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Saints invest big on defense in NFL.com 4-round mock draft

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Three of four picks are spent on defenders in the latest NFL.com mock draft from draft analyst Chad Reuter.

CFP National Championship
TAMPA, FL - Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) tackles Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman (9) during the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mock draft season is in full swing ahead of the NFL Scouting combine, and NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter has made some popular picks in his latest four-round mock draft. You can scout out the full four rounds here, and I’ve highlighted his Saints picks below.

Alabama v Georgia
ATHENS, GA - Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert (11) is hurried during a pass attempt by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) at Sanford Stadium.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Round 1, 11th Pick. Linebacker Reuben Foster, Alabama.

I’m not sure Reuben Foster needs more introduction. Almost anyone who has watched him has fallen in love with him as a prospect and agrees that he can be the communication hub that the Saints defense sorely needs. Foster’s draft status is up in the air at this time due to rotator cuff surgery, and there are rumors that his stock could take a Reggie Ragland-like hit if his weight climbs back up to the 260-pound range he played at until last year. But I don’t see that happening, and if anything the surgery and overthinking by NFL decision-makers should ensure that Foster is available at the Saints’ pick.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Kansas State
MANHATTAN, KS - Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Jordan Willis (75) carries the American flag onto the field before the start of a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2, 42nd Pick. Defensive End Jordan Willis, Kansas State.

There probably is not a bigger roster need for the 2017 Saints than pass rusher. As bad as cornerback was, that position suffered from injuries more than lacking personnel in the first place. Once Hau’oli Kikaha went down in the summer, the Saints’ defensive ends were terribly exposed beyond Cameron Jordan. Saints head coach Sean Payton admitted as much in an interview with NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier:

It’s a must. We’ve got to find a pass rusher. Now, whether that comes from free agency or that comes from the draft, we have to be better at affecting the quarterback. Last year if you took hurries, sacks, pressures – a study of all three things that can happen with a rush – we were in the bottom third of the league and that has to get better.

Jordan Willis could very well be that guy. He was highly productive in college, collecting 39.5 tackles for loss, 25.5 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles in 38 career games. Willis is an explosive pass rusher with great burst off the snap and some bend in his lower body, but he needs to refine that energy and focus it better into the pocket. Too often his opposing blockers let Willis run himself out of the play by not angling his charge upfield correctly.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, TN - Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Cameron Sutton (23) hypes up the crowd during the second half against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Neyland Stadium.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3, 76th Pick. Defensive Back Cameron Sutton, Tennessee.

Cameron Sutton is another Senior Bowl attendee that we have discussed before at Canal Street Chronicles, and even got a brief interview with. The versatile defensive back lined up all over the back end in college, covering the boundary and slot while moonlighting at safety and as a fifth blitzer on delays. He’s a great fit for Dennis Allen’s defense and the Saints would have to be happy with picking him this late in the draft. Sutton also had some success fielding punts and could give the Saints’ special teams the jolt it needs to be more competitive.

Tennessee State v Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, TN - Tennessee State Tigers left tackle Jessamen Dunker (66) helps keep quarterback Jonathan Wynn (10) clean in the pocket against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Round 4, 113th Pick. Guard/Tackle Jessamen Dunker, Tennessee State.

I’ll be honest, it took me a minute to remember where I’d seen Jessamen Dunker before. Then it hit me - he was one of the offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. Referring back to my notes, I saw that Dunker was a physically gifted but wild player (Senior Bowl weigh-ins deemed him 6-foot-4, 306-pounds with 33 1/4-inch arms). He won his share of battles against the talented group of Senior Bowl edge rushers, but too often lost control of himself and got off-balance. Here’s what DraftAnalyst.com‘s Tony Pauline noted of Dunker back in November:

Small School Prospect- Jessamen Dunker/G/Tennessee State: On film Dunker is one of the better zone blocking guards you’ll find from the senior class. Fundamentally sound, he’s a tremendous pass protector and easily moves around the field then annihilates opponents blocking in motion. Though some scouts grade him as a tackle, the position he played for two seasons at TSU, I feel he’s best inside at guard. Dunker’s play grades as a legitimate mid-round prospect but numerous character concerns and off the field issues will raise red flags. He’ll likely end up as a late round choice but if he gets his act together Dunker could line-up with the starting unit on Sunday’s.

The off-field incident Pauline is referring to is Dunker’s theft of a motor scooter in his freshman year at Florida, the blowback from which caused him to transfer to Tennessee State. No other problems have come public since then, but Pauline is better-connected than almost anyone else in the draft community. It’ll be interesting to see how the Saints approach prospects with histories like Dunker.