NFL Mock Drafts, whether you find them a complete waste of time or insightful, is a great way to pass the time during the offseason. Rarely do you find a collective group of analysts share the exact same opinion when addressing a team’s respective pick. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
As I dive in to my ‘way too early’ New Orleans Saints mock draft, I’ll happily throw out some of my past mock drafts at the mercy of the readers to gauge my personal insight and open myself up for ridicule. As you’re likely very aware, it’s a total crapshoot.
- Mock 1.0: Shane Ray, Denzel Perryman, Duke Johnson, Alex Carter, Ali Marpet, Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks
- Mock 2.0: Vic Beasley, Benardrick McKinney
- Mock 3.0: Alvin Dupree, Michael Bennett, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, Clive Walford, Lorenzo Doss, Max Valles, Sean Hickey, Terrance Magee
- Mock 4.0: Danny Shelton, Jaelen Strong
- Mock 5.0: Danny Shelton, Dorial Green-Beckham, Benardrick McKinney, Clive Walford, Ali Marpet, Charles Gaines, Kenny Bell, Tyeler Davison, Mark Glowinski
- Mock 6.0: Danny Shelton, Stephone Anthony
- Mock 1.0 (The ‘Way Too Early’ Edition): DeForest Buckner, Jarran Reed, Hunter Henry, Roberto Aguayo, Rees Odhiambo, Steve Longa
- Mock 2.0 (The ‘Still Early’ Edition): Myles Jack, Jarran Reed, Christian Westerman, Roberto Aguayo, Maurice Canady, Matt Judon
- Mock 3.0 (The ‘Early’ Edition): Laquon Treadwell, Vernon Butler, Landon Turner, Jaylon Smith, Matt Judon, Ross Martin
- Mock 4.0 (The ‘Nearly There’ Edition): Andrew Billings, Josh Doctson, Vadal Alexander, Deiondre Hall, Rees Odhiambo, Steve Longa
- Mock 5.0 (The ‘Final’ Edition): Shaq Lawson, Vernon Butler, Vadal Alexander, Deiondre’ Hall, Mike Thomas, Ian Seau
As you can see, the vast majority of picks were large misses. However, players like Tyeler Davison, Stephone Anthony, Sean Hickey, and Landon Turner were a few hits. Of course, Hickey and Turner didn’t go where I projected them to (neither did anyone else).
Keep in mind as you go through this, I’d highly expect the Saints to address some needs like pass rusher, guard, and linebacker in free agency. However, I attempt to keep this initial mock with the theme of what’s needed right now. I’d also preface that I’ll only release one per month, with two coming in April (because relevance).
Round One - Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Before diving in, I like to show everyone who is available when picking at the first spot. This is the ‘big board’ I was faced with before taking Barnett. Realistically, I don’t see Leonard Fournette making it past the Panthers. However, things change.
I’d also point out that the above picture is FanSpeak’s Big Board, and arguably a more realistic representation would be on Matt Miller’s Big Board, which had Fournette gone before the Saints get on the board.
Stanford’s Solomon Thomas is probably the hottest name out there right now when looking at the defensive line talent available when the Saints pick at No. 11. So, in assessing Thomas with Tim Williams and Derek Barnett, I went with the safe bet. Williams has been linked to some off the field issues, which doesn’t mean the Saints would avoid him completely, but it certainly doesn’t help (see Shane Ray and Randy Gregory as perfect examples).
Count me in on the Derek Barnett to the Saints train. In just three years with the Volunteers, Barnett racked up 32.0 sacks in his 39 games and ended up setting a school record with 33 total sacks after the Music City Bowl. The mark was previously held by the late great Reggie White. He had three multi-sack games against SEC opponents South Carolina (3.0), Florida (2.0), and Georgia (2.0).
The underclassman turns 21 in June, and is just the type of presence that opposing offensive linemen will have their hands full with. He has a quick jump off the snap, and his ability to get low and churn through any lineman when meeting resistance. Perhaps what I like most about him rushing off the edge is having success on both a three-man or four-man front.
This might be one of my favorite sacks, and just envision Cameron Jordan going on the opposite side of him on opposing quarterbacks.
Round Two - Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
The Saints figured to have a strong amount of depth at linebacker entering 2016, but mass regression from Stephone Anthony, an underwhelming James Laurinaitis, and other injuries forced the defense to roll with the punches. Enter Zach Cunningham, another underclassman that would help bring some much needed speed and abilities for Dennis Allen’s defense.
Cunningham got better in each season since 2014, finishing out his three years with Commodores totaling 256 total tackles (125 in 2016), 16.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, six pass defenses, seven fumble recoveries, and six forced fumbles. He’s drawn strong comparisons to Luke Kuechly, being able to prove that he’s a three-down player. Playing as a 3-4 inside linebacker will help bring versatility to the Saints defense when they employ 3-safety looks.
Watch his ability to shed off a blocker and wrap up the running back.
He can also provide coverage, which is something the Saints need.
Round Three - Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU
Of course, this might be where some of the pushback enters from fans. Here’s where I’d challenge the thought process of taking a running back. For starters, the Saints definitively have Mark Ingram and Daniel Lasco to work with in 2017. Marcus Murphy also returns and has hovered around, but adds no value to the offense and could realistically be a camp cut. Also, the future of Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet are in question.
Williams may not get the type of hype of players like Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook, but a strong Senior Bowl could help his draft stock. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound back tends to be more of a bruiser, which fits Sean Payton’s offense. He became the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher in late October, and shows a natural ability to keep going after first contact. If Hightower is out, Williams could be a solution.
Round Four - Marquez White, CB, Florida State
Once again, cornerback may not be looked at as an immediate need for the Saints. However, there’s clearly some concern at the overall health of the secondary. P.J. Williams, Damian Swann, Jimmy Pruitt (who turned some heads in camp) all missed the vast majority of 2016. Delvin Breaux battled back after suffering a broken fibula in Week 1, but didn’t look like the type of player from the season before when he came back. Lastly, Ken Crawley suffered a dislocated kneecap in the last week of the season, but should be good to go.
If the Saints were to bring back (and they should) Kyle Wilson and Sterling Moore in free agency - and even look at another veteran, then I don’t see an immediate need for cornerback. However, depth isn’t going to hurt this team, which is where Marquez White comes in. The Seminoles corner didn’t see a lot of balls thrown his way, but was pretty strong in coverage when called upon. Some learnings from secondary coach Aaron Glenn along with the rest of the corners could help elevate his game further.
“I feel like I don’t get the recognition because I don’t get thrown the ball, so I don’t make those crazy, spectacular plays,” White said in mid-December. In summary, keep an eye on him during the Senior Bowl.
Round Six - Eric Saubert, TE, Drake
Consider Eric Saubert to be my absolute favorite prospect in 2017. Last season it was Matt Judon, and the season before that was Danny Shelton. The small school product from Iowa is most comparable to Tyler Eifert with shades of Jimmy Graham, and was dominant in the Pioneer Football League during 2015 and 2016. The 6-foot-4, 242-pound tight end plays more like a wide receiver (which sounds eerily familiar), and I’m told is on several scouts’ radar with nothing but good things to say.
Thanks to Chuck Reed, the play-by-play voice of the Bulldogs, I’d implore you to look at this film against Stetson, specifically checking out the 1:14:45 and 2:36:30 marks of Saubert.
Do the Saints absolutely need a tight end in 2017? No. However, an intriguing player like Saubert fits the Saints offense. I’d be willing to bet his name gets bigger after the East-West Shrine Game.
Round Seven - Jordan Morgan, OL, Kutztown
DII football has certainly given the NFL some gems over the years, and Jordan Morgan could be the next big thing. In an underwhelming offensive line class, he’s certainly someone who may skyrocket over the next couple of months. His efforts landed him as the 2016 recipient of DII’s Gene Upshaw Lineman of the Year Award.
Morgan started 43-of-44 games for the Bears, and there’s just a certain jump he can get off the ball that makes him stand out. Although he was a left tackle for the Bears, he’ll certainly transition to a guard. Naturally, DII football won’t jump out to many, but his film is worth taking a peek at. He doesn’t shy away from contact and is able to turn defenders to the outside with some ease.
If somehow he’s still in Round 7 when the Saints pick, then they should run to the podium. However, Morgan is realistically pushing to be at least a mid-round guy, and he’ll no longer be a ‘best kept secret’ after the East-West Shrine Game.
Tackling the Obvious
Why no quarterback?
It’s simple. This is the year the Saints must get everything right. Yes, it’d be nice to have a succession plan in place. However, are you absolutely certain Drew Brees is going somewhere after 2017? If this is the “win now” mode, then you don’t draft a quarterback. When it comes down to it, are you wanting to roster a third quarterback that will only see the bench when that spot could be used elsewhere?
Why wait on a guard?
I’d firmly believe the Saints will try to get their answer in free agency if Jahri Evans doesn’t return. Again, trusting a rookie seems a bit far-fetched in a very mediocre offensive line class.
Why no receiver?
Brandon Coleman is a RFA, which would make it pretty easy for the Saints to bring him back. The offense has their firepower with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Michael Thomas. A vertical threat is something I’d like to see added, but also remember that Jordan Williams-Lambert, Jake Lampman, and several other returning receivers could already be the answer.