NFL Free Agency is almost three weeks away, and things are only going to heat up across the league from now until March 9. The New Orleans Saints will obviously have a ton of questions that need to be answered, and hopefully they’ll be big players when free agency starts.
It’s almost been a month since my last mock draft, and a lot has happened since. For starters, there’s been a lot of prospect shifting after the East-West Shrine Game, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and Senior Bowl. Couple that with tons of analysts hitting the film room hard, and you have mocks out there to keep you occupied for days. Whether you know or not, it’s a total crapshoot picking these. However, it’s time to dive in to the ‘still early’ edition.
Disclaimer: Free agency hasn’t happened. There’s so many variables that can present themselves over the next month that can alter the plans for the Saints. The mock is geared around present-day needs, wants, and desires with some assumptions.
Round One - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Previous Selection: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
There’s going to be skepticism on taking Foster by some teams due to the fact the Alabama defender is having surgery for a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. While that figures to be a common theme for Crimson Tide players, it certainly doesn’t mean teams should ignore what Foster brings to the table. If it were an injury to the lower part of his body, then there’d be a lot more reason for concern.
Quite simply put, he’s the premiere linebacker in the draft. Yes, it will be unfortunate that he won’t be in the mix until likely July for whatever club that takes him. However, he’s worth waiting for and not letting slip into the later part of the first round or go to the second. Foster virtually crosses every ‘t’ and dots every ‘i’ when looking at his film and play. Drafting him would place him as a Will linebacker alongside Craig Robertson.
He brings pro-ready speed, tackling, and coverage, which are three elements the Saints desperately need out of their linebacking corps in 2017. Foster is a true three-down starter in the NFL, and he’d be a huge pickup for Dennis Allen’s defense.
Round Two - Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
Previous Selection: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Naturally, I flip-flopped the edge and linebacker from my last mock. I firmly believe these are the two most important positions the Saints need to address. Staying close to the SEC isn’t a bad thing, and Carl Lawson may not be the sexiest pick for an edge defender, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a strong pick to help the front line. 2016 was a strong campaign for the Auburn product, turning in 9.5 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss in 12 games.
Lawson has flirted with being a borderline first-round pick, but injuries have caused him to realistically be a Day 2 pick. Like any edge defender, he’s isn’t perfect. However, he has shown a good jump off the snap coupled with finesse technique, instincts, and power to get to the quarterback. He could be a difference maker opposite of Cameron Jordan.
Round Three - Kevin King, CB, Washington
Previous Selection: Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU
King has been a popular third-round selection paired to the Saints, and that’s not a bad thing. For starters, team scouts saw plenty of Washington in 2016. He’s a three-year starter who’s tallied six interceptions and 164 tackles (9.5 for loss) over four years for the Huskies. The most impressive stat for King is that he finished with 13 out of his 22 career passes defended in his final season. He has the height to compete with the taller receivers at 6-foot-3, and he clearly has the vertical leap to go with it. He has plenty of versatility to bring to the table, which is also intriguing.
Round Four - Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State
Previous Selection: Marquez White, CB, Florida State
I’m still under the belief that Sean Payton will take a running back at some point in this draft. The futures of Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet are in question, and will obviously need to be replaced if lost. The 5-foot-9, 212-pound back was originally a higher target of mine, but recent news of impending shoulder surgery after the NFL Combine obviously could cause him to fall. Still, the tape for McNichols is fun to watch. He’s very much a Payton back in the sense that he does anything and everything for an offense. McNichols can make defenders miss with his ability to cut on a dime, and can be effective in both the run and pass game.
Round Six - Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech
Previous Selection: Eric Saubert, TE, Drake
When I think about Taylor, the perfect blue collar worker comes to mind. The Senior Bowl absolutely helped his draft stock, as he shined during practice but not necessarily in the game itself. Still, Taylor’s production at LA Tech in his senior season can’t be ignored after turning in a whopping 1,803 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 136 receptions. The biggest knock is his size, but Taylor could make his mark on special teams and in the slot. He has the grit and toughness to compete, and reminds me a lot of Jake Lampman.
Round Seven - Tashawn Bower, EDGE, LSU
Previous Selection: Jordan Morgan, OL, Kutztown
Get your LSU player being drafted by the Saints joke ready. Bower would be someone I’d love to get in as an insurance policy. The team has tried the route of veterans and younger rotational players like Kasim Edbali, but it hasn’t worked out. Bower has some nasty skills as a pass rusher, but he hasn’t had as much experience after playing just 22 total games in four seasons with the Tigers. He’ll get a chance to showcase more after a combine invite, and could be a very intriguing late-round add for the black and gold.