2017 New Orleans Saints Free Agency recap:
Defensive Tackle, Nick Fairley 4-year, $30 million
Inside Linebacker, A.J. Klein 3-year, $15 million
Wide Receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. 3-year, $11 million
Edge Rusher, Alex Okafor 1-year, $3 million
Offensive Guard, Larry Warford 4-year, $34 million
Cornerback, Malcolm Butler (Not signed yet)
So far the New Orleans Saints have done a great job in free agency addressing the defense. They have been able to retain defensive tackle Nick Fairley as well as acquire inside linebacker A.J. Klein and outside linebacker / edge rusher Alex Okafor. The Saints are also making a push to sign star cornerback Malcolm Butler and for the purposes of this mock I am going to assume the deal gets done without giving up a 2017 draft pick.
With most of the defensive needs already met in free agency the Saints have some flexibility in the draft and could take a more balanced approach than most are expecting.
In the 2016 NFL Draft the Saints took a pair of Ohio State Buckeye’s and this year they are hitting up the Tennessee Volunteers to do the same thing.
Round 1, Pick 11: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett is a well rounded defensive end. The knocks against him have been for his lack of athleticism and use of snap anticipation. I bought into that myself until I studied his game tape.
I don’t see anticipation being the factor many think it is. Comparing Barnett’s first step to the snap he appears to be reacting rather than anticipating. I decided to contact Coach Voch Lombardi, someone who has more experience evaluating players. Lombardi gave a brief analysis on Barnett “anticipation isn’t the best but he does fire off of the football to make up for it.”
Barnett’s combine was also pretty impressive for someone who was reportedly sick and also been criticized for their lack of athleticism.
Tennessee DE Derek Barnett isn't 100% but he is going to work out today, per @RosenhausSports, who called his client "tough guy."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 5, 2017
I compared Barnett’s combine to Taco Charlton who is also a popular Saints pick among fans. Statistically he performed well in comparison to Charlton in the 40-yard dash (4.88 seconds vs 4.92 seconds) and the 3-Cone drill (6.96 seconds vs 7.17 seconds).
Barnett’s 3-Cone drill ranked 5th among all defensive lineman. The 3-Cone drill is designed to evaluate a players agility, quickness and fluidity. It is an important drill as it pertains to a defensive end. Rather than show their straight line speed, it shows their ability to change direction and their flexibility/ability to turn the corner at high speeds (hence Barnett’s ability to bend the edge).
Barnett didn’t only put up impressive sack totals but his tackles for loss (52), run defense and ability to drop into coverage are equally impressive.
Round 1, Pick 32: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
In an interview several weeks ago Coach Sean Payton mentioned his interest in the running back class this year and now the Saints appear to be meeting with Kamara.
Saints are expected to meet with Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara next week, source says.— Sean Fazende (@SeanFazende) March 16, 2017
I recently wrote an article New Orleans Saints Keys to Success covering the Saints performance since 2006 and it shows how important the run game is to this teams success.
Kamara is built well at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds. He is a dual threat running back who is valuable in the screen game or the slot. His best game in 2016 came against Texas A&M where he had 18 carries for 127-yards and 2-touchdowns to go with 8-receptions for 161-yards and one touchdown.
Kamara also played against Alabama’s top ranked defense. In that game he had a disappointing 8 carries for 21 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown but just for a quick comparison Leonard Fournette didn’t do any better. In 2016 vs Alabama Fournette had 17 carries for 35 yards (2.1 yards per carry) and in 2015 he had 19 carries for 31 yards (1.6 yards per carry).
In 2015 Pro Football Focus listed Kamara as the 6th toughest running back to tackle. Kamara has an impressive ability to evade would be tacklers. Pro Football Focus also has Kamara tied with Florida States Dalvin Cook as the most elusive running backs in the 2017 draft class.
His elusive rating ranks would have ranked third ahead of Fournette and Freeman, if he’d had enough rushes to qualify, after breaking 28 tackles as a runner and 13 more as a receiver. He was the second-most efficient receiving threat from the running back position, trailing only McCaffrey
Kamara displays great balance and is a high twitch athlete who can slash through running lanes. Unfortunately people will question his abilities since he was never a feature running back in Tennessee but he did make the most of his opportunities. In 2016 he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception. So what does everyone else have to say about him?
Spirited runner with NFL size and speed. Will open creases by varying pace of his runs. Burst to top speed is available at flip of a switch. Creates yardage with speed, wiggle and power. Twitchy and decisive. Strong lower body provides superior balance. Flexible and agile with ability to twist, spin and ricochet off of bodies and continue to gain yards after contact.
When Kamara was given the ball though, he was nothing short of electric. He excels at making defenders miss, both in the open field and in tight spaces. He sets up downfield blocks and sees downfield cutback lanes, and shows the ability to actually make those cuts athletically. He had to deal with a poor offensive line to make the most out of what he had, and was still very productive as a runner. As a receiver, Kamara is excellent after the catch and still stands out in a strong class of receiving running backs.
Kamara is a lot like Jamaal Charles as a runner in that both are fast slashers who are built well with some power. Additionally, Kamara is a phenomenal receiver with great hands and route-running to also be used as a slot receiver.
Round 2, Pick 42: Desmond King, S, Iowa
King is possibly the most polished and instinctive defensive back of the entire draft. Although King played cornerback in college his lack of ideal size and recovery speed is why analyst say he will likely transition to Safety at the next level. The Saints thought they were getting a ball hawking Safety when they signed Jairus Byrd. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. King possess all of the skills needed to be that guy and it doesn’t hurt that he is leaving the Hawkeye’s with 14-interceptions and 25-passes defended.
King participated in the NFL Combine but did not run the 40-yard dash. While there are questions around Kings top end speed he did display his quickness at the combine. King was a top performer in the 3-Cone (6.67 seconds), 20-yard Shuttle (4.8 seconds) and 60-yard Shuttle (11.57 seconds). We will be keeping an eye out for Iowa’s Pro Day.
Focused quarterback reader who overlaps into other coverage areas to go make a play on the ball. Pattern reader with anticipation to keep him ahead of the route. Creates unique angles to throws, allowing for top-ball production. Obsessed with getting the ball; nabbed 14 interceptions in college and 29 in high school. Has ball-tracking, hands and high-point talent of a wideout.
King is also extremely durable which, given the health of the Saints secondary, would be a very welcomed attribute in New Orleans. During King’s four years at Iowa he played 94 percent of the defensive snaps.
King’s combine results, and size, are almost a mirror image of Byrd’s Pro Day results. King has also been compared to Byrd from his days in Buffalo and Fun Fact, the Bills also selected Byrd in Round 2, 42nd overall.
Round 3, Pick 76: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State
Godwin is a 6-foot-1, 209-pound receiver who runs a 4.42 second 40-yard dash. He not only addresses the speed the Saints need but he is a much better all around, and much younger, receiver than the recently signed Ted Ginn Jr. Godwin was clutch throughout his college career showing up big in big moments.
He saved the best performances in his career for bowl games, first as a freshman (7-140, TD vs. Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl), then in 2015 (6-133 vs. Georgia in TaxSlayer.com Bowl) and finally in his last college game (9-187, 2 TDs vs. USC in the Rose Bowl).
In the Rose Bowl Godwin was sometimes covered by cornerback Adoree Jackson but the USC secondary couldn’t stop him. He wasn’t just able to create separation on many of his routes but even in tight coverage he made contested catches and one handed grabs.
Godwin shows great awareness on the field. He always knows where the first down marker is and does a great job keeping his feet in bounds near the sidelines. He is a physical receiver who does not shy away from contact and has the ability to make defenders miss (YAC). Godwin also does a great job utilizing his big frame to high point the ball and he is particularly good at doing it.
thanks to the aggressiveness shown to push the ball down the field. That role is where Chris Godwin is at his absolute best: Godwin’s deep tracking skills and high-point ability are excellent. Godwin does well to flash his hands late to the ball and not give defensive backs a high level of reaction time to attempt to play through his hands. Furthermore, Godwin’s leaping ability and high-point skill allow him to levitate and pluck the ball right off the helmet of defensive backs.
he found great success in back shoulder and fade situations to gain yardage even when he wasn’t fully open.
FYI one of Brees favorite throws is the back shoulder fade.
Round 3, Pick 103: Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
Witherspoon garnered some attention at the combine when, at 6-foot-3, he ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash. The first thing that jumps out at you about Witherspoon is his size. His height, weight and reach is almost identical to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. He has very fluid and smooth hips with quick feet which he displayed during combine drills.
Patspulpit writer Ryan Keiran recently made a great observation about Witherspoon.
John Ross—who now holds the title of fastest man in combine history—had one of the worst statistical performances of his season when he was matched up with Witherspoon.
On the season Ross averaged 5-receptions and 82 yards-per-game. When matched up against Witherspoon Ross had 4-receptions for 51-yards, well below his season average. If one game against the fastest receiver in football isn’t enough to convince you then how about this stat from Pro Football Focus:
He was targeted 88 times this past season, but allowed just 28 receptions (31.8 percent), the best mark in the nation for someone targeted that much.
Witherspoon has a very low interception rate but he sticks to his man allowing very little separation and utilizes his 33-inch arms to breakup passes. College Football Statistics credits him with 21 pass break ups during 2016. Witherspoon could look to improve his ball skills and catch ability but his coverage is solid.
Witherspoon has a tall, lanky frame and could stand to add some weight. It could also help in his tackling which does need some work.
Round 6, Pick 196: Matt Milano, OLB, Boston College
Millano is on the smaller side for an NFL linebacker but he is an extremely aggressive, tough and high energy player. Milano is also a key contributor on special teams and is known for delivering crushing blows. Through 2015-2016 Milano totaled 117 Tackles, 29.5 Tackles for Loss, 13 Sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 5 Passes Defended, 3 Forced Fumbles and 1 Fumble Recovery.
Milano is a former Safety and has shown his ability to cover and defend against the pass. He has the speed, athleticism and motor to make tackles all over the field. The only thing really limiting Milano is his size and it becomes very noticeable when he is engaged by blockers in the run game. The Saints desperately need to improve their Special Teams coverage from 2016 and Milano could be a key component for that group.
Special teams demon with three blocked punts and 24 coverage tackles.
I love watching him on tape. You just know he wishes he were bigger so he could hit even harder. He's not as good as (Brian) Cushing, but that's the same kind of mentality he plays with.
Round 7, Pick 229: Isaac Asiata, G, Utah
Asiata at 6-foot-3 and 323 pounds he has the size to hold his own along the offensive front. He also showed great strength at the NFL Combine when he put up 35 reps in the Bench Press. Asiata is a very strong and aggressive lineman who shows the ability to bully a defensive front. Sometimes his aggression can become an issue when he allows himself to get out of position but teaching him some patience is something that shouldn’t be too tough for an NFL coach.
Asiata’s ability to completely mull defenders is impressive and according to NFL Networks Daniel Jeremiah he does it often.
Utah LG Isaac Asiata (54) piles up a lot of these knockdowns on tape. pic.twitter.com/TyxxZ4Vg2Y— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 16, 2017
The Saints did address the offensive line in free agency but you can never have enough quality linemen protecting your franchise quarterback.