The first round has come and gone, and by all accounts the New Orleans Saints cleaned up shop. They got awesome value in Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Wisconsin Badgers offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, which is illustrated nicely by the 2017 Consensus Big Board put together by Arif Hasan over at Zone Coverage. Arif is one of the best NFL-coverage follows on Twitter and consistently puts out great analytical content, I can’t recommend his work enough.
Anyway: every year Arif gathers almost 50 different big boards ranking draft prospects and averages the results to find a consensus. His sources range from scouting services contracted to NFL teams to reporters and draftniks covering the process independently. It’s a good tool to get an idea of how prospects are valued, where they may be picked, and get a glimpse into how the NFL scouts think.
So going by this board, the Saints got great returns on investments in both of their first round picks. Lattimore was ranked sixth on the consensus board, and the Saints picked him at eleventh overall. Ramczyk placed twentieth overall and the Saints added him at the thirty-second pick. That’s not far off from the Saints’ own evaluations, per Sean Payton’s post-first round press conference:
Why would [Ryan Ramczyk] have been rated higher than the best pass rusher you had at that time?
“There is a considerable jump. Our grade on Ryan was at the top half of round one, inside of a grade of 15. The next pass rusher grade would be somewhere tomorrow. There was a big gap. We weren’t going to go away from just a clear gap in grades. He was a player graded in the first round by every one of our scouts. We felt good about that.”
Where did you have Marshon Lattimore ranked?
“He was three or four for us. He was up there.”
All this is to say that the Consensus Board is at least in the right area code with its player rankings. That in mind, let’s check out 20 possible Saints targets for tonight’s second round of selections (the Saints pick tenth in this round, forty-second overall). Hasan has published an update focusing on the best available players here. I filtered out the listed defensive backs and offensive linemen because the Saints already picked Lattimore and Ramczyk.
- RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State Seminoles (ranked 12th overall). Off-field questions and marginal athletic testing have dropped Cook’s stock, but he’s still a great one-cut runner with elite college production.
- DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State Spartans (25th). McDowell’s attitude has been called into question after he second-guessed his usage by MSU’s coaching staff, but he’s got rare size and can line up anywhere along the defensive front.
- LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt Commodores (36th). Cunningham is a lanky athlete who needs to add muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame. He’s explosive and looks very comfortable dropping into zone coverage.
- QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (40th). Kizer’s draft stock has been torpedoed by his bitter former head coach, Brian Kelly, who ran an amateur hour quarterback-timeshare offense. Kizer’s got sky-high potential in the right situation where he can learn and develop patiently.
- EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn Tigers (42nd). Lawson has a history of injuries including a torn ACL and cracked hip. He’s still one of the better pass rushers in this class, putting a number of hand-fighting moves to good use despite his short arms (31 1/2-inches).
- EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama Crimson Tide (45th). Williams is another prospect with personality questions to answer, having been described to me by an NFL scout as “Randy Gregory with a gun.” He’s also undersized and lacks flexibility, but was one of college football’s most-productive pass rushers.
- RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma Sooners (48th). Mixon’s problems are well-documented, so I’ll just focus on football here. He was productive despite sharing carries with draft prospect Samaje Perine, though all of Mixon’s carries came out of the shotgun and mostly versus six-man boxes and bad defenses. How good is he really?
- EDGE Jordan Willis, Kansas State Wildcats (51st). Willis shocked the world with a stellar NFL Combine performance that didn’t match up with his tape. He was known to be productive but where was the bend and burst on film? Kansas State isn’t a factory for edge rushers, so maybe NFL coaching can help him.
- WR/RB Curtis Samuel, Ohio State Buckeyes (52nd). There’s no doubting Samuel’s talent; with the ball in his hands, he’ll take it almost anywhere on the field. But how does he fit the Saints’ offense? At Ohio State he was a receiver known for clean, detail-oriented routes, who could take some handoffs in the backfield.
- EDGE Derek Rivers, Youngstown State Penguins (53rd).
- WR Zay jones, East Carolina Pirates (54th). Jones is a good possession receiver who led the country in catches last year (158) but scored just eight times. He’s a good all-around athlete who could step into the rotation in Brandin Cooks’ place.
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC Trojans (55th). If you like physical, angry wideouts in the mold of Dez Bryant you’ll love Smith-Schuster. He played through dislocated fingers and injuries to his hip, shoulder, wrist, back, and foot the last few years. Smith-Schuster is tough and is the kind of guy who sets the tone in games with his physicality and energy.
- RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee Volunteers (56th). Kamara is exactly what an upgrade to Travaris Cadet looks like. He’s got a well-rounded skills set, relies on instincts and practiced repetition rather than next-level athleticism, and can just as easily split out and catch a pass as he can carry between the tackles.
- LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State Buckeyes (58th). McMillan isn’t a complete player yet, having been taken off the field on third down often for the Buckeyes. But he is a good run defender and understands how to get guys lined up, which means he could start in New Orleans right away. I’d like to see what Mike Nolan does with his talent.
- EDGE Tyus Bowser, Houston Cougars (59th). Bowser was a productive pass rusher and was on pace to lead the nation in sacks and tackles for loss last year before getting hurt breaking up a fight between teammates. He dropped into coverage more frequently than anyone else and has the twitchy athleticism and instincts to work as Christian McCaffrey and O.J. Howard repellent.
So we can see there’s a couple of linebackers, some wideouts and running backs, but the real bounty of edge rusher talent is showing itself. Who would you pick out of this group?