tackles, tying the team-best mark with eight of them going for loss of yardage. He’s also bagged a pair of sacks.
But that’s not all. Jabrill Peppers has also worked as a return specialist for the Wolverines, returning 13 kickoffs at 28.9 yards a pop. He’s averaged 14 yards per attempt on 32 career punt returns. Those kind of numbers would be welcome on a special teams unit that has been content to send Jairus Byrd out for a fair catch more often than not.
This roundtable discussion by draft analysts here at SB Nation does a great job of laying out what Jabrill Peppers’ NFL projection may be from a couple of different perspectives.
Jabrill Peppers’ unique skills set has been likened to a high-octane version of Tyrann Mathieu. If you were to ask a Michigan fan who Peppers most reminds them of, don’t be shocked if they respond with Heisman Trophy-winner, former Ann Arbor superstar, and future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Charles Woodson.
I don’t know that the Saints are going to be drafting sixth overall, but Jabrill Peppers should absolutely be on their radar. With instability at cornerback, lack of athleticism at linebacker, and a hole at safety with or without Jairus Byrd, he would be a welcome addition to a defense in need of playmaking talent.
Second Round - Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville
With the 38th overall pick, Easterling projects Louisville edge rusher Devonte Fields to find a home in New Orleans.
Devonte Fields will enter the draft with a checkered past. He’s very similar to Noah Spence – one of the stars at last year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Both edge rushers were dismissed from their first college programs for rules violations, but Fields arguably brings concerns of a higher stake than failed drug tests.
Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller, who has wide-ranging sources among the scouting community, had to say:
I was asked this week why Devonte Fields isn't moving up my board despite posting 12.5 sacks in 18 games at Louisville the last season-and-a-half. Here's the deal: Fields, who started his career at TCU, was kicked out of school for allegedly pointing a gun at his ex-girlfriend, threatening to shoot her and then punching her in the head.
Too often we—and the NFL—make excuses for talented players with checkered pasts. Eventually, you have to draw a line in the sand and say "enough." Fields may go on to be the next Von Miller, but the off-field stories I hear from area scouts digging into his background and the police report on file from his assault complaint in Texas are enough to give me major concerns about Fields as a person.
And that still matters more than how well he plays football.
Considering the premium Saints head coach Sean Payton has put on character, Fields looks like a misfit in this locker room.
Ultimately, the Saints did their due diligence with Noah Spence; they met with him extensively at the Senior Bowl, then had follow-up visits at their practice facility and Spence’s pro day workout. In the end Spence was drafted by division rival Tampa Bay at 39. The Saints shrugged and took rookie sensation Michael Thomas at 47.
Looking at Devonte Fields’ play objectively, you can see how he could cure some of what ails the Saints’ defensive line. Rob Dire broke Fields down very well here, but here’s the skinny: he’s a strong pass rusher with great hand usage who can pair well with Cameron Jordan. He’s strong enough to play in the NFL and has the size to make an impact. However, he shares the same problems in run defense that Kasim Edebali and Paul Kruger have shown. None of them can effectively anchor against bigger offensive tackles and hold up on the edge.
Hau’oli Kikaha defended the run exceptionally well, so maybe if he recovers from his third torn ACL he could share reps with Fields. But I wouldn’t bet on Fields being on the Saints’ draft board, much less hoping for a tandem of him and Kikaha at defensive end someday.
Third Round - Mitch Trubisky, QB, UNC
With the 70th overall pick, Easterling has picked out North Carolina junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
I’ll be honest: Trubisky hasn’t been on my radar. Given the Saints’ many issues on defense, I haven’t spent much time dialing in on the nation’s collegiate passers. So I’ll differ to SportingNew.com’s Eric Galko, who broke down Trubisky very well earlier this season:
But most impressive is Trubisky’s confidence and control under pressure. He’s comfortable in his arm strength and teammates to adjust off his first read and be creative, even from the pocket.
But that brashness as a passer is also why he might be well served by another year at UNC. His confidence can turn into laziness in footwork and mechanics, and his throwing motion is a bit elongated, a la Jameis Winston. But it’s his bad habits of throwing sidearm on the run, abandoning mechanics downfield and not following through on easy throws that can lead to frustrating missed opportunities.
What I can tell you is that the Saints will do their homework on the next generation of quarterbacks. They’ve vetted every passer the last few years under Jeff Ireland’s administration as Director of College Scouting, meeting with everyone from Jameis Winston to Dak Prescott. If Trubisky declares (and I’m not sure he will, given his lack of starting experience) I expect the Saints will give him his due attention.
Garrett Grayson’s failure to progress from his rookie year to the next is disappointing, but shouldn’t be a surprise. Quarterbacks drafted after the first two rounds rarely make it in the NFL long-term, with Russell Wilson being the only real recent success. Drew Brees’ new contract extension gives the Saints some time to wait and handpick the next carrier of the keys to the franchise.
It’s too early to accurately say what the future holds for the New Orleans Saints. The odds say they’ll probably end up with the ninth overall pick, not the sixth, but you never know with the NFL. For all we know they could get hot and end up with a 12-4 record and a playoff berth. For now, I’m going to keep an eye out for the top college prospects to help the Saints.