The New Orleans Saints will be playing the most important regular-season home game in my lifetime this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, so I put together a quick roundup of this week’s mock drafts to take my mind off that quickly-approaching drama.
I don’t think many of us need convincing that linebacker is the Saints’ biggest area of need, especially in light of starting middle linebacker A.J. Klein’s season-ending surgery. Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson, each envisioned as backups/spot starters when added in free agency, are now thrust into playing 70 or more snaps per game. They’ve each had good moments but are just terribly slow-footed for today’s NFL.
Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson is a popular connection with the Saints, who are expected to pick near the end of the first round. He was also a hot pick last week, and honestly I hoped for more variety in this update. Oh well, he’s awesome:
What concerns me is Jefferson is often perceived as a prospect eerily-similar to Stephone Anthony when he came out of school. They’re both rare athletes with inconsistent football instincts, but Jefferson has made strides to pick up nuances over time that Anthony hasn’t shown. Hopefully his pro prospects turn out better.
This pick comes from Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, who likes how Jefferson developed despite a rocky coaching situation during his college career and projects well to further growth as a pro:
If there's one position in which the Saints clearly need an upgrade on defense it's the linebacker spot. Jefferson is athletic and matured into being a force against the run during his tenure at Texas.
These thoughts on Jefferson are echoed by SB Nation’s own Dan Kadar, who published his latest first round mock draft this week:
The Saints could go into the offseason needing another linebacker even though they've brought in several players at the position. Jefferson is a player who can work on all three rounds thanks to his athleticism and football smarts.
Another mock draft from Luke Easterling of USA Today’s Draft Wire leads off with Jefferson:
The Saints have been much improved on defense this season, but they still desperately need more athleticism at the second level. Jefferson still needs plenty of polish, but he’s got rare range and explosiveness for his size, with limitless upside.
Unlike most draft analysts, Easterling prefers a larger projection with four rounds of picks. So he’s also linked the Saints to Wake Forest Demon Deacons pass rusher Duke Ejiofor and Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock. Ejiofor plays with great length and tenacity, showing good understanding of when and how to limit contact with blockers. Lock exploded this year with 43 touchdown passes, but his accuracy can be erratic. He should probably stay in school, but Mike Goodpaster of The Grueling Truth is a fan in his own mock draft.
So what do you think? Is Jefferson the linebacker who best fits the Saints, or should they look elsewhere?