The New Orleans Saints scouts have been hard at work in the predraft process, visiting schools to find tomorrow’s top draft prospects. Thanks to Chase Goodbread’s Scouting the Scouts series, we know that the Saints have attended multiple games for five schools: they have seen USC, Ole Miss, and Virginia Tech three times each, and have seen Alabama and Washington each play live twice. I’ll be giving you some brief reports on which prospects the Saints may be prioritizing.
Virginia Tech Hokies (three visits). Of the three schools that the Saints have sent scouts to watch play live, this may be the most confusing. USC is a traditional powerhouse, and Ole Miss has been a fresh pipeline of NFL talent. But Virginia Tech’s 2017 NFL draft prospects aren’t considered to be a bunch of future first rounders. So who is drawing the Saints’ attention in Blacksburg, VA?
Like the Saints, the Hokies run most of their offense out of three-receiver sets. The biggest draft-relevant name to know is Bucky Hodges, a 21-year old redshirt junior. Towering above the competition at 6-foot-7 and 245-pounds, Hodges is a former tight end who now runs with the wide receivers. He is the third option in the Hokies’ passing attack, having notched 38 catches for 529 yards and half a dozen touchdowns in 2016. Hodges is a great athlete at his size with tremendous catch radius and the ability to make plays downfield. I would like to see Hodges run more precise routes and be more physical in the red zone. The Saints haven’t had an athlete like Hodges since Jimmy Graham, so he fits the profile of someone who could intrigue the Saints’ scouting department.
On defense, defensive tackle Woody Baron is intriguing. He’s an undersized nose tackle (listed at 6-foot-2, 280-pounds) who has struggled to add weight and would probably move over the guard than the center in the pros. A two-year starter, the senior has been routinely disruptive and has posted an impressive 25 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in his last 21 games. Baron isn’t getting much national attention but he’ easily the leader of Virginia Tech’s defensive line, and could be seen as an option to pair with Tyeler Davison at nose tackle if he takes to a professional nutritional and weight-lifting program in New Orleans.
Other prospects at Virginia Tech include defensive end Ken Ekanem, a redshirt senior. Ekanem has good size at 6-foot-3 and 260-pounds, but he hasn’t matched the production from his breakout sophomore year. Half of Ekanem’s career 31.5 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks were produced back in 2014. He’s lanky and sent to rush from the interior sometimes, with largely mixed results. Once he’s put back in his natural position as an edge rusher he may produce pressure on a more consistent basis.
Virginia Tech also has a defensive back who impresses in Brandon Facyson, a great option at boundary corner. He has 31 pass deflections to his name but hasn’t intercepted a pass since he had five in his freshman season. Facyson can also crash downfield in run support thanks to his rare size at the position (6-foot-2, 197-pounds). This can be seen in his three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles on the season.