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Saints grab best available cornerback, sleeper quarterback in pre-combine mock draft 5.0

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The New Orleans Saints mix big-time draft prospects from powerhouse programs with small-school studs in this latest 7-round mock draft.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Oklahoma
NORMAN, OK - Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) dives for an interception while in coverage of Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver A.D. Miller (13) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As always, I’m building this mock draft with the assumption under the assumption that the New Orleans Saints will address their highest-priority roster “must-adds” (pass rusher and cornerback) through free agency. The Saints should also pursue less-important but still vulnerable “needs” (guard and middle linebacker), leaving their draft strategy open to target “wants” (tailback, tight end, kick returner).

They could also double down on positions filled by free agents. Either way, I don’t anticipate the Saints going into the draft needing to focus on a specific position. Their $30-million in cap space and high number of players rostered for 2017 gives the Saints a lot of flexibility when adding personnel this spring.

This week’s NFL Scouting Combine and the athletic testing that comes with it should help finalize draft boards around the NFL scouting community. As always, a flurry of rumors and last-minute negotiations will give us a glimpse towards next week’s opening of free agency. And remember: a large part of the process in these mock drafts is not to built the perfect-world draft class. I’m trying to introduce readers to draft prospects and possible scenarios that may not otherwise be considered.

First Round, 11th Pick (11th Overall). CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State.

GLENDALE, AZ - Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) tackles Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and tries to strip the football in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
GLENDALE, AZ - Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) tackles Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and tries to strip the football in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Marshon Lattimore (6-foot-0, 195-pounds, 20-years old) is the best cornerback in this class, and the Saints are in great position to pick him. Lattimore combines patient instincts in coverage with rare ball skills to have one of the best pro-level projections in the draft. Lattimore was Ohio State’s top cover corner and routinely drew the toughest assignments. He’s also an active run defender who can start immediately on the boundary and give you some confidence in his ability to positively influence all three phases of the game. It’s been said that the first cornerback drafted this year will be the worst value, but guys like Lattimore tend to hit the ground running and play for 10+ years.

Previous picks:

  • DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  • CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
  • DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
  • DE Charles Harris, Missouri

Second Round, 10th Pick (42nd Overall). DE Tyus Bowser, Houston.

ATLANTA, GA - Florida State Seminoles quarterback J.J. Cosentino (16) is pressured by Houston Cougars pass rusher Tyus Bowser (81) during the Chick-fil-A peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA, GA - Florida State Seminoles quarterback J.J. Cosentino (16) is pressured by Houston Cougars pass rusher Tyus Bowser (81) during the Chick-fil-A peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Like Hau’oli Kikaha before him, Tyus Bowser (6-foot-3, 244-pounds, 21-years old) is a defensive end in name only. Bowser should emerge as one of the better athletes in this draft class during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine, and that athletic ability was on display throughout his career for the Houston Cougars. Bowser has good burst and bend around the corner when sent after the passer, but his instincts in coverage are not to be underestimated. Bowser spent more reps in coverage than any other edge defender in this draft, and has some sweet interceptions to show for it. He’s a complete defender, holding up on the edge against run-blocking linemen, and would dramatically upgrade the Saints’ play speed on defense.

Previous picks:

  • RB Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
  • CB Desmond King, Iowa
  • OL Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
  • RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

Third Round, 12th Pick (76th Overall). G/T Dion Dawkins, Temple.

MOBILE, AL - North Team head coach John Fox of the Chicago Bears coaches up Temple offensive lineman Dion Dawkins (66) during Senior Bowl practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
MOBILE, AL - North Team head coach John Fox of the Chicago Bears coaches up Temple offensive lineman Dion Dawkins (66) during Senior Bowl practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Dawkins (6-foot-4, 317-pounds, 22-years old) plays angry. You can watch the guard get out there and look for work, surveying the field and identifying defenders whose day he wants to ruin. Dawkins has started more than 40 games for the Temple Owls since lettering as a freshman, and as the team’s best lineman moved wherever he was needed. That means he has starting experience at tackle and guard on both the left and right sides. Dawkins’ aggressive style of play can get him into trouble at times by overextending his reach and getting himself off-balance, but coaching can rein in his mauling instincts and focus them towards hurting opponents.

Previous picks:

  • OL Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
  • LB Anthony Walker Jr, Northwestern
  • CB Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
  • OL Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Fourth Round, 11th Pick (118th Overall). DT Tanzel Smart, Tulane.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - Tulane Green Wave defensive lineman Tanzel Smart (77) cools off before a game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats at Yulman Stadium.
NEW ORLEANS, LA - Tulane Green Wave defensive lineman Tanzel Smart (77) cools off before a game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats at Yulman Stadium.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Tanzel Smart (6-foot-1, 296-pounds, 22-years old) was a Baton Rouge native shunned by LSU’s recruiting staff for his lack of stature. That turned into the Tulane Green Wave’s gain as Smart proved to be a disruptive and, well, smart asset. He is a very alert interior lineman who is quick to pick up on play designs, reacting rapidly to pulling guards on screens and keeping his head up to track the ball-carrier. Smart fires off the snap and has the lower body strength to pair with his low center of gravity to give interior defenders fits. Smart played a role very similar to Nick Fairley in college, lining up primarily as a three-technique defensive tackle or one-technique nose guard. If Fairley walks away in free agency, Smart could help fill in and make the Saints’ interior rotation along with Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and David Onyemata one of the NFL’s more formidable (and youngest) units.

Previous picks:

  • DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
  • DE Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh
  • QB Brad Kaaya, Miami
  • CB Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado

Sixth Round, 12th Pick (196th Overall). QB Alek Torgersen, Penn.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - East Team head coach Brentson Buckner of the Arizona Cardinals discusses the game plan with quarterback Alek Torgersen (15) during the first quarter of the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - East Team head coach Brentson Buckner of the Arizona Cardinals discusses the game plan with quarterback Alek Torgersen (15) during the first quarter of the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alek Torgersen (6-foot-2, 215-pounds, 22-years old) narrowly passes the average size threshold for quarterbacks, but his on-field performance is what has gotten NFL scouts chattering. Torgersen’s strong arm and quick release is building steam among the scouting community in much the same way Wesley College quarterback Joe Callahan was pumped up last year. Callahan spent time with the Saints and Cleveland Browns between stints on the Green Bay Packers, but Torgersen may be better-viewed than Callahan thanks to a slightly-higher profile program and strong week of Shrine Game practices. Torgersen was snubbed of a Scouting Combine invitation, but his pro day should draw plenty of attention. He has the traits to at least land on a practice squad, if not challenge for a developmental role on the roster.

Previous picks:

  • TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
  • RB Justin Davis, USC
  • OL Danny Isidora, Miami
  • LB Ukeme Eligwe, Georgia Southern

Seventh Round, 11th Pick (229th Overall). TE George Kittle, Iowa.

IOWA CITY, IA - Iowa Hawkeyes tight end George Kittle (46) stretches out for a one-handed reception against the Maryland Terrapins defensive secondary at Kinnick Stadium.
IOWA CITY, IA - Iowa Hawkeyes tight end George Kittle (46) stretches out for a one-handed reception against the Maryland Terrapins defensive secondary at Kinnick Stadium.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

George Kittle (6-foot-4, 250-pounds, 23-years old) has been a vital part of the Iowa Hawkeyes offense, appearing in 49 games as a clutch receiver and dominant inline blocker. Kittle lacks the ideal height of a pro tight end, but his natural instincts for manipulating leverage makes him a fierce blocker out on the edge. He looks compact but has more juice when running in the open field than you would expect. Kittle is a confident receiver despite a low volume of targets, and has dropped just one pass. He was also a leading contributor on special teams. Were he two inches taller and playing in a more pass-happy offense, Kittle would be talked about in the same breath as prospects like Jake Butt, David Njoku, and O.J. Howard.

Previous picks:

  • LB Matt Milano, Boston College
  • DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami
  • TE Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State
  • QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss