Mock drafts are an exercise in futility. That doesn’t mean that people should stop doing them, it just means that anyone that does one does it with the caveat that the draft is an ordered chaos. Teams will value things differently than analysts, and every year something happens that messes up how the draft is “projected” to go.
This year, the Tennessee Titans selecting Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis fifth overall created a scramble for wide receivers that ended in both Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross being selected in the top 10. The final result was Marshon Lattimore slipping to the Saints at 11, something that was unfathomable to most people heading into the draft.
New Orleans, naturally, picked Lattimore with the 11th pick, thus shoring up one of their glaring needs with arguably the best corner in the draft. It’s very likely that the Saints’ 10 minutes on the clock was Sean Payton on the phone repeatedly asking “are you SURE?” as to whether or not Lattimore was still on the board. Picking Lattimore all but eliminated the need for the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler, and so the Saints kept both of their first round picks. The only real problem with Lattimore is that he isn’t lining up with his hand in the dirt, but a team’s first pick should go to BPA (particularly when BPA is addressing another need).
Lattimore Grade: A
At 32, the Saints picked Wisconsin lineman Ryan Ramczyk. The Saints are no strangers to following successful models. Back when the Seahawks were at their peak, the Saints tried to recreate the Legion of Boom by signing Jairus Byrd to a massive contract. Obviously that didn’t pan out. This time, the Saints seem to be following in the Dallas Cowboys’ footsteps of drafting. Adding Ramczyk to a line of Andrus Peat, Terron Armstead and Max Unger makes it appear that he’ll be Zach Strief’s heir apparent on the right side. A first round pick in 2015, Peat’s versatility on the line makes him a key component of the rotation, and alongside him this marks the second time in three years that the Saints have had two first round picks and spent one of them on a lineman. Expect Ramczyk to play in a few spots before settling in at a position, as the Saints like to use linemen in utility roles in their early years.
Ramczyk Grade: B+
With the number 42 pick, the Saints continued to patch up their secondary, selecting Marcus Williams out of Utah. Williams is a “true” free safety, a player that skates in the deep middle third of the field. Williams had 10 interceptions over the last two seasons, along with four forced fumbles, which is the type of playmaking that the Saints desperately need. He isn’t as athletic as Malik Hooker or Obi Melifonwu (the latter was still on the board and was selected 56th), but he’s only a slight tier below, he has excellent ball skills and played in a pass heavy conference. The high safety was a need for the Saints, as both Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro play better closer to the box, so Williams will hopefully open up some of the Saints’ options in terms of defensive playcalling (particularly in later downs).
Williams Grade: A-
The Saints traded back into the third round, giving up their 2018 second and seventh round picks to draft Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee. Although it feels like an exciting move now, this one may have some buyer’s remorse in 2018. It’s nothing against Kamara, who is the first player that can ACTUALLY fill the wild card role that people are always talking about in the Saints’ offense. It just seems like a steep price to pay for a player that plays a position the Saints are already decent at while having other core needs. Kamara is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, something that’s essential to the Saints’ offense, and he isn’t Travaris Cadet, which is a huge win. But with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson already on the roster, it feels like the Saints could have addressed the position with their sixth round pick and gotten a decent fill in, rather than trading away futures for a good one.
Kamara Grade: B-
Taking Alex Anzalone out of Florida at 76 is initially a head scratching decision for the Saints. He has an injury history, and the Saints went out of their way to address their linebacking need in free agency. However, Anzalone showed a lot of potential in his 31 games at Florida, and the Saints have a bit of a history with signing veteran linebackers. With new LB coach Mike Nolan at the helm, Anzalone and Klein are going to be great initial challenges. Anzalone joins Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony and Nathan Stupar in the Saints’ linebacking corps, and from that list it’s important to see why depth is important. Anzalone has the talent to play either Will or Sam in the Saints’ 4-3 defense. Although he was generally the Will at Florida, he’s willing to play both positions, and for a defense that likes to use packages to try and cover up other areas that could be an important tool.
Anzalone Grade: C+
THEY TOOK AN EDGE RUSHER. With their 103rd pick (a compensatory pick, no less), the Saints picked Trey Hendrickson out of Florida Atlantic. This is a bit of an incomplete grade, as he was among the best pass rushers in C-USA, but he played in C-USA. It’s a bit unfair to knock a player for things outside of his control such as strength of schedule, but it tips the scales when you’re in the NFL, where the competition is always top tier. With 29.5 career sacks (23 of them coming in the past two seasons), Hendrickson is a disruptive player. His moveset isn’t overly impressive, and he makes his living overpowering tackles, but the fact the Saints waited this long signifies a few things: They loved the value of the first five players that they took; and they think that Hendrickson complements the addition of Alex Okafor (along with the retention of Daryl Tapp and Hau’oli Kikaha). It’s a risky move, but it could pay dividends for the Saints as they continue to search for the perfect solution opposite the strongside specialist Cam Jordan while also addressing other major needs.
Hendrickson Grade: B-
Final Thoughts: After an extremely strong start, there was a clear feeling of unease among New Orleans’ fans. Given that pass rusher was considered a given this offseason, it feels a bit myopic to put the position off until the team’s penultimate pick. However, that doesn’t lessen the talent that the Saints added. Kamara can immediately contribute as a third down back, Lattimore is an instant starter (just brace for cornerback growing pains, even Jalen Ramsey had them), Ramczyk adds O-Line depth which no one can ever have enough of and Hendrickson is the Saints’ most glaring need. This is very much a “sum of their parts” draft, as every position the Saints needed was addressed, it was just an issue of when. There are a lot of day one contributors here, which is what teams seek in the first two days, and although some of them are rotational they’ll all get their shot for the Saints.
Now, with only a sixth round pick left (No. 196), look for the Saints to either try to move up again (Mickey Loomis hinted as much, saying that the Saints “aren’t good at [being patient]”) or address depth at a position like edge rusher with late-round value. Under Jeff Ireland, the Saints have picked Davis Tull, Tyeler Davison, Damian Swann, Marcus Murphy and Daniel Lasco. They may want to sit on that sixth rounder, as they’ve already traded away quite a bit for Kamara, but don’t be surprised to see them picking in the mid-fourth to early-fifth rounds again regardless.
Final Day 1-2 Grade: B+
The value is there, and so are the day one contributors. It shouldn’t have to be stated that all grades on these drafts are incomplete, but the Saints have gotten some incredible talent. This is why they reworked their defensive coaching staff: To make these draft picks more valuable. Although there will be growing pains, the Saints are a better team on paper than they were on Thursday morning, and that’s what matters until the games are played.