Just like in my last 2017 New Orleans Saints mock draft, I’m assuming the Saints will be active players in free agency and have addressed most of the following needs:
- Starter-quality cornerback like A.J. Bouye or Morris Claiborne
- Starter-material guard such as Ronald Leary or Larry Warford
- Mid-tier option at defensive end like Jabaal Sheard or Melvin Ingram
- Mid-tier linebacker such as A.J. Klein or Zach Brown
- Depth tight end like Rhett Ellison or Jermaine Gresham
- Depth pass-catcher like Cordarrelle Patterson or Andre Ellington
- Returned 2016 contributors including defensive tackle Nick Fairley, wide receiver Willie Snead IV, fullback John Kuhn, guard Jahri Evans, and cornerback Sterling Moore
My main motivation in these biweekly mock drafts is to draw attention to NFL draft prospects for Saints fans who may not otherwise know about them. There’s so many variables at play that it’s impossible to accurately predict what’s going to happen. So don’t take this too seriously. You can also check out my previous mock here.
Alright, let’s dig into my 2017 mock draft version 2.0.
First Round, Eleventh Pick: Cornerback Quincy Wilson, Florida
Previous Selection: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
The Florida Gators’ top cornerback has ideal size (6-foot-0, 209-pounds) and speed (rumored 4.4-second 40-yard dash) to excel at the next level and has shown great ball skills. He’s been rarely tested because of the tight coverage he regularly locks down opponents with, displaying a great mix of confidence, physicality, and instincts.
While the Saints played more zone coverage than man under Dennis Allen, Wilson has more experience with man-press technique and can run with anyone. He could give the Saints an opportunity to better tailor coverages to their opponents than just sitting off in a zone and letting receivers get a free release every snap. Wilson is my top-rated cornerback in the 2017 draft and should be available once the Saints are on the clock.
Second Round, Tenth Pick: Offensive Lineman Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Previous Selection: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
I love Lamp. Considered a sleeper for most of 2016, Western Kentucky’s left tackle burst onto the scene when he stonewalled everything Alabama’s vaunted defense could throw at him. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman hasn’t allowed a sack since his 2014 sophomore year and ceded just one quarterback pressure to the Crimson Tide despite matching up with Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and others throughout the game.
Lamp bursts up out of his stance with a very natural motion and consistently gets to his spot to execute his block. Lamp’s boxy build makes him look like a guard, and he can stand out at that position thanks to his great functional strength, mean streak, and movement skills. But Lamp has shown that he can hang with the best of them out on the edge, and I really like his potential as a successor for Zach Strief at right tackle or Jahri Evans at right guard. Lamp, Terron Armstead, and Andrus Peat would be a great foundation for the offensive line of the future.
Third Round, Twelfth Pick: Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern
Previous Selection: Taylor Moton, G/T, Western Michigan
The aggressive leader of Northwestern’s defense has good size (6-foot-1, 235-pounds) and a productive resume. Walker plays with a frantic, infectious energy similar to Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. He’s very quick to diagnose plays and react, knifing through gaps to drag down ball-carriers (see his 38 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in just 33 career games). In three years Walker has forced eight fumbles and intercepted four passes while deflecting another dozen.
Walker looks the part of an NFL linebacker and is someone being slept on in this class. Alabama’s Reuben Foster and Zach Cunningham are the clear top linebackers in this draft, but I don’t see much of a gap between Walker and other guys like Jarrad Davis (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State), and Kendell Beckwith (LSU). Walker does have areas to improve such as shedding blocks and better disguising his intentions pre-snap, but he’s a great value in the third round.
Fourth Round, Eleventh Pick: Defensive End Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh
Previous Selection: Jaleel Johnson, NT, Iowa
This is a great argument in not overlooking a draft prospect on height alone. Sure, Price has other red flags besides being just 5-foot-11 an 250-pounds; he’s going to be a 24-year old rookie and missed 2012 and 2014 to separate pectoral and back injuries. That’s why he’s going to be available this late in the draft. Since returning to the field in 2015, Price hasn’t missed a down while piling up eye-popping numbers like four forced fumbles, 24.5 sacks, 42.5 tackles for loss, and averaging 5.9 tackles per game as Pitt’s lead defensive end.
Price uses rare bend and burst to erupt off the snap and into the backfield, smoking blockers and breaking quarterbacks. A recent guy who wins in the same ways as Price is Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who set the new franchise record for rookie sacks (8). Both are undersized talents who win with speed and flexibility. I love Price’s fit as a complimentary rusher to Cameron Jordan, but limiting his reps by splitting snaps with someone else could help extend his career.
Sixth Round, Twelfth Pick: Tailback Justin Davis, Southern California
Previous Selection: Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound USC Trojans runner was poised to break out in 2016 but got held up by a nagging ankle injury and shared backfield with the younger Ronald Jones II. Davis’ talent and athleticism was still evident, however, in his 5.4-yards per carry and 8.0-yards per reception. Davis is expected to run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash once returning from the ankle sprain that limited his touches throughout his senior year.
Davis has the qualities you look for in a third-down back, but he’s an elusive runner in his own right. He has displayed the vision to find his lane and pop off a big run on a draw, but can also make guys miss with speed when cutting outside. His sense of balance and slashing burst is seriously underrated, and thanks to rare depth of talent in this draft class and possible concerns about his ankle he should be available late. He has the profile to contribute immediately on offense while mixing it up on special teams.
Seventh Round, Eleventh Pick: Defensive End Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami
Previous Selection: Matt Milano, LB, Boston College
The Saints have invested a lot in reforming their locker room culture around guys who won’t be out at a club at 2:00 AM. They want players who are focused on football but have the strength of character to be responsible and accountable for their actions. That’s where we are now, with a locker room full of choir boys but low on playmakers.
It’s time to test that stability by introducing a wayward prospect. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound edge rusher was a promising recruit at Miami but had too many issues. Characterized as a knucklehead, he missed the 2014 season after getting into a fight with a teammate, and was dismissed along with two other teammates in 2016 after being connected to a rental car agency investigated for giving benefits to student-athletes.
As far as his on-field ability, Muhammad plays with heavy hands and looks like a dynamic athlete. He rounds the edge well and has the strength to take on blocks. Muhammad bagged five sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in his one year as a starter. The tools are there to work with – the question is whether the Saints have the structure to support him and keep him on the straight and narrow as a pro.