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Saints bolster defense in 2018 mock draft roundup

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Who do the experts like to join the Saints?

SANTA CLARA, CA:  Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (66) sacks Maryland Terrapins quarterback C.J. Brown 916) in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.
SANTA CLARA, CA: Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (66) sacks Maryland Terrapins quarterback C.J. Brown 916) in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

#MockDraftSzn never stops, so let’s take a look around the latest 2018 NFL Mock Drafts to see who the experts are connecting to the New Orleans Saints (who, by the way, are loosely projected to pick 26th overall in next May’s draft - playoff results will ultimately determine where the Saints will make their selections):

Linebacker Rashaan Evans, Alabama Crimson Tide

TUSCALOOSA, AL:  Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans (32) flushes Ole Miss Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson (20) out of the pocket during a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
TUSCALOOSA, AL: Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans (32) flushes Ole Miss Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson (20) out of the pocket during a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The versatile Alabama enforcer is becoming popular in Saints mock drafts, with both SEC Country’s Connor Riley and SB Nation’s Dan Kadar projecting him to join New Orleans this week. Evans was a good situational pass-rusher early in his career but has turned into a complete linebacker after starting for two years, doubling his three-year tackles for loss total (10.5) over the final ten games in his senior season (another 10.5):

Riley: The Saints defense has made huge strides this year. Evans could help them get even better, as he’s shown the ability to play all over the field.

Kadar: Had Evans not been hit with injuries this season, he’d probably be more highly thought of as an NFL prospect. He can come down and shed blocks to stop the run and has good enough athleticism to drop in coverage.

Defensive Lineman Harrison Phillips, Stanford Cardinal

LOS ANGELES, CA:  Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (66) drags down USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during a game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
LOS ANGELES, CA: Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (66) drags down USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during a game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Help up front isn’t commonly seen as a need for the Saints (thanks to the solid play of Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and Tyeler Davison), but that’s where Ryan McCrystal of Bleacher Report has them looking - even passing over bigger names like Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson and Boston College Eagles pass rusher Harold Landry. NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Dane Brugler described Phillips well earlier this month:

Harrison Phillips is a one-man wrecking crew. Alert, instinctive, athletic, powerful - it's no coincidence he makes as many plays as he does. The rare NT who leads his team in tackles (69).

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners

NORMAN, OK:  Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to throw against the West Virginia Mountaineers defense at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
NORMAN, OK: Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to throw against the West Virginia Mountaineers defense at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Not all of the recent projections are on the defensive side of the ball - which looks timely given this week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams was an awesome 74-yard scoring run from Alvin Kamara away from being a blowout. This pick comes from Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who acknowledges that while the Saints need upgrades at linebacker and receiver, Mayfield’s value is too high to pass up:

The Saints will eventually need a replacement for future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Mayfield shares many of the same traits that makes Brees so successful and Sean Payton’s system would be the ideal landing spot for the Heisman hopeful. Top needs: LB, CB, WR

Linebacker Jerome Baker, Ohio State Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, OH:  Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Jerome Baker (17) celebrates a turnover-on-downs after stopping Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) during a game at Ohio Stadium.
COLUMBUS, OH: Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Jerome Baker (17) celebrates a turnover-on-downs after stopping Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) during a game at Ohio Stadium.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

A four-round mock draft dropped last week, courtesy of Luke Easterling over at USA Today’s Draft Wire, and he likes the Saints to target another Ohio State Buckeyes star early:

One of the league’s worst defenses in 2016 is showing marked improvement this year, but they could still use a few key pieces from this draft class. An athletic linebacker who can cover and make plays from sideline to sideline like Baker would be a fantastic fit.

The Saints don’t have a second round pick, but Easterling has them addressing concerns on offense by way of Washington Huskies wideout/punt returner Dante Pettis in the third round, and Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round.

Tight End Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State Jackrabbits

FORT WORTH, TX:  South Dakota State Jackrabbits tight end Dallas Goedert (86) scores a touchdown over TCU Horned Frogs safety Niko Small (2) during a game at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
FORT WORTH, TX: South Dakota State Jackrabbits tight end Dallas Goedert (86) scores a touchdown over TCU Horned Frogs safety Niko Small (2) during a game at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, a tight end. I’ve defended Coby Fleener’s contract too often on here and around Saints fan communities. The Saints paid him an average salary for a starting-caliber tight end, but Fleener has performed at a below-average rate in New Orleans. Hopefully the Saints can figure out how to upgrade there, maybe through the small-school talent Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller selected:

It was rumored at the trade deadline that the New Orleans Saints were interested in tight end Jimmy Graham. That didn't happen, which means the Saints still have a need at the position. South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert might be flying under the radar now, but he's like a young Travis Kelce with his athleticism and ability to dominate defenses up the seam.