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The New Orleans Saints pre-free agency 7-Round Mock Draft

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The Saints add starters and depth all over defense. There’s a surprise selection at 44th: Exciting and explosive hometown hero to reshape the offense!

Louisiana Tech v Florida International Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Releasing my Mock Draft 1.0 has been something I've went back and forth on for a few weeks now. Knowing that it will inevitably change after Free Agency moves are made across the NFL, it had me thinking of just waiting a week to put it out. Ultimately though, I wanted to take a look pre-free agency then again post-free agency. That brings me here today. With the picks I make today, I will only be taking into account the current status of the Saints roster.

I won't go into what I think they'll do in free agency, or what needs they'll fill in free agency versus the draft. I'm simply going into this with an eye on the current roster and the team needs at this juncture. I will revisit this in two weeks, after a lot of dominoes have fallen into place.

In the upcoming NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints have six total selections. Those selections will be:

  • Round One: 11th pick, 11th overall
  • Round Two: 10th pick, 44th overall
  • Round Three: 12th pick, 74th overall
  • Round Four: 11th pick, 118th overall
  • Round Six: 12th pick, 196th overall
  • Round Seven: 11th pick, 231st overall

This can also be found in an article by my colleague here at CSC - John Sigler - that he released the day compensatory picks were announced. Sigler’s article is very informative about this year’s draft concerning the Saints. It can be found here: Saints draft order. Be sure to check out that piece along with the many more John provides each week.

Now, as we get into this mock draft, please take into account that this is the week of free agency, and so this mirrors what I feel Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton would do if they were drafting for the roster as it is right now.

Note: Brandin Cooks is still on the team at this time. While I fully understand there is a good possibility we will land starting caliber players in free agency, I'm not going to speculate on that right now and let it affect my Mock Draft 1.0. Now, let's get into the Mock draft.

Tennessee v Texas A&M Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Round 1: DE - Derek Barnett - Tennessee

Barnett is the most ready plug and play defensive end in the 2017 NFL Draft. After the most productive career a Tennessee defender has ever had, there was a ton of hype surrounding Barnett when he declared for this year’s draft. That hype has died down just a bit over the last few weeks, especially since he had an average combine (He was said to have the flu during combine week)

I've been a little bit higher on Taco Charlton personally during the draft process, but as far as a better overall fit, Barnett is the guy for New Orleans at No. 11. Barnett is more polished than Charlton, and does a great job of dropping in coverage. He already has pro-level moves and understands how to use his hands and leverage his power. You could make a case for Marshon Lattimore here, but as of today, Barnett is the Saints guy.

NCAA Football: C-USA Championship-Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2: WR - Carlos Henderson - Louisiana Tech

Henderson is a guy I have fell in love with recently. He’s a do it all type of receiver, but more than anything he is a true burner who can take the top off of a defense. If the Saints do happen to move on from Brandin Cooks, which looks very likely at this point, Henderson is a guy who could step right in and bring great production alongside Willie Snead and Michael Thomas. Henderson checked in at the combine at 5-foot-11 while weighing 199 pounds.

Henderson ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and really impressed scouts in most drills. A lot of scouts will tell you that most times that guys who were productive in college will find a way to be productive in the NFL. If that holds true for Henderson, he will be a surprise treat for some NFL team, especially the Saints. Henderson exploded in 2016 for 82 catches for 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns. That’s not all, as he also rushed the ball 14 times for 133 yards and two more scores. His average yardage per catch in college over a three-year span was 19.6 yards over 147 catches. Henderson would come in and make an immediate impact with the Saints offense having one of the most accurate passers in NFL history throwing the ball to him.

Vanderbilt v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Round 3: LB - Zach Cunningham - Vanderbilt

Cunningham is a top 3 inside linebacker for me in this draft. There are a lot of guys out there who have their concerns about him, but I love his production and I’m sticking with the theme of taking guys who had productive college careers in this mock draft. Cunningham seems to be a little undersized but I think that is something that can be fixed once he gets to the NFL level.

He is a fundamentally sound football player who is very smart and should have no trouble learning the playbook and running a defense. Cunningham is a leader on the field and a great role model off the field. From what I’ve heard, he has a great work ethic and is eager to help a team win at the next level. With the Saints needs at linebacker, he seems like the perfect pick at this juncture.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Round 4: CB - Jourdan Lewis - Michigan

Lewis is one of the most intriguing DB prospects in the draft for me. I think ultimately his size will end up dropping him a round or two which means he will be a great value pick in Round 4. For me, Lewis’ footwork is second to none. He's very fluid in his hips and with his footwork. He rarely gets beat and when he does, his recovery speed is great so he's able to make up for it a lot of the time.

Now, I’m not saying he doesn't get beat, or won't get beat in the NFL, because that is inevitable. Defensive back is the hardest position for a kid to come in and be successful at right away. There will be a steep learning curve for Lewis, especially battling the size disadvantage. On the flip side, I think he will adjust quite well and end up being a productive slot corner in the NFL. He has tremendous speed and footwork on top of positive ball skills.

His biggest disadvantage is obviously his size which leads to him losing at the point of the catch sometimes, but the plus side is that he's usually there to at least contest the catch. If he's at the point to be able to lose at the point of the catch, that most likely means he's doing everything else in the route right. There’s tremendous value with this pick in the 4th Round.

Lewis would fill a major need and add great depth to the Saints secondary. I get a lot of secondary advice and guidance from my friend and mentor, Matt Bowen. When I messaged him concerning Lewis, his reply was, “Would love to coach him (Lewis). Lewis is silky smooth. Have to look past size disadvantage — because he has natural footwork and coverage ability.”

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Round 6: OG - Nico Siragusa - San Diego State

Rounds 6 and 7 are where I start looking for good value picks that offer a potential high return. These guys are usually project type players who need some work, but with the right coaching could potentially turn into 16 game starters in the long run. In Round 6, the Saints finally address the offensive line. I considered going that route in Rounds 3 or 4, but if I'm being fair, all of the top-tier offensive linemen will be gone at that point.

Siragusa is a prototypical size for an NFL guard and has great upper body strength. He has a low center of gravity and decent movement in his hips for a man that stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds. Siragusa also utilizes his upper body strength very well, in my opinion. He could use a little work on his feet as well as better conditioning. He seems to get winded late in games and doesn't play with as much of a ‘mean streak’ as I would like to see.

As a sixth-round pick though, the Saints would be getting a guy who could come in and play in some sets for them as a rotational guard and potentially turn into a starter down the road. Siragusa at No. 196 would be a good value pick and offer a high potential return.

NCAA Football: UL Lafayette at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Round 7 - RB Elijah McGuire - Louisiana-Lafayette

I flipped this pick back and forth a few times. I originally wanted to go with defensive lineman D.J. Jones from Ole Miss, but I ultimately decided that the Saints have to address the lack of depth at the running back position at some point, whether it be free agency or in the draft.

Mark Ingram is one of the lone running backs under contract for the Saints going into free agency this week (Daniel Lasco, Marcus Murphy). I really like McGuire here in the 7th Round. He had a productive career with UL-Lafayette, granted he wasn't playing the greatest competition. I texted a friend of mine, who happens to be a CFL scout, to ask his opinion on McGuire and how he would fit in the Saints offense. His response was, “Athletic as hell. Can catch it out of the backfield and make people miss. Lacks vision and patience of a true RB right now, but he will learn that at the next level. Saints are a great fit for him. They'll find ways to get him in open space!”

McGuire will come in and add depth at RB while also helping out as kick returner and punt returner. He also has the size and speed to play on special teams and help contribute there as well. He should see the field in some sets as a RB and like the scout said, Sean Payton and the Saints will find ways to get him out into the open field.

Recap

In my initial mock draft, the Saints find starters on defense and add depth to key positions on the offense. I struggled going back and forth on a couple picks, knowing the team needs to add a safety at some point and add depth on the defensive line. Ultimately, the Saints get their starter across from Cam Jordan in Derek Barnett. They add a starting caliber cornerback (Jourdan Lewis) at a much cheaper rate than if they were to sign one via free agency.

They also add a linebacker who can come into camp and compete for the starting MLB job. Cunningham is as smart as they come and if he can find a way to bulk up 15-20 pounds, he will be a force in the middle of Dennis Allen’s defense. Cunningham is a vocal guy on the field and does very well at diagnosing plays, which is exactly what we need after the Stephone Anthony fiasco last year. In Carlos Henderson, the Saints add a playmaker who will contribute Day 1 for if and when they decide to deal Brandin Cooks.

Nico Siragusa and Elijah McGuire are more project and depth guys at this point, but with a little bit of patience and hard work from the Saints coaching staff, both guys have the potential upside to become everyday starters in the NFL. Siragusa is big and nasty guard who understands the playbook and is light on his feet, while Mcguire is a toy that I'm sure Sean Payton will help find a lot of success. McGuire just seems to have Sean Payton written all over him. He is the type of weapon Payton has been known to drool over and turn into every down threats in the NFL. Four years from now , I wouldn't be surprised if we are looking back saying McGuire was the steal of the draft after spending time with Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

Keep in mind, free agency is just around the corner and the Saints will be adding several pieces. I wouldn't be surprised to see them add a guard, cornerback, safety, and wide receiver in free agency. If that is indeed the route they choose, my Mock Draft 2.0 will change quite drastically next week. As always, thank you all very much for taking the time to read my columns. Please, leave a comment below letting me know what you think of my articles and in particular, my Mock Draft 1.0. If you feel like posting your Mock Draft in the comment below, please feel free to do so, and I will add in my opinions on yours.