The New Orleans Saints are finally fielding a competitive defense, so draft analysts around the world are now turning their eyes towards Saints head coach Sean Payton’s offense. Drew Brees is still the future Hall of Fame quarterback he’s always been, but there’s no denying the Saints have had issues with the ball in their hands.
Stats the Saints usually dominate - and which usually mean victories - like third-down conversion rate and red zone scoring percentage are instead falling flat. That’s probably due to the delayed debuts of elite left tackle Terron Armstead and clutch slot receiver Willie Snead IV, but it’s still garnering a reaction in 2018 mock drafts.
Luke Easterling of the Draft Wire (USA Today’s site for year-round NFL Draft coverage) dialed in on that team weakness acutely. With an updated round-by-round draft order in hand, Easterling called the Saints to double down on offense with their picks in a three-round projection:
Round One, 22nd Overall Pick: WR Deon Cain, Clemson Tigers
Tommylee Lewis struggled to connect with Brees early in the season, and Ted Ginn Jr has made his money as more of an underneath run-after-catch threat than the downfield burner he was expected to be. So it makes sense for the Saints to look for a new face at receiver, leading to the Clemson Tigers’ Deon Cain. Easterling detailed the pick as such:
If the Saints don’t draft Drew Brees’ eventual successor, they at least need to keep loading up the future Hall of Famer with as many weapons as possible. Even with the loss of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett, Cain has made sure the defending champs’ passing attack hasn’t missed a beat.
That’s fairly sound logic. Cain entered the 2017 season as the nation’s best big-play receiver per Pro Football Focus play-by-play charting, having turned 14 catches deep downfield (20 or more yards) into 423 yards and eight scores. The question surrounding Cain’s draft prospects was whether he could round out his game to be a complete weapon, or if he was limited to a niche as the designated home-run threat.
Early indications are that the 21-year old has learned some new tricks:
Great double move by Deon Cain. pic.twitter.com/GEfvUt7sXZ— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 17, 2017
Deon Cain sticks his foot in the ground after the catch pic.twitter.com/oB1fw7EjUG— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) October 1, 2017
Cain is excelling as a run-after-catch machine on complex routes that take advantage of his smooth athleticism and ability to cut on a dime. He won’t run past guys with the ease that Brandin Cooks used to, but Cain can work to the ball in ways that other receivers can’t. He would be a great fit in New Orleans’ offense to pair with Michael Thomas on the outside. At 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, he’s got ideal size for a receiver lining up off the line of scrimmage.
Second Round, 54th Overall Pick: RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee Volunteers
No, I won’t let this rest. The San Francisco 49ers technically own this selection, but for all intents and purposes the Saints have already spent it on their awesome young running back. Alvin Kamara, or AK41, has done nothing but make plays at an ever-increasing clip and build his case to be among the top ball-carriers in this rookie class.
Kamara has already beaten expectations in New Orleans, prompting Adrian Peterson’s trade to the Arizona Cardinals (per ESPN’s Adam Schefter). He looks like a keeper whether he’s running hard between the tackles, hurdling defensive backs outside, or running routes and taking off for big plays. The rookie can’t be celebrated enough.
Third Round, 86th Overall Pick: QB Will Grier, West Virginia Mountaineers
Will Grier has been flying under the radar but he’s climbing further into draft relevancy every week with each 60-yard touchdown pass. Few college passers have the velocity deep downfield that Grier uses to shred defenses, but the former Florida Gators quarterback has it in spades. He’s also a good athlete for the position and isn’t afraid to improvise with his legs. Matty Brown of Inside The Pylon wrote a great preview piece on Grier’s ability to read defenses from the pocket and thrive in a run-and-gun offense earlier this year.
Will Grier has a pretty deep ball. pic.twitter.com/3Xw3QX21Va— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) October 17, 2017
Grier looks a lot like Chase Daniel did in college, but his launch point and moxie remind me a lot of Derek Carr. There’s a lot of football still to be played so it’s hard to say where Grier’s NFL fortunes could be. Right now, he’s a fun big-play machine who has the makings of a nice prospect someday. Hopefully he’s past the PED scandal that led to his one-year suspension and transfer from Florida.