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