The New Orleans Saints have done a good job addressing team needs in free agency. They didn’t go for the splash players, but got multiple players that have the potential to be great.
Larry Warford was probably the best signing out of all the players. He has familiarity with the Saints offense, having played under quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi while he was with the Detroit Lions. A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o help add depth at the linebacker position, which was much needed. Both have potential to be starters, but I expect Klein to start and Te’o to be a backup and special teams contributor. However, Te’o did have his best year as a professional under Saints new linebacker coach Mike Nolan.
Re-signing Nick Fairley and Sterling Moore were significant moves that will help the defense. Alex Okafor is the most intriguing signing to me because he has a lot of potential, and I believe he will play better with his hand in the ground. He’s a very explosive player and everyone knows the Saints need help at pass rusher, so he’s a nice addition. Now that free agency has calmed down some, it’s time to prepare for the draft.
Here’s my first and only 7-round mock draft.
Round 1, Pick 11: Reuben Foster (6-foot, 229-lbs), LB, Alabama
Now, the Saints two biggest needs are at edge rusher and cornerback, but they also need a leader on defense, which is exactly what Reuben Foster is. Foster would be a great addition to the Saints linebacker group. He is an every down linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed and a high football IQ. His ability to read plays makes him play even faster, which is exactly what I want out of a linebacker, not thinking too much, just reading and reacting.
Not only will adding Foster to the linebackers be adding speed and intelligence, but it will also be adding that enforcer type that the Saints could use. Making players on the opposite team nervous to go down the middle in fear that Foster may hit them. He is known more for his nasty hits on the field, but since Foster has lost 10-15 pounds the past year, he has become reliable in pass coverage. He excels in most areas on the football field and could help turn the defense around.
Some people see him as a WILL linebacker, but I think he can play either MIKE or WILL for the Saints. Having that versatility to play multiple linebacker positions is another plus for Foster. Some people may think since the Saints signed Klein and Te’o in the offseason that they don’t need Foster, but I’d have to disagree. Klein can play SAM and Te’o will most likely be a backup. Foster can play MIKE and then have Craig Robertson or a healthy Dannell Ellerbe at WILL. The linebacker group would be very competitive and would be a fun group to keep an eye on come training camp.
Other options at pick 11: Derek Barnett, Haason Reddick, Christian McCaffrey
Round 1, Pick 32: Charles Harris (6-foot-3, 253-lbs), DE/OLB, Missouri
The Saints finally get a pass rusher opposite of Cam Jordan. The first thing you notice when watching Charles Harris is his ferocious spin moves. His spin move is just one of his multiple moves to get the quarterback, which is exactly what the Saints need on their defensive line. He is a player that can play both with his hand in the dirt or standing up. The SEC has some pretty good tackles and Harris played pretty well against them.
He will help bring some much needed athleticism to the Saints pass rush. His first step is very explosive, and he has great lateral quickness. One thing that I really liked about him is his motor. He’s one that doesn’t give up on a play and will always hustle to the ball. Having another impact player on the defensive line could help the Saints defense dramatically. Less time for the quarterback to throw the ball means bad decisions by the quarterback, which leads to turnovers. The one knock on Harris would be how he is against the run. He has to get better at it once he gets into the NFL, and I fully expect him to. Harris is one of those players if available at No. 32, I don’t see the Saints passing on.
Other options at pick 32: Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey, T.J. Watt, Takkarist McKinley
Round 2, Pick 42: Quincy Wilson (6-foot-1, 211-lbs), CB, Florida
The cornerback position in this draft is one of the deepest ever. Some people want the Saints to wait and take one later in the draft because of how deep it is, but I say no thanks. Instead, how about the Saints take one of the best corners in the draft in Quincy Wilson? He would be an immediate upgrade and an impact player in the secondary.
He’s a bigger corner, standing at 6-foot 1-inch and weighing 211 pounds. He is a physical cornerback, especially at the line of scrimmage. Doesn’t shy away from contact and has exceptional coverage skills. Can be a playmaker at the cornerback position and is just an all around good player.
Wilson and Delvin Breaux on the outside seems like a great pair of starting cornerbacks, which the Saints desperately need to have. Also having P.J. Williams, Sterling Moore, Damian Swann, and Ken Crawley at the cornerback position helps give the Saints some much-needed depth at the position. The one thing Saints fans should know, especially after last year, is that you can never have too many good cornerbacks on your team. Wilson could provide the Saints with a solid secondary, which the Saints haven’t had in some time now.
Other options at pick 42: Budda Baker, Tim Williams, Carl Lawson, Evan Engram, Curtis Samuel
Round 3, Pick 76: Derek Rivers (6-foot-4, 248-lbs), DE/OLB, Youngstown State
It’s time to start double-dipping at positions of need. Derek Rivers could be a steal at pick 76. He looked the part and practiced the part. He is a quick pass rusher, that plays the run and pass well. I know some may be thinking the 3rd round would be a little early for a player out of the FCS level, but he dominated the FCS. In his last season at Youngstown State, Rivers had 14 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, and finished with 58 tackles.
Not only did he play well for Youngstown State, but also he was one of the players that stood out during Senior Bowl practices and game. Then all he did was go to the NFL Combine and put on a show. Adding Rivers and Harris in this draft to Cam Jordan, Hau’oli Kikaha, Alex Okafor, and Darryl Tapp would help solve the Saints pass rush problems. These two athletic edge rushers would compliment Jordan so well. Rivers’ name has been buzzing as of late though. I’ve seen some mocks having him going in the middle second round and some of him going early fourth round, but if he is there at pick 76, I hope the Saints would make him a part of the black and gold.
Other options at pick 76: DeMarcus Walker, Marcus Maye, Eddie Jackson, Cam Sutton
Round 3, Pick 103: Josh Malone (6-foot-3, 208-lbs), WR, Tennessee
Finally, the Saints address their offense, and they do it in a big way by getting the fast playmaking wide receiver Josh Malone. With the departure of Brandin Cooks the Saints need to address the receiver position. This is a guy not too many people know of, but he has breakaway speed (4.40 40-yard dash), with good height and length. This guy is criminally underrated. I think he didn’t get to show his true skills while at Tennessee because of his quarterback being a little too inconsistent.
I expect him to have a way better professional career than he did in college. He has great hands, and will pull down those 50/50 balls. He can stretch the field using his speed, but can also run good routes underneath. Saints wide receiver coach Curtis Johnson would love to be able to work with a player with Malone’s skill set. Just recently, the Saints took a bunch of Tennessee Volunteers out to dinner, and Sean Payton told Butch Jones (Tennessee head coach) that it was the best group they’ve ever hosted. I expect Malone was one of the players that went to dinner with them. Sure, other players like Derek Barnett and Cameron Sutton may be who most Saints fans think of when they hear this, but they shouldn’t sleep on Josh Malone.
Other options at pick 103: Ryan Anderson, Carlos Henderson, Chris Goodwin, K.D. Cannon, Jake Butt
Round 6, Pick 196: Donnel Pumphrey (5-foot-8, 178-lbs), RB, San Diego State
Even though the Saints offense always seems to produce well every year, it can still use some help. Ever since the Saints traded away Darren Sproles, they’ve been trying to find his replacement, but have come up short. Donnel Pumphrey is a small and tough back, who can catch out of the backfield and be the third down back the Saints need. He is a smart and patient runner who has great vision.
Even though Pumphrey is a running back, the Saints would and could use him more in the passing game, which he has done well at. He finished his college career with 99 receptions and 1,039 yards. Those are pretty solid receiving numbers for a running back. Not only did he have good receiving numbers, but also he dominated as a rusher by breaking the all time rushing record by rushing for 6,405 yards. He also accounted for 67 total touchdowns.
I know Pumphrey is a small back and needs to get better at catching the ball with his hands, but I think he can do that because he won’t have to focus on rushing the ball so much, just receiving. He runs good routes and is quick and decisive with his cuts. He played well at the Senior Bowl, and I think would be a lethal target for Drew Brees to have out of the backfield.
Other options at pick 196: Jeremy Cutrer, Aaron Jones, Tedric Thompson
Round 7, Pick 229: Najee Murray (5-foot-9, 180-lbs), CB, Kent State
Not many people have heard about Najee Murray, but he is a solid nickel corner. He is a former Ohio State Buckeye who got suspended for having an issue during training camp. He transferred to Kent State and became their starting nickel corner. He is one of those smaller tougher corners that isn’t afraid to mix it up with receivers.
He plays with an edge and a chip on his shoulders. Murray doesn’t shy away from contact, and has exceptional ball skills. The Saints need all the help they can get in the secondary, and I believe Murray can help in certain situations and play well on special teams. Adding Murray with Wilson in this draft can make a significant improvement in the secondary. He is definitely worth a seventh round pick, in my eyes.
Other options at pick 229: Xavier Woods, Greg Pyke, Elijiah McGuire
The Saints could still trade for Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots, which would be a huge addition for the Saints secondary. If they did trade for him, then I’d expect it to be for the 42nd pick and possibly a later round pick in 2018 NFL Draft. If this is the case, then I’d still keep my draft the way it is, just substitute Quincy Wilson for Malcolm Butler.
Also, Sean Payton recently said that he would like to come out of this draft with an offensive lineman. A few that Saints fans should keep their eyes on are: Taylor Moton out of Western Michigan, Antonio Garcia out of Troy, and Julie’n Davenport out of Bucknell. This year’s draft class could make or break the Saints season. They have five picks in the top 103, and need to hit on most of them.
There are many different scenarios the Saints can do with this draft because of how loaded it is. The two biggest positions of need are corner and edge rusher, which just so happens to be the two deepest positions in this draft. So, do the Saints draft those positions early? Or, do they wait and hope there is a good player later in the draft at those positions? All I know is that it’s going to be an exciting draft for Saints fans.