The 2017 NFL season is drawing to the halfway point and the beginnings of a playoffs picture are starting to take shape. Bizarrely yet wonderfully, the New Orleans Saints figure to be a part of it. If things started today, the black and gold would hold the 27th overall spot in the draft.
But that hasn’t slowed the NFL Draft coverage machine. Year-round takes and analysis are still ongoing, and fans want to know: who do they have the Saints getting?
Linebacker Rashaan Evans, Alabama Crimson Tide
Pro Football Focus senior analyst Steve Palazzolo picked the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Crimson Tide linebacker, explaining his pick as such:
The defensive overhaul continues in New Orleans, where Evans brings athleticism to the back-seven. He has played both traditional linebacker and on the edge for Alabama, so the versatility is an added bonus, and Evans is just tapping into his potential as he’s played only 719 career snaps.
Evans is kind of a similar prospect to Marshon Lattimore. He hasn’t played much college football (Lattimore logged just 682 snaps for the Ohio State Buckeyes) due to the talented players ahead of him and occasional injuries (most recently an early-season strained groin muscle). Still, Evans is a terror in the middle of the field who understands how to time his blitzes well and cover ground in a hurry. He might be just what the Saints need to get their defense over the top.
Wide receiver Dante Pettis, Washington Huskies
Emory Hunt of Football Game Plan selected the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Washington Huskies big play machine, saying:
The Saints get a deeper receiving corps with Ted Ginn Jr as the so-called deep threat and Michael Thomas as the possession guy. Pettis can only help them not only as a dynamic returner but most importantly as the perfect complement to Thomas. Pettis is electric and would give Sean Payton the play-action deep threat he covets in that Saints offense.
Pettis does some things similarly to Ted Ginn Jr, but could be viably be a more-consistent downfield target. He’s an experienced punt returner with 86 career returns for 1,194 yards (averaging 13.9 per return) and eight scores. Pettis moves smoothly with the ball in his hands and knows how to set up and follow his blockers, putting those skills to good use on offense with 98 catches for 1,306 yards and 21 touchdowns over the last two years as a starter. He might be the guy the Saints once envisioned Brandin Cooks becoming.
Linebacker Jerome Baker, Ohio State Buckeyes
The Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling released a three-round mock draft including two picks for the Saints. His first round selection was a fiery 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker:
Finding Drew Brees’ replacement should be a priority, but he’s got the Saints thinking playoffs again and could stick around a little while longer. The team’s biggest need is at linebacker, where a rangy playmaker like Baker would be an immediate upgrade.
The obligatory Buckeyes rookie looks like a nice fit in New Orleans. He’s been placed in Sports Illustrated’s Freak List as one of the best athletes in the country and was credited with a stunning 4.37-second 40-yard dash this spring. That Ryan Shazier-like athleticism would be a terrific add to a Saints defense that has struggled to cross the field at times.
Defensive Lineman Da’Shawn hand, Alabama Crimson Tide
The other pick Easterling made (in the third round) was for a huge Alabama defensive lineman. He didn’t further define the pick, but Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller said this about Hand back in May:
It's crazy to think that Alabama's best defensive lineman last season might not have even been a full-time starter, but Da'Shawn Hand has already turned the heads of NFL scouts with his 6'4", 280-pound frame and plus athleticism. Hand's ability to crash gaps and beat blockers one-on-one will make him a scout's favorite. As is always the issue with Alabama players, we'll have to wait and see if Hand is beat up physically or if he's maxed out from a technique standpoint, but the early tape on him is strong.
Hand looks like a lean work-in-progress. This scouting report/film study by Oliver Connolly of SEC Country is very informative so far as highlighting Hand’s strengths and weaknesses going into 2017.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners
Be still, my heart. Miller dropped his own 2018 mock draft over at Bleacher Report this week, and he’s the only analyst sampled to consider a new quarterback in New Orleans:
The Saints have drafted well enough on the offensive line and on defense to spend a late first-round pick on a bit of a project at quarterback. Baker Mayfield isn't a conventional pick given his size (6'1"), but his playmaking skill set and leadership are undeniable. If head coach Sean Payton figures into the long-term plans of the Saints, it's easy to see him loving the way Mayfield plays and how well he'd translate into the New Orleans offense. And while some may not see the Oklahoma quarterback as a first-rounder, it only takes one team.
Mayfield is my favorite prospect in the draft and the second-best passer in the nation behind Louisville Cardinals sensation Lamar Jackson. The Saints would be lucky to land him.
But if Mayfield doesn’t wow you, SB Nation’s Dan Kadar did a survey of college quarterbacks in the wake of the San Francisco 49ers’ blockbuster trade for New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s definitely worth your time.