The New Orleans Saints have made credentialed appearances at multiple games of five difference schools: USC, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Washington. Which prospects have they possibly highlighted on their watch lists?
Washington Huskies (two visits). The PAC-12 has a reputation of being a conference where defense isn’t encouraged. That isn’t true in Seattle, home of maybe the best defensive backfield in the country. And I don’t mean the Seattle Seahawks.
Cornerback Sidney Jones is the latest defensive back to leap from the Washington Huskies pipeline and swat a pass away, following the footsteps of Marcus Peters and Desmond Trufant. Jones is one of my favorite prospects at cornerback in the draft. His long arms, smooth hip flexion, and polished footwork allow him to shadow any receiver lined up against him.
Jones can contest any catch and is the kind of corner who can cut the field in half by being “put on an island”. He’s expected to be a mid-first round pick if he declares and could stand to add some muscle (he’s only 6-foot-1 and 180-pounds), but Jones is Washington’s premier NFL talent and someone the Saints should be carefully keeping tabs on.
The other two prospects in Washington’s secondary are cornerback Kevin King and free safety Budda Baker. King, a senior, has come on strong the last two years with 15 pass deflections, six interceptions, and seven tackles for loss. King has impressive height at 6-foot-3 and 192-pounds to go with a resume built on three years starting (he’s no Stanley Jean-Baptiste).
Baker is a junior and has a less-impressive frame (5-foot-11, 192-pounds) but he’s a dynamic athlete who can cover every inch of a football field playing from his centerfield free safety position. Baker is the vocal leader of Washington’s secondary and brings a ferocious injury despite lacking the length favored by metrics-based analysis.
Wide receiver John Ross may be the most dynamic receiving threat in the country. The deep-route specialist has scored 17 touchdowns in 12 games this year and is averaged almost 15 yards per catch. Ross plays like Michael Thomas would have if he had been the go-to receiver in a pass-heavy offense. He has already picked up nuances of the position and knows how to use his footwork and his release to set up defensive backs for failure. He’ll be a first round pick and out of the Saints’ consideration, but he’s a fun player and worth your time to watch on a rainy day.
Defensive lineman Vita Vea is only a redshirt sophomore, but he’s already 6-foot-5 and 332-pounds. The mammoth lineman is listed as a defensive end on the depth chart but he plays all over the Huskies’ 4-man fronts, lately filling in at nose tackle where his quickness off the snap is frightening for a man his size. Vea is seen as more of a run defender, and at his size he’ll have to continue to disprove that bias. But Vea’s combination of advanced hand-fighting techniques and his sneaky athleticism are encouraging. Early indications are that Vea will be returning to school for his third year of eligibility, but it’s too soon to tell whether he will declare for the draft.
Quarterback Jake Browning won’t be draft-eligible until next year, but we need to be paying attention to him. The sophomore is in his second year as a starter and has taken huge strides in development. He is completing 65-percent of his throws at 9.6-yards per attempt and, most impressively, has stacked up 40 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. A concern with Browning is his stature. He is only 6-foot-2 and 210-pounds, which is right up against NFL standards, but he’s only 20-years old and could realistically continue to grow as his body matures.