We’re just about two weeks out from the NFL Draft, and the biggest part of free agency is over for teams. The New Orleans Saints have made some big moves since March 9, and only look to add to it at the end of April during the NFL’s three-day draft affair. After two previous mock drafts over the past few months, it’s time to kick the tires on the ‘nearly there’ edition.
Before we dive in, here’s a look at how the Top 10 played out, using Bleacher Report draft enthusiast Matt Miller’s Top 300 Board:
- Browns - Myles Garrett, DE
- 49ers - DeShaun Watson, QB
- Bears - Jamal Adams, S
- Jaguars - Solomon Thomas, EDGE
- Titans - Malik Hooker, S
- Jets - Reuben Foster, LB
- Chargers - Mike Williams, WR
- Panthers - Leonard Fournette, RB
- Bengals - Corey Davis, WR
- Bills - John Ross, WR
Round One, Pick 11 - Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Previous Selection: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Maybe this isn’t how the actual draft pans out, but it’s a welcomed thought seeing Lattimore fall to 11th. The Saints haven’t traded for Malcolm Butler or Richard Sherman, yet. So, operating under the assumption that they won’t be acquired is the thought process behind taking a cornerback early. The Saints could still look to free agency for some help (Tracy Porter could be an option), but uncertainty at the position causes many to pair a cornerback to the Saints early in the draft.
Lattimore is arguably the best cornerback prospect in 2017, and he has a combination of intellect and skills in coverage coupled with an aggressive, but effective run defender mentality. The biggest knock on Lattimore is that he was a ‘one-year starter’ for the Buckeyes, but with a defensive coordinator like Dennis Allen and secondary coach Aaron Glenn (who doesn’t get enough credit), Lattimore could easily find himself in the Top 3 conversation for a Saints corner.
Round One, Pick 32 - Taco Charlton, EDGE, Michigan
Previous Selection: None
Let me just say that Derek Barnett is still my top edge rusher for the Saints, and when it came to the 32nd overall pick, I had a choice between Charlton and Charles Harris. I haven’t been a supporter of Charlton going at 11th, but I can see him here. It’s no secret that the Saints desperately need a presence opposite Cam Jordan to get after the quarterback. Taco Charlton can help.
According to Pro Football Focus, Charlton had the fifth-highest pass rushing productivity at 16.6. In a nutshell, Charlton finished 2016 with 50 quarterback pressures, 32 hurries, 10 hits, and 8 sacks in 235 snaps off the left and right edge. He was credited with only two missed tackles in 254 run snaps, and was able to set the edge for the Wolverines.
Not that two plays can tell it all for anyone, but it’s worth looking at what he can potentially bring to the table. He’s a very exciting prospect, to say the least. I could see him emerging from the shadows and pairing well with new defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
Round Two, Pick 42 - Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Previous Selection: Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
If you haven’t noticed, the Saints are going to get another running back one way or another. An Adrian Peterson free agent visit is obviously something fans raised an eyebrow to, and Sean Payton has publicly stated his desires to grab one in the draft. Yes, Christian McCaffrey would probably be the epitome of a Payton back. However, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara deserves a look.
Kamara gets lost in the conversation for the top running backs in this class because of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and McCaffrey. However, he’s likely the next guy up with Joe Mixon. Kamara would be a huge asset as a third down back in the NFL, using his vision and frame to extend plays. He wouldn’t have to be in a position to be Ingram’s primary backup, but could see an increased workload and benefit from running behind a pretty stellar offensive line like the Saints have.
Round Three, Pick 76 - Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
Previous Selection: Kevin King, CB, Washington
I don’t think there’s any other way of putting it, but Carlos Henderson is exciting to watch. He’s quick, confident, and is very dangerous in the open field. He has great hands, boasting one the lowest drop rates in FCS play. He’s just one of those guys that you give the ball and let him do his thing. The Saints have a void with Brandin Cooks being out, and if you truly buy into Payton’s vision of Ted Ginn Jr. as a burner, then you can at least compensate his availability for the return game with Henderson. Of course, having Drew Brees getting the ball to someone like Henderson on a bubble screen with his elusive abilities makes him a coveted ingredient for Payton’s playbook.
Round Four, Pick 103 - Ethan Pocic, C/G, LSU
Previous Selection: Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State (118th)
(Insert your snarky comment that the Saints don’t take LSU players here). Of course, seeing the Saints double dip in Louisiana on back-to-back picks is hardly characteristic. However, Ethan Pocic is a versatile offensive lineman that has typically hovered around the third and fourth round, and the Saints should absolutely be interested.
Arguably, Pocic was LSU’s best pass blocker, and there’s something to be said when you generate the type of run lanes for Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice that the Tigers offensive line was able to do. For the Saints, Pocic would absolutely go into the guard category. Payton may be falsely tipping his hand that he wants an offensive lineman, but if the Saints were to look at moving Andrus Peat (again) to Zach Strief’s spot after 2017, then drafting a guard wouldn’t be that farfetched. Pocic has experience at center, guard, and tackle, which is something the Saints love to have in their big men up front.
Round Six, Pick 197 - Keionta Davis, EDGE, Chattanooga
Previous Selection: Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech
Even with the Saints taking Charlton, adding Alex Okafor in free agency, and have several returning players from injured reserve, I still believe another edge rusher could be added. Chattanooga’s Keionta Davis, who was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, could be a big value/sleeper pick at this point of the draft. 2015 was a monster year for Davis, who finished with 13.5 total sacks. However, he was able to follow that performance up and lead the conference again in 2016 with 10.0 sacks. What I like most about Davis is that he could take on a ‘tweener’ type of role for the Saints, similar to what Bobby Richardson did.
Round Seven, Pick 230 - Hardy Nickerson Jr., LB, Illinois
Previous Selection: Tashawn Bower, DE, LSU
The Saints do have some intriguing players in the linebacker mix for 2017, but I don’t believe that means they’ll pass on adding another. The son of a former NFL great is an intriguing player. He transferred from Cal to Illinois to play under his father in 2016. He’s said to be the spitting image of the 5-time Pro Bowler, and he certainly plays like it. Nickerson was The Fighting Illini’s leading tackler displays some good natural vision and has strong closing ability. At times, his size can be his biggest disadvantage when taking on bigger blockers. Still, he’s well worth a late-round consideration if he’s around and the Saints need a linebacker.