The college football regular season is drawing to a close with some of the best rivalry games around on the slate. NFL college scouts have been hard at work this year trying to find tomorrow’s stars, and the New Orleans Saints are no exception.
Thanks to Chase Goodbread’s Scouting the Scouts series over on NFL.com, we’re able to track the Saints’ credentialed scouting visits to college games on a weekly basis. Now, there’s only so much value you can take from this: scouts sometimes leave games after halftime, having only visited to see how certain players match up physically and whether they pass an eye-test.
Conversely, scouts are constantly on the road going from one campus to another. They’re observing practices and doing their research on these prospects. They’re interviewing prospects’ position coaches and academic advisers. It’s a supremely intensive process.
So, just because the Saints have sent scouts to catch a game live and in person from the press box may not mean a whole lot. But it does give us an idea of which rosters they’re intrigued by, and which names they may be circling on their board. If nothing else, these bits of extra information give a glimpse into which schools the Saints are prioritizing over others.
The Saints have sent scouts to personally attend multiple games for five different schools (USC, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Washington). I’ll break them down and try to highlight some of their draft prospects whose names we could hear called next spring.
USC Trojans (three visits). It isn’t surprising that the Saints would take several opportunities to check out USC’s NFL prospects. They’re one of the highest-profile teams in the country with play makers on both sides of the ball. However, the fact that they have chosen to observe the Trojans not twice, but three times, is worth noting.
The biggest name the Trojans boast is cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who was named a Jim Thorpe Award finalist along with Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and LSU’s Tre’Davious White. Jackson is a dynamic athlete at cornerback with the traits to thrive in a zone-heavy coverage scheme. The three-year starter has made four interceptions, nine pass deflections, and 41 solo tackles in 2016, leading the team in each category. Jackson also fields kickoffs and punts with a combined six touchdowns on 113 career returns. I expect him to be square in the Saints’ cross-hairs, though there’s a strong case to be made for him to complete his final year of eligibility.
On offense, wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster has not lived up to expectations. 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout leads USC in receptions (59), yards (758), and touchdowns (8), but those numbers are down from 2015 by an average of one catch and thirty yards per game. Some of that should be attributed to injuries: Smith-Schuster has suffered a dislocated finger and bruised hip as well as damage to his wrist, foot, and shoulder. The Saints won’t be in the market for a receiver early in the draft, but he’s a name worth knowing.
Other Trojans prospects who should be on the Saints’ radar include nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a former Mormon missionary to the Philippines and immensely strong run defender. Tu’ikolovatu is one of the stoutest defensive linemen at the point of attack in all of college football, and would be a great injection of leadership to the middle of the Saints defensive line.
Left guard Damien Mama is a strong run blocker who gets streaky in pass protection, and left tackle Zach Banner is a huge offensive lineman with the prototypical length that coaches covet. Neither would be ready to start right away, but they would be upgrades in the mid-rounds of the draft to keep fringe guys like Tim Lelito and Tony Hills off the roster. The Saints will be in the market for reinforcements along the line of scrimmage, so there’s an argument to be made for each of these three prospects.