Chances are still good that the Saints will eventually make a move to acquire Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler, but until that happens we should all operate under the assumption it won’t happen. My preference is to look at moves the team should make in order to improve in the short and the long-term.
Now, I will only be doing the first three rounds for two reasons: 1. That is where the highest concentration of predictable talent is, and 2. The picks further down in the draft are gambles and I don’t pretend to know the bottom-level talents well enough to predict them (a little honesty never hurts right?).
Round 1- Pick 11: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Derek Barnett is my top pick for the Saints to take at 11th for two main reasons. Firstly, I believe he is the safest pass rusher in this draft in the short-term, and secondly I think he is a near ideal complement to Cameron Jordan. Barnett has been accused of being a ‘minus’ athlete as an EDGE for the NFL level, and from a pure explosiveness standpoint the pundits are probably right. Barnett isn’t a player with elite burst up the field and he won’t tear up the combine like a Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney, but what he does tear up is his college tape.
It is just as important to focus on how a player wins as how often they win, and for me there are some traits that carry over from college more than others. A pure speed rusher who is out of control and lacks proper technique and footwork can tear up the combine all day, and I’ll still say pass in the first round. Barnett’s elite traits aren’t straight line speed or a nasty first step, but rather his violent hands and relentless motor. He also has tremendous flexibility and balance (‘bend’ if you will) for a man of his size.
Barnett can go through or around offensive tackles, and because he is a player who wins with power and technique over burst it’s easier to expect him to be able to produce in the same way at the pro-level. That isn’t to say you should expect him to match Reggie White numbers in the pros like he did in college, but expect him to win several snaps a game right off the bat. Also, his ability to apply pressure can cause quarterbacks to move up into the pocket and into the waiting arms of the Saints’ interior rush, which is suddenly potent with Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins.
Round 1- Pick 32: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida St.
There have been rumors that Dalvin Cook may drop into the second round, and considering that he had a good (but not spectacular) combine I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he’s available at 32. This pick can really be spent on Cook, Christian McCaffrey, or Alvin Kamara, all of whom I fully believe would be awesome in New Orleans, but the most likely scenario for the Saints is that Cook drops down to 32 and the Saints can steal him.
Dalvin Cook has an absolutely ideal skill-set to fill the long vacant ‘scat-back’ position in the Saints’ offense (sorry Travaris Cadet, you don’t count). Cook is fluid, explosive, decisive and strong enough to run both inside and outside of the tackles. That last trait is actually the one I like most about him. McCaffery is the best receiving back I’ve seen in a very long time, but while Cook isn’t quite as good out of the backfield he possesses enough strength to run between the tackles and take advantage of draw plays and force defenses to respect him.
The danger with drafting Cook; and its likely the biggest reason why he could fall this far; is that he’s had some issues with arrests and is also a fumbling machine. If the Saints have done their homework and believe his off the field issues are behind him, then Cook could be an awesome addition to the team...and if not you can discount these as the ravings of a mad blogger.
Round 2- Pick 42: Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Moreau is an AWESOME athlete at the cornerback position who has ideal size, length, strength, and athleticism. He’s also not Stanley Jean-Baptiste who has basically zero good college tape in his favor; Moreau can play. Moreau has a great profile as a prospect, but he’s not ready to be a starter right away. Some of that is due to the fact that almost universally cornerbacks struggle in their rookie seasons. Moreau will likely be no different, but he has the ability and the potential to be truly special.
Before the combine, there was a chance that he might have been available in the third round, but after leading his position group in the 40, vertical jump, broad jump, and 60-yard shuttle, Moreau has established himself as arguably the best athlete at the position. The Saints’ upgrades to the coaching staff over the last few years, particularly in the secondary, give me great hope for their ability to develop players in that position group. Moreau has an incredible ceiling. If and when the inevitable injuries happen, provided they happen later in the season, he has a chance to at least be OK as a rookie, and could be special in the future. The Saints need talent at the position, and he’s got talent to spare.
Round 3- Pick 76: Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
Two corners back-to-back? Two corners back-to-back. The deepest and most talented position in this draft is cornerback, and it’s also one of the two positions that the Saints desperately need to fill. Add to that the fact it’s arguably the hardest position to scout and hit on other than quarterback and you’ll understand why I’m making it a priority. With all of the effort centered around getting Malcolm Butler, clearly so are the Saints.
Sutton was awesome in the Senior Bowl from multiple reports, and CSC’s own Deuce Windham and John Sigler have consistently spoken highly of him. What I love most about Sutton is that he brings a great level of skill and intelligence to the game, and may just be position versatile. I’m not totally sure he can’t play safety for the Saints, which is clearly a need, and I’m positive he can the nickel cornerback position sooner rather than later.
Round 3- Pick 103: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
Some of you are going to immediately think of Garrett Grayson when you see this pick, and that’s OK because the logic that made the Saints pick Grayson is the same logic that makes this a great pick. The reality is that whether he plays for a few years or more, Drew Brees’ time in New Orleans is approaching its end (*wipes away a single tear*). The Saints must make it a priority to try and find the heir apparent sooner rather than later, and Peterman has the attributes of a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. He has PROVEN nothing yet, and that is what will eventually determine whether this would be a good pick or not, but he has what you look for.
Different people key in on different attributes and prioritize them differently. This is why some people love Cam Newton (his tendency to act like a mutant 5-year old aside), and others can’t stand him even purely as a football player. What I want to see most in a quarterback are touch, timing, footwork, and the ability to read and react to defenses. Peterman has demonstrated all of those tools in college at a high level. There is no guarantee that he will be the next great quarterback, but it gives him a MUCH better chance in my book than a guy like a Paxton Lynch has because he has a demonstrated ability to execute. For high value positions, a high floor is FAR more important than a high ceiling.