It’s mock draft Monday, folks. In case you missed the first installment in this series, every week I’m running a randomized simulation over at FanSpeak.com to build a seven-round mock draft for the New Orleans Saints. This gives me a different pool of prospects to work with every time and help scout out the 2018 NFL Draft class.
Disclaimer: The purpose of these mock drafts isn’t to be right. It’s more like a series of scouting reports inside the framing device of the Saints’ picks. So don’t take it too seriously, just take it for what it is: a detailed look at the players available in this year’s rookie class.
Round One, 27th Overall: DE Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State Huskies
First off, Hercules Mata’afa (6-foot-2, 252-pounds) has the best name in football (at least until Amon-Ra St. Brown goes pro in a few years). Secondly, he’s got a skills set that confounds conventional wisdom but happens to fit the Saints’ needs perfectly. Mata’afa is built like a defensive end and has the athletic abilities of one, but was frequently played inside lined up over guard as a defensive tackle; the PAC-12 is weird like that. His dynamic first step and lower-body flexibility project well to attacking the edge as a pro, but he is very experienced – and effective – at sliding inside on third downs, which is something Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen asked often of edge rushers Alex Okafor and Trey Hendrickson. He could fit into that lightweight, lightning-quick pass-rush package, making opportunities for Okafor (if he’s re-signed), Hendrickson, and whoever makes the team out of Hau’oli Kikaha and Al-Quadin Muhammad to go hunt off the edge.
- LB Roquan Smith, Georgia Bulldogs
Round Two, 59th Overall: RB Alvin Kamara, AP All-Pro Second Team
We’ll get to see Kamara playing with a number of Saints in this week’s Pro Bowl in Orlando, FL, including his fellow running back Mark Ingram. Kamara and Ingram formed the best backfield duo in NFL history this year as a formidable attack through land and air. The Saints made a significant investment in Kamara including their 2017 third round and 2018 second round picks, but the return on their investment has surpassed all expectations. We’ll know soon whether or not Kamara can add NFL Rookie of the Year to his trophy case.
Round Three, 91stht Overall: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland Terrapins
The smoothest-running wideout in this class played for Maryland. D.J. Moore isn’t tall (he’s listed at just 5-foot-11 and 215-pounds) but he’s got all the qualities to thrive in New Orleans, playing bigger than his size and displaying a great catch radius by confidently catching away from his body. He was Maryland’s whole offense last year, catching passes from four different quarterbacks and being the only player on his squad to break the 1,000-yards from scrimmage mark. Moore is a precise athlete who won’t hesitate to engage opponents, recalling Steve Smith Sr and Golden Tate, and I fully expect his draft stock to rise once he shows out at the NFL Scouting Combine next month. He’ll probably end up being considered at the end of the first round thanks to his combination of reliable hands, detail-oriented routes, and big-play potential as a runner both before and after the catch.
- DE Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State Buckeyes
Round Four, 129th Overall: LB Chris Worley, Ohio State Buckeyes
Chris Worley isn’t the pick here to satisfy the Buckeyes quota, I promise. He’s a very solid linebacker who doesn’t make mistakes and brings a wealth of experience into the pros, having appeared in 37 games over his four-year career. Worley isn’t the Madden-created superhero we want (just 6-foot-2, 230-pounds) but he is the one we need right now. He can ably play any linebacker position, but he’s been at his best as the middle linebacker making calls and adjusting his teammates. Worley communicates between the front four and back seven very easily and was a clear leader on the field during last week’s East-West Shrine Game practices. I don’t think he’ll shock anyone at the Combine or Ohio State’s pro day workouts, but Worley should impress during interviews and film study. He’s as ready-made for the pro as anyone else to come out of Columbus.
- WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Round Five, 149th Overall (via Miami Dolphins): TE Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin Badgers
The word that comes to mind when you watch Troy Fumagalli is efficiency. He executes whatever his assignment is without much fanfare – whether it’s making a catch in the middle of the field, sealing his block on the edge, or just pulling attention in the secondary by running a clean route. But Fumagalli runs like somebody’s dad with a loping stride that doesn’t really get up to high speed. He won’t shake defenders in man coverage, but he’s effective when looking for a crease in between zones. He’s not taking guys’ lunch money when called to block, either, but his opponents rarely disengage. Maybe Fumagalli shows more once he’s out of Wisconsin’s uncreative offense, but for now his traits best project to running as a second or third tight end. If the Saints can land a big name like Trey Burton (Philadelphia Eagles) or Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals) through free agency, Fumagalli would be a great asset to round out a lackluster tight end group.
- TE Christopher Herndon, Miami Hurricanes
Round Five, 166th Overall: RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State Sun Devils
Kalen Ballage will disappoint you if stats are your go-to scouting tool. He’s a huge ball-carrier (listed at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds) with the skills to make plays in space, but made just pedestrian production in his college career. Much of that is due to playing for a mismanaged offense that doesn’t feature much NFL talent. Ballage’s game has its warts – he can be too hesitant or indecisive when running between the tackles, and is prone to taking false steps when there isn’t a clear path in front of him – but once he’s committed to his next move you can see how he shines. Ballage can make anyone miss in the open field and could run through a mile full of arm tackles without breaking a sweat. The Saints should have the luxury to look at a third wheel to wait behind Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and I’d like to see what Ballage does in New Orleans with a clearly-defined role.
- CB Darius Phillips, Western Michigan Broncos
Round Six, 193rd Overall (via Arizona Cardinals): OL Braden Smith, Auburn Tigers
Auburn ran behind Braden Smith any time they need a yard or three. Whether it was against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, bulldozing Arden Key and all the other LSU Tigers, or just any other Saturday, Auburn’s coaches knew Smith could be trusted to pave the way forward. He’s huge (6-foot-5, 305-pounds), violent, and reliable. He gets low easily despite his height to move just about anyone and should be a good pro for a very long time. Smith has also lined up as an inline blocking tight end on occasion, which gives him some versatility at the next level. I doubt seriously he’s available this late in the draft, and I would rather have found an offensive tackle here, but the experienced right guard can make any team better. He’s too good to pass up.
- LB Skai Moore, South Carolina Gamecocks
Round Six, 205th Overall: CB Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech Hokies
The modern NFL defensive back looks like Brandon Facyson (6-foot-2, 195-pounds, with 32 7/8-inch hands). He’s a little stiff in his movements, but Facyson doesn’t move without meaning – he knows exactly how his lower body’s momentum affects how he’s able to defend with his upper body. Like most young corners he’s too grabby at the top of his routes and prone to panicking, but that can be worked out with experience. The tools Facyson immediately brings to the table are his strong tackling ability – he always wraps up with both arms – and intelligence. He’s an effortless communicator in coverage, knowing not just his role but his teammates’, and can adjust on the fly to what the offense is showing him.
- RB Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Round Seven, 246th Overall: LB Shaquem Griffen, Central Florida Knights
One of my favorite players in the draft deserves better than a seventh round footnote, but here we are. Shaquem Griffen is lighter than you’d like a linebacker to be (last I checked: 6-foot-2, 220-pounds) but he’s a force out on the field. Griffen shows great straight-line speed to slice through the line and make plays as the backside defender, chasing down opponents before they can get up to speed themselves. He’s also effective in coverage, showing a great understanding for how route combinations are designed to work into and through his zone. He backpedals comfortably and always keeps the play in front of him. Griffen’s obsessive work ethic frequently shows up at the end of games where he uses what he’s learned in film study to pick up on trends and know where the ball is going before it’s even snapped – his game-winning quarterback hit to force an interception in double-overtime in this year’s Peach Bowl is just the latest example.
- OL Timon Parris, Stony Brook Seawolves
Which of these players would be your favorite pick?
This poll is closed
DE Hercules Mata’afa
WR D.J. Moore
LB Chris Worley
TE Troy Fumagalli
RB Kalen Ballage
OL Braden Smith
CB Brandon Facyson
LB Shaquem Griffen