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.
Ole Miss Rebels (three visits). Coaches that recruit well tend to produce great draft prospects, and Hugh Freeze’s tenure in Oxford has been no exception. Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche were all drafted in the first round of this year’s draft. There probably aren’t any first rounders lurking in Oxford for next year’s draft, but there’s still talent to be found.
Before the season began, the obvious point of interest for the Saints would have been quarterback Chad Kelly. Jim Kelly’s disheveled nephew looked the part of a future NFL star: he had the bloodlines, the build, the on-field confidence, and the arm to attack defenses from every possible angle. But Kelly has spun out of control between late-game meltdowns, obsession with his own sense of swag, getting caught with possible drug use on Snapchat, and diving into a high school varsity game brawl. NFL general managers have the impression that Kelly loves throwing away money, and I don’t expect him to be drafted.
Tight end Evan Engram fits the profile of a wide receiver more than a traditional halfback. Built in the mold of Jordan Reed, Engram is listed at a slender 6-foot-3 and 227-pounds. For comparison, Reed was 6-foot-2 and 236-pounds when he entered the draft. So far in 2016 he has caught 65 passes for 926 yards, leading Ole Miss’s offense, and doubling his career touchdown catches. Engram has also already accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, and I look forward to seeing him practice there in person – as do Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael. But with so many strong pass-catching options already on board, selecting Engram would be a luxury the Saints can’t afford.
Defensive end Marquis Haynes is an underrated monster. The 6-foot-3 pass rusher weighs only 222-pounds, which explains why the junior isn’t being given much more attention. Now in his third year as a starter, he’s logged an astounding 35.5 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and seven pass deflections. Haynes plays all over the defense, lining up in some sets covering the slot and other times off the line of scrimmage. He can rush from a two- or three-point stance and has a relentless motor. Haynes needs to add weight, but his lanky frame suggests that won’t be a problem. There’s no word yet on whether Haynes will declare for early entry into the draft, but he’s a name to remember.
Another noteworthy name would be safety Tony Conner, a former prized recruit with great size (6-foot-0, 225-pounds) and a leader’s personality. Conner rarely missed a snap in his first two years, racking up 135 tackles including 14 for loss, eight pass breakups, and two sacks, but an untimely knee injury sent him in and out of the lineup as a junior. Conner leads Ole Miss in pass deflections as a senior (5) and has 3.5 tackles for loss to his name, but his medical concerns will probably hurt his draft stock more than production.