Just like last year’s cycle, I’m going to take a unique path in previewing prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Rather than smother you with individual posts, I’ll be dropping regular New Orleans Saints seven-round mock drafts. This format gives me an opportunity to look at marquee players who teams will value in the early rounds as well as potential mid-round gems, and highlight underdogs to watch on the third day of the draft.
So don’t take this (or subsequent entries) as a serious prediction. I don’t care if any of these picks are accurate, the point is to introduce future draft prospects. The mock draft format is just a simple framing device.
I used the latest Super Bowl odds from Las Vegas to project draft order selection for each round, and will adjust that as the season goes on until a final order is announced next spring. For now, consider the positions the Saints are set up to target and get to know some new names to look for on Saturdays in the fall:
First Round, 13th Pick (13th Overall):
DE Harold Landry, Boston College Eagles
Currently rated the top senior in the 2018 NFL Draft class, Harold Landry is an athletic pass rusher who wins in many of the same ways Philadelphia Eagles first round pick Derek Barnett did. Landry has a smooth bend in his arc around the edge and active hands to disengage blockers. He looks lean despite his listed weight of 250-pounds, but has a lanky frame to fill out. I love the high effort he displays as the backside end to chase down running backs and scrambling passers.
I’ll be looking for Landry to play with more power and upper-body strength in the fall as he works to fly past the bar he set last year with 16.5-sacks and 7-forced fumbles. The Saints might have found a winning combination between veterans Alex Okafor (a free agent next spring) and Hau’oli Kikaha, plus standout rookie Al-Quadin Muhammad, but it’s past time for New Orleans to invest big in a pass rusher opposite Cameron Jordan. Look for Landry’s 2018 debut this Friday night against Northern Illinois.
Second Round, 12th Pick (44th Overall):
RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee Volunteers
The Saints spent their second round pick in 2018 to pick up Alvin Kamara (5-foot-10-inches, 214-pounds) in the 2017 NFL Draft, so I’m not about to let you forget how electric he is. Through just two preseason games against other team’s starting defenses, Kamara averaged a ridiculous 10.7 yards-per-carry on nine attempts and took his lone reception for 22 yards. He’s proving to be a more-dynamic runner than many thought and Saints head coach Sean Payton has carefully limited public awareness of Kamara’s receiving ability.
Built more like long-tenured Pierre Thomas (5-foot-9-inches, 215-pounds) than relative flash-in-the-pans like Darren Sproles (5-foot-8, 187-pounds) or Reggie Bush (5-foot-10-inches, 201-pounds), Kamara is on the path to becoming a fixture in New Orleans’ offense. His combination of patience, quick burst, and field vision should continue to work wonders. Kamara sat out the third preseason game against the Houston Texans, and will probably continue to rest during the last exhibition game against the Baltimore Ravens this Thursday. Anticipation is building around what he may do to the Minnesota Vikings on the September 11th Monday Night Football season-opener.
Third Round, 14th Pick (78th Overall):
TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State Jackrabbits
It’s plain to see that Coby Fleener hasn’t met expectations. Whether those expectations were set too high is up for debate, but the lack of a game-changing athlete at the top of the tight end depth chart is indisputable. Many draft experts are looking to Penn State Nittany Lions senior Mike Gesicki and Wisconsin Badgers leader Troy Fumagalli to lead the draft class, but the South Dakota State Jackrabbits’ Drew Goedert is a growing favorite.
South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert with the one-handed snag pic.twitter.com/g8rGxbxSjU— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) December 22, 2016
Goedert has good, not great size at 6-foot-4-inches and 265-pounds, but his ball skills and athleticism are incredible. He makes dominating college football’s lower levels look easy, which is what you want to see out of guys like him: just last year, Goedert caught 92 passes for nearly 1300 yards. Timing in the mid-4.6’s in the 40-yard dash means Goedert could get into the first round discussion when it’s all said and done. The Chicago Bears grabbed the Ashland Eagles’ Adam Shaheen with the 45th-overall pick last year, and Goedert might be a better small school prospect. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits open their 2018 season against the Duquesne Dukes.
Fourth Round, 13th Pick (115th Overall):
LB Chris Worley, Ohio State Buckeyes
This preseason has made the Saints’ linebacker corps finally look solid, largely thanks to new additions like A.J. Klein (Carolina Panthers free agent), Manti Te’o (Los Angeles Chargers free agent), and Alex Anzalone (Florida Gators) under Mike Nolan’s guidance as the new position coach. But it’s a group with many middling talents but lacking in top-end standouts. That’s where Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker and team captain Chris Worley steps in. Worley doesn’t look like the elite athlete that former Buckeyes linebackers Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh Steelers), Darron Lee (New York Jets), and Raekwon McMillan (Miami Dolphins) were, but he’s very instinctual and shows quick read-and-react ability.
Watch Chris Worley sprint back into coverage and make a nice INT pic.twitter.com/VOKXX76S9s— Dillon Glause (@DillonGlause) November 21, 2016
Worley is also heavily experienced, having appeared in 39 games during his three-year career. Worley started all 14 games last season at outside linebacker and is looking good so far in a move to the middle linebacker spot, showing aggression at the point of attack and a habit of rallying to the football. If Te’o or Klein earn underwhelming reviews, Worley would be a nice upgrade. Look for his first start at middle linebacker this Thursday night versus the Indiana Hoosiers.
Fifth Round, 12th Pick (151st Overall):
QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners
We’ve been discussing the looming quarterback situation all summer, so I won’t get into it too deeply here. Either Drew Brees or Chase Daniel looks to be the starter next year, but I fully expect the Saints to try their hand at developing a new project after Garrett Grayson didn’t deliver in his first three years on the team. That “quarterback of the future” could be a highly-picked rookie or a third-day gem; it’s just too soon to say. But for my money, the passer I would most like to see the Saints pursue is Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Right on the button. Perfect zip/touch combination. Mayfield is really talented. pic.twitter.com/UP6RYsy8Hr— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 11, 2017
Mayfield shares a lot of his game with Brees. He’s on the diminutive end of the spectrum in build at a hair under 6-foot-1 and 225-pounds, but has one of the most-accurate arms in football. Mayfield is a big-play threat from the pocket though prone to slipping out to buy time when his receivers don’t separate right away. I really like his fit in New Orlean’s timing-based passing attack that calls for some gutsy throws through tight windows in coverage. I’m sure there will be some highlights from the Sooners’ season-opener against the University of Texas-El Paso Miners this Saturday.
Sixth Round, 14th Pick (198th Overall):
OL Mason Cole, Michigan Wolverines
Snapping issues have plagued the Saints all summer in the wake of injuries to Pro Bowl-caliber starter Max Unger and versatile backup Senio Kelemete. The Saints have tried out a couple of different candidates including NFL journeyman Josh LeRibeus, second-year undrafted free agent Jack Allen, and undrafted rookie Cameron Tom, but errant snaps have been a daily issue in training camp. Michigan Wolverines offensive lineman Mason Cole could be a long-term answer to that problem. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Cole has been a fixture along Michigan’s offensive line for three years, starting 38 games and being named to the last two All-Big Ten lists.
Mason Cole climbing to the mike is thing of beauty. Watch him roll his hips through the block. Leverage and lift. Battles to stay on it too pic.twitter.com/zqFVuJBFTg— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) June 14, 2017
Cole was the first freshman to start a season-opener in Michigan’s long football history, and he looks to fit the billing. Originally starting at left tackle, Cole looked solid but not spectacular. He moved to center in 2016 and was nearly a revelation, moving to the second level effortlessly and showing good vision to adjust protections before the snap. He isn’t the all-world athlete that Kansas City Chiefs center Mitch Morse is, but like Morse could play center full-time in the NFL (Morse was a left tackle for the Missouri Tigers before being drafted 49th-overall in the 2015 NFL Draft). Keep an eye out for Cole when Michigan meets the Florida Gators this Saturday afternoon.
Seventh Round, 13th Pick (221st Overall):
CB Parry Nickerson, Tulane Green Wave
It would make sense for the Saints to target cornerback earlier in the draft, but I’ll be a little optimistic. I can easily see P.J. Williams, Marshon Lattimore, and Sterling Moore forming a solid top three until Delvin Breaux is healthy again, and I’m almost certain that New England Patriots All-Pro Malcolm Butler will at least visit with the Saints before any other team once free agency opens next March. The Saints and Butler already worked out an agreeable contract, but couldn’t swing a trade with Bill Belichick. The connection is obvious.
Tulane’s own Parry Nickerson went from West Jefferson High School in Harvey to turn into a collegiate playmaker, starting the last three years at the boundary cornerback position. Nickerson is tall but lean at 6-foot-even, 175-pounds, but moves with smooth confidence in his backpedal and rarely gets burned. Nickerson has logged 10 interceptions and 23 pass breakups while chipping in some splash plays like a 99-yard touchdown return and blocked field goal. Nickerson and the Green Wave host the Grambling State Tigers this Saturday night.