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New Orleans Saints pre-free agency frenzy Mock Draft 1.0

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With six picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, will the Saints be able to address all of their needs?

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NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Alright Saints fans. Today is March 9th, and it’s the first day of free agency. The NFL Combine wrapped up just a few days ago, and the 2017 NFL Draft is approaching. This is the most exciting part of the offseason, and most fans are anxious to see what free agents their teams will sign. It’s also fun and helps to pass the time to read the countless mock drafts between now and draft day.

I’m not going to speculate on the potential Brandin Cooks trade here. It hasn’t happened, yet, so I will leave the roster as is. We know Jairus Byrd is gone, and we know the Saints lack an edge rusher opposite of Cam Jordan as well as some pretty glaring issues at cornerback. I will, however, speculate that with the top defensive end options no longer in play, the Saints will address cornerback and offensive line in free agency.

Mock drafts usually get a lot of fan interaction, and it is impossible to please everyone. So with that in mind, get your pitch forks ready, and let’s kick this thing off!

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Thomas has been my favorite defensive end prospect for months now. He’s been a constant riser on draft boards, and just had one heck of a combine performance. It is very possible he will be long gone before the Saints are on the clock. If they get lucky enough that Thomas is still available at No. 11, it would be foolish to pass him up, especially if we have to play against him.

There has been debate about where Thomas will play, and some say he doesn’t have a true position in the NFL. He has also been critiqued on his size and lack of length. My opinion: Get out of here with that garbage! No one has raised these concerns with Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, so let’s compare their size. Barnett stands 6-foot-3, 259-pounds with 32 1/8-inch arms. Thomas stands 6-foot-3, 277-pounds with 33-inch arms. So, Thomas is a “tweener”? I don’t think so.

Now, even at 277-pounds, heavier than most defensive ends in the draft, Thomas was one of the top combine performers at his position. His 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds) was good for sixth among all defensive ends. He put up 30 reps on bench press, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 126-inch broad jump, 6.95 second 3-cone, and 4.28 second 20-yard shuttle. He was near the top in every single category. Don’t just look at the combine stats - go and watch his game tape - watch his highlights. He is an absolute nightmare for quarterbacks. He plays with rare violence and intensity and doesn’t quit until the whistle blows.

According to NFL.com:

Explosive defender who combines strength, quickness, and a muscle-car motor to drive him around the field making play after play. Has the hands and feet to be a quick-win specialist and the size to fit as a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive end who can reduce inside for pass-rush downs.

NCAA Football: Houston at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2: Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston

I didn’t pay much attention to Bowser until just a few weeks ago. Since then, the more I watch his tape, and especially after his combine workout I am loving this guy. Linebacker is a position Dennis Allen’s defense must solve for. The Saints need to address the position both at inside and outside, but inside linebackers are really lacking in this draft past the first round.

Current Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has provided very good play, but unfortunately has missed about as many games as he has played in since arriving in New Orleans. The Saints defense is better with him on the field, and when he is absent they suffer for it. They need to find someone who can stay on the field and who can not only rush the passer like Ellerbe, but also hold their own in coverage. Bowser is that guy.

He had an impressive college career, but an even more impressive senior season. Due to a fractured orbital, Bowser was only to play in eight games his senior season, but still racked up 47 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, and 1 forced fumble. He was a top performer in the combine, and ranked no worse than 9th on any drill. Here is a rundown of his combine stats and rankings:

40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds (5th), Bench Press: 21 reps (9th), Vertical Jump: 37.5-inches (1st), Broad Jump: 127-inches (3rd) and 3-Cone: 6.75 seconds (1st).

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3: Marcus Maye, S, Florida

Unfortunately, Maye did not participate in the combine drills but he has plenty of game tape to watch. The one big knock against Maye is that he is credited with allowing 10 touchdowns during his four years at Florida (still only an average of 2.5 per season). Outside of that, he has been one heck of a Safety.

According to NFL.com:

Really instinctive with above-average field vision and feel for the game. Plays with good pattern recognition from both man and zone. Credited with a pass breakup or interception on more than 21 percent of his targets as a starter. Has speed to burst from sideline to sideline. Rangy tackler with in-play endurance for extended chases across field. Welcomes physical aspects of position.

Maye played in 40 games during his time at Florida. He totaled 205 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 5 interceptions, 16 passes defended, 6 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He has been ranked as one of the best safeties in the country the past two seasons, but was ranked as high as 2nd in 2015 according to PFF.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Round 4: Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado

I’ve been high on Witherspoon since I first heard of him a month ago, and for good reason. Now, after his combine performance, he may have risen above the 4th Round. But if he is there, he could be the steal of the draft. At 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, he is nearly a mirror image of Richard Sherman in his 2011 combine. Actually, if we want to nitpick, Witherspoon measures a little better than Sherman. He has a 1-inch reach advantage, is three pounds heavier and has slightly bigger hands.

Witherspoon also dominated Sherman’s combine performance, but shhh don’t let the scouts know. Witherspoon was a combine stud. At his size, he ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash, had a 40.5-inch vertical, 127-inch broad jump, 6.93 second 3-cone, 4.13 second 20-yard shuttle, and 11.60 second 60-yard shuttle. As impressive as all of these numbers are, what is even more impressive was his on field performance for the Huskies.

According to Pro Football Focus:

Witherspoon is an impressive athlete and has the size and length (with 33-inch arms) that NFL teams covet. 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.

In 2016 he totaled 23 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception and 21 pass breakups. How many corners get their hands on the ball 21 times or more in a season?

UNLV v San Diego State Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Round 6: Nico Siragusa, OL, San Diego State

I’m going to steal a pick from Adam Williamson and his recent 7-Round Mock Draft. Siragusa is someone I mocked to the Saints a few times in the past, but I had him projected in the 4th Round. He seems to have slid a bit on draft boards and it’s possible he could be available in the 6th Round. He did have a pretty good combine, and that might move him back in the early-mid rounds of the draft.

Siragusa had a pretty average 40-yard dash time but rest of his combine was impressive. He was 5th in the bench press with 28 reps, 1st in the vertical at 32-inches, 5th in the broad jump at 110-inches, 12th in 3-cone at 7.71 seconds and 3rd in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.56 seconds. He has the size and athleticism that NFL teams look for in offensive linemen.

Per Williamson’s article:

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.

North Carolina A&T v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Round 7: Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T

I’ve advocated for Tarik Cohen for some time now and I’m not changing my mind. He’s a little guy standing at just 5-foot-6, but he can turn nothing into something and is electric with the ball in his hands. In a past interview, coach Sean Payton expressed interest in this years group of running backs. The Saints currently have Mark Ingram under contract, and he will be the starting running back in 2017. The team also has Daniel Lasco and Marcus Murphy coming back, but their role in Payton’s offense is uncertain.

Retaining Tim Hightower could also be a good move since he has been very productive as a backup to Ingram and should maintain a cap friendly contract. We aren’t replacing Ingram this year, and it’s unlikely we would find a better running back than Hightower unless we use an early draft pick. The biggest upgrade the Saints need is the role Travaris Cadet currently fills and Cohen could fit the bill.

NFL.com refers to Cohen as Sproles 2.0, which they also list as his NFL comparison. Cohen has also been nicknamed The Human Joystick according to NFL.com and some of his highlight videos. Generally, a 7th Round pick is a long shot to make the roster, but with the current play level of the RB3 spot, the Saints might find their upgrade, the new Sproles, and a huge bargain in last round of the draft.

Since Sproles is his NFL comparison, I decided to go back and compare combine stats. Cohen’s combine numbers are similar to Sproles, some are slightly better and some are slightly worse. Cohen has a better 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds (vs. Sproles 4.47 seconds) and the better broad jump at 118-inches (vs. 105 inches).

In his senior season, Cohen totaled 212 carries, 1,588 yards, and 18 touchdowns. He also had 37 receptions for 339 yards and one touchdown. For his career (as a runner), he has 868 carries, 5,619 yards and 56 touchdowns and (as a receiver) 98 receptions, 945 yards and three touchdowns.

Did the New Orleans Saints just get better or are you getting those pitch forks ready?