Y’all know what it is. It’s mock draft season, for better or worse (it’s worse. We’d all rather be talking about the Saints’ odds in this weekend’s NFC Championship Game). So I jumped onto FanSpeak.com’s draft simulator and ran a mock based off of Matt Miller’s latest big board of prospects for Bleacher Report.
It was fun. I learned about some new prospects and some things FanSpeak needs to clean up, like the draft order - the Saints will be picking at 27, not 28. Due to the random nature of the other 31 teams’ picks, some guys fell further than they will in reality. So the point of this mock isn’t to be right. As with all of them that I do, I’m just highlighting new draft prospects and names to know.
Round 1, 28th Overall: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia Bulldogs
RoQuan Smith has one of the best football IQs of any prospect in the upcoming draft class. He evades the pick and still manages this tackle to prevent a first down. Wow. pic.twitter.com/Ad02bNUsh3— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 9, 2018
What are the odds the best linebacker in the draft falls within the Saints’ grasp two years in a row? I don’t see Roquan Smith slipping and sliding the way Reuben Foster did last year, but I’d happily have the Bulldogs star on my team. Smith is a dominant force at the second level who understands the game with rare quickness, showing a unique feel for how blocks will develop and alleys open up between them. He puts that to good use by filling those gaps when least expected. Smith would do a lot to complete the facelift of the Saints defense. Some experts think he could be best-deployed at weakside linebacker (Alex Anzalone and Craig Robertson’s spot) but I love Smith’s fit as a Bobby Wagner-esque figure in the middle. Think of him as Jonathan Vilma with a jetpack.
Round 2, 60th Overall: RB Alvin Kamara, AP All-Pro Second Team
The Saints changed their fortunes on offense for years to come by getting Kamara last year. He and Mark Ingram are the NFL’s best backfield and should continue to produce at a historic rate. I want to see whether Kamara’s late-season regression as a runner was due to his concussion or teams game-planning against him, but he remains one of the most dynamic weapons on the team. I’m also curious if he’ll get more opportunities as a kickoff returner in his second year. But on the whole, Kamara plays like a finished product who could begin to shoulder the load as Ingram begins to play the back nine of his Saints career.
Round 3, 92nd Overall: DE Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State Buckeyes
Tyquan Lewis checks the boxes for this year’s obligatory Buckeyes pick as well as size (6-foot-4, 265-pounds) and being a good dude (he was the first on the scene to make sure a camerawoman was alright after she was bowled over in a sideline collision). Lewis was one of Ohio State’s captains this year and will look to boost his stock at next week’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. But back to football: Lewis has been the most consistent pass-rusher in Colombus the last three years, posting 7+ sacks and 20+ tackles in each season despite playing third wheel in a rotation. He lacks lower body strength, but that can be developed with a pro-quality strength-and-conditioning program. I could see Lewis stepping in to start right away across from Cameron Jordan.
Round 4, 130th Overall: WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Do you like big receivers who play to their size? Ateman does just that at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds. He established himself as Mason Rudolph’s favorite target on third and fourth down, getting 27-percent of the opportunities in those crucial situations to teammate James Washington’s 10-percent. Ateman is a reliable hands-catcher who routinely shows full extension to reel in passes away from his body, but he can also box out defensive backs on downfield throws. I want to see how he runs at the combine and handles man coverage, which he didn’t see much of in college. But I envision Ateman producing right away as a steady option on third down, which plagued the Saints last year.
Round 5, 149th Overall: TE Christopher Herndon, Miami Hurricanes
#CanesCutUps of Chris Herndon. We're gonna need a 30 for 30 with all the 1st round TEs coming out of Miami. Its Hurricane season !!!!!! pic.twitter.com/cIAVEXGQsC— CanesCutUps (@canescutups) May 11, 2017
Herndon and Jimmy Graham shared an alma mater, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Herndon is much more conventionally-sized (6-foot-4, 245-pounds) and a high-effort blocker, whereas Graham was such a gifted-but-raw athlete that coaches sent him downfield as often as they could. Herndon is a better runner after the catch, lacking some finesse in his routes, but once the ball is in his hands he’s tough to catch. Unfortunately he ended his year on a torn MCL, but should be fully-recovered in time for training camp. Combined with Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, and a free agent add (Trey Burton from the Philadelphia Eagles?), and Drew Brees could see a lot to like in his tight end group.
Round 5, 167th Overall: CB Darius Phillips, Western Michigan Broncos
Darius Phillips was the first player I had to Google in this exercise, and that was a fun decision. Phillips is returns interceptions, punts, and kickoffs with electricity and shows great intuition for manipulating pursuit angles to keep himself clean. He could compete to start at slot cornerback in New Orleans right away thanks to his indomitable press coverage and eagerness to tackle in run support. His ball skills are also a strength: in three years as a starter at WMU, he picked off a dozen passes and swatted away another 35. I do wonder if Phillips will go through similar struggles to communicate in zone and avoid penalties in a flag-happy NFL like Ken Crawley has, but I like Phillips’ odds to carve a role on special teams. He could be the shot in the arm on punt returns the Saints have been searching for since Michael Lewis hung up his cleats.
Round 6, 193rd Overall: LB Skai Moore, South Carolina Gamecocks
The only explanation I have for Skai Moore being available this late in the game is nervousness around his health. Moore missed the 2016 season with a herniated disc in his neck, but has since made a full recovery and returned to form in 2017. He’s one of the best coverage linebackers I’ve ever seen, and his career stat line looks more like a ballhawking safety than a thumper who led his team in tackles in each of his four years: 14 interceptions (plus 6 deflections), 20 tackles for loss (five of them sacks), three forced fumbles, and three separate fumble recoveries. Moore plays with legit 4.6-second speed, and is the ideal replacement for Craig Robertson as the fourth linebacker.
Round 6, 206th Overall: RB Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Kamara and Ingram almost defied description in 2017, and I expect them to keep that going in 2018. But the Saints lack a plan behind them - Trey Edmunds was uninspiring in limited action against the Buffalo Bills, and Jonathan Williams hasn’t caught on in a league suddenly-friendly to versatile running backs. Enter Ito Smith: a collegiate workhorse who can win in several different ways. He caught 40+ passes, ran for 1100+ yards, and scored 13+ touchdowns in each of his three years as a starter. Smith was one of the most-elusive backs in college football, making defenders miss from every corner, and projects very well to the next level. I’d love to see him work in sometimes as a change-of-pace or closer to the Saints’ big two.
Round 7, 247th Overall: OL Timon Parris, Stony Brook Seawolves
There isn’t much info out there on Timon Parris, but what you can find is great. He dominated his level of competition at both right and left tackle. He’s built in a similar frame to Terron Armstead with long limbs and a barrel chest. Parris will be at the Senior Bowl next week though I haven’t heard how much he’ll do after breaking his leg just before Halloween. Like many linemen from smaller schools, Parris struggles to keep his chest clean and can get moved around by stronger opponents. But NFL-level coaching will be great from him, especially in an offensive line factory like New Orleans.