It’s NFL Draft week, which means we’re about to get a whole lot of New Orleans Saints questions answered. The biggest news of today centers around the signing of Adrian Peterson. What will his role be with Sean Payton’s offense? Will compensation for Malcolm Butler be reached before the team picks? Who goes at 11th overall? Will the Saints trade up or trade down? These are just some of the many questions fans have for the black and gold, who face the most important draft in the Sean Payton era.
As this draft rapidly approaches, there’s no Malcolm Butler on the team, and while that could still change, you have to operate under the assumption that it won’t happen. Someone needs to bribe Europe into making a quick video simply singing, “It’s the final mock draft!” Let’s visit how the Top 10 shakes out before the Saints pick:
- Browns - Myles Garrett, DE
- 49ers - Jonathan Allen, DL
- Bears - Solomon Thomas, EDGE
- Jaguars - Leonard Fournette, RB
- Titans - Reuben Foster, LB
- Jets - Malik Hooker, S
- Chargers - Jamal Adams, S
- Panthers - Christian McCaffrey, RB
- Bengals - Cam Robinson, OT
- Bills - John Ross, WR
Here we go...
Round One, Pick 11 - Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Previous Selections: Marshon Lattimore, Reuben Foster, Derek Barnett
Even if the Saints get Malcolm Butler, which doesn’t seem likely at this point, that shouldn’t stop them from solidifying their secondary. Yes, Derek Barnett and Haason Reddick are both on the board here, but I keep looking at the league’s worst passing defense from a season ago, and feel like Lattimore is the smartest pick here.
As I talked about in my previous mock, Lattimore boasts strong football smarts, and excels as a run defender. Out of 41 targets last year, Lattimore allowed just one touchdown and 18 receptions. He also had four interceptions on those targets. Lattimore draws a heavy comparison to Atlanta’s Demond Trufant, according to Pro Football Focus. He’d be in the Top 3 mix instantaneously.
Lattimore may very well not last until 11th, and he wouldn’t single-handedly fix the Saints problems on defense. It’s also important to note that there are still options available on the free agent market that could be late adds for the Saints to ‘kick the tires on’. However, there’s more help on the way with the next pick.
Round One, Pick 32 - Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Previous Selection: Taco Charlton
Reuben Foster’s recent issues didn’t cause him to slide in this particular mock draft, and Jarrad Davis ended up being the second ILB prospect taken. That’s not unbelievable. The interest the Saints have had in linebacker prospects is pretty real. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that you can’t have enough depth at any particular position, especially on defense.
Zach Cunningham posted the fourth-highest run stop percentage of all linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. Cunningham got better in each season he played in, finishing out his three years with Commodores totaling 256 total tackles (125 in 2016), 16.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, six pass defenses, seven fumble recoveries, and six forced fumbles. Cunningham played as a 3-4 inside linebacker for the Commodores, and would likely fit the bill as a weak side player in Dennis Allen’s scheme.
Now, it goes without saying that Cunningham has had some issues with missed tackles, so someone like Mike Nolan would clearly need to work with him there. However, Cunningham is a solid prospect that should be a quality starter for quite some time.
Round Two, Pick 42 - Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
Carl Lawson was just nabbed ahead of Harris, but maybe that’s a good thing for the Saints. Going defense with the top three picks does seem like a likely thing for the team, at least that’d make sense to many. Of course, this is Sean Payton we’re talking about, so you have to expect the unexpected (and crazy). Still, I found it necessary to get an edge guy here. Most fans would agree that the top three picks should be used on cornerback-defensive end-linebacker, but not all agree on the order in which they should be addressed.
At any rate, Mizzou’s Charles Harris should be in some of the top edge rusher conversation in this rich class of defensive ends, but many are hung up on a bad Combine performance. Harris did improve at Pro Day, and his pass rushing instincts are duly noted in the tape he put out in college. In 2016, Harris was charged with having at least five pressures in 8 of his 12 games.
Harris’ stock is all over the board right now, and he very well may not last until 42nd. However, he’d mesh well opposite of Cameron Jordan, potentially starting on a rotation basis with Alex Okafor, but he could end up being the primary guy before too long. Harris could bulk up, and needs to build in some more technique in his pass rush approach. That sounds like a good task for defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
Previous Selections: Alvin Kamara, Carl Lawson, Zach Cunningham
Round Three, Pick 76 - Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
Previous Selections: Carlos Henderson, Kevin King, Jamaal Williams
After solving three big needs on defense, it’s time to go luxury for the Saints, and Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson would be a very big boost to the offense. Again, he posted one of the lowest drop rates in all of college football last season. He’s a get the ball to him and see what happens type of player. Henderson is very quick and dangerous in space, and could work well with Curtis Johnson’s teachings.
At 5-foot-11, throw him out at flanker (Brandin Cooks’ old spot) and let him get those RAC yards once he gets the ball. Plus, Henderson could also help contribute on special teams in the return game.
Round Four, Pick 103 - Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Previous Selections: Ethan Pocic, Jeremy McNichols (118th), Marquez White (118th)
Of course, the obvious here is that Butt is coming off of a torn ACL in December. The good news is that he’s reportedly ahead of schedule, and can likely get into the football mix for July. All that aside, this is a tight end that fits the Saints mold and then some. For starters, he’s a blocking tight end, which the Saints covet. Butt also runs routes very well, and isn’t afraid to make the contested catch. Speaking of catches, he has some very good hands.
In 13 personnel is where I picture him to shine, as Butt doesn’t currently fit the bill as a Y tight end. Butt could easily find himself on the preseason PUP to start his journey with the Saints, but can quickly come off. If carried on PUP through the regular season, Butt could return after the first six weeks of the regular season. In turn, that could be a gigantic boost for the Saints.
Round Six - Pick 196 - Elijah McGuire, RB, UL-Lafayette
Previous Selections: Keionta Davis, Trent Taylor, Eric Saubert
Even with the Saints landing Adrian Peterson, they’ll still need a third down specialist. McGuire can be that guy and then some. In my recent profile of McGuire, he has a bit of concern to him because of a foot injury last season. However, he’s assured teams that he is completely healthy. He’s far from being the ideal prospect for the Saints, as he needs some coaching in pass protection. Still, Sean Payton could gain a talented player that can line up just about anywhere on the field to catch a pass from Drew Brees. He’d pair very well in the zone scheme, and could easily dethrone Travaris Cadet.
Round Seven - Pick 229 - Jerry Ugokwe, OT, William and Mary
Previous Selections: Hardy Nickerson Jr., Tashawn Bower, Jordan Morgan
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of, wait, who? takes on this. The Saints will roll with Zach Strief for at least one more year, but this could realistically be his final season. The Tribe’s Jerry Ugokwe is nearly identical to Strief, standing at 6-foot-7, 321-pounds. He’s still relatively new to the game, having just picked up football during his junior season of high school. Ugokwe finished with 35 consecutive starts at right tackle, with 42 career starts (7 at left tackle).
When checking out some tape, I found it appropriate to check out the NC State game. Ugokwe did pretty well against Ryan Nielsen’s defensive line. Look for No. 78.
Ugokwe fits the bill as a ‘project’, but could learn and adapt quickly under Dan Roushar. The Tribe ran a pro-style offenseHe won’t blow you away in the speed department, but he has the frame and size of a true tackle in the NFL. Investing in someone like Ugokwe could pay huge dividends, and the Saints still need a reserve tackle option in 2017 either way you slice it.