It’s Friday, here’s your latest New Orleans Saints mock draft. You can find the last entry in this series by following this link.
Reminder: I’m not doing this to get picks right. It’s more fun (for me) to use the framework of a mock draft to look at prospects all across the board than drop individual scouting reports on you. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the idea of drafting a player at a certain spot. Just consider what each prospect has to offer and how they would fit in New Orleans.
Round One, 27th Overall: WR James Washington, Oklahoma State Cowboys
James Washington was the best player in Mobile, and might be the best wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft. Through a week of practices, he was only seriously challenged sparingly (and I’ll get to who was responsible for that in a bit). Despite working with an unconventional frame, standing 5-foot-10 and 210-pounds with arms nearly-34-inches long, Washington continued to win convincingly against any kind of coverage thrown at him. He shreds zone looks with ease, and answered a popular question about how he’d fare versus press-man by winning 10 of his 12 contests, per Pro Football Focus’ onsite charting. Washington would be a perfect compliment to Michael Thomas on top of the Saints’ receiving lineup, offering physicality and breakaway speed after the catch while excelling on contested catches. His highly-productive college career - three consecutive outings of more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns - can also give you confidence that he could fill in for Thomas should the injury bug creep up.
- LB Roquan Smith, Georgia Bulldogs
- DE Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State Cougars
Round Two, 59th Overall: RB Alvin Kamara, AP All-Pro Second Team
The favorite for NFL offensive rookie of the year had a blast at the Pro Bowl, showing out with teammates and palling around with other elite talents from around the league. Kamara won’t turn 23 until July, and is prepped to continue shredding records in his second year as a pro. Looking back on the 2017 season, Kamara really was the spark that helped the Saints offense shift gears and move the ball against opponents at will. A full offseason of training and refinement - as well as whatever he can pick up from his friend and Pittsburgh Steelers superstar, Antonio Brown - will be good for him.
Round Three, 91st Overall: DB Siran Neal, Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Remember how I said James Washington was only tripped up once or twice? That came at the hands of a little-heralded defensive back out of Jacksonville State. Siran Neal was one of the most-physical players in Mobile, showing the same eagerness to run into other people that makes his highlight reel so much fun. Neal plays with Kenny Vaccaro’s punishing mindsight with Marcus Williams’ athleticism and body type (measuring 6-foot-even, 206-pounds). Neal was impressive as a dedicated slot corner who also made plays at safety, defending in the box and even dropping back into single-high looks. A fun footnote in his stats sheet: last year, Neal defended a dozen passes but only stopped one tackle for loss. The previous year, in a totally different role, he made 11.5 tackles for loss of yards while getting his hands on five passes. His aggression will get him flagged in the NFL, but the ability to master different positions inspires some confidence that he can clean it up.
- DE Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State Buckeyes
- WR D.J. Moore, Maryland Terrapins
Round Four, 129th Overall: DE Kemoko Turay, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Turay didn’t have the productive college career you’d like, but the tools are all there for him to see Danielle Hunter-esque growth at the next level. Turay has great lower body flexibility to consistently turn the corner when rushing off the edge, and keeps a clear head often enough to rush with a plan and set his opponents up to falter. I also like his awareness when dropping back in coverage to jam receivers in his zone and disrupt their timing. He’ll need to get stronger and develop some moves, but he’s got all the makings of a productive edge presence.
- WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State Cowboys
- LB Chris Worley, Ohio State Buckeyes
Round Five, 149th Overall (via Miami Dolphins): C James Daniels, Iowa Hawkeyes
If the Saints miss out on Billy Price and Frank Ragnow early in the draft, watch out for Daniels later on. The leader of Iowa’s nation’s-best offensive line is strong as an ox and did very well adjusting his teammates to pressure before the snap. He’s very athletic and would be a great replacement for Senio Kelemete if he leaves in free agency. Further on down the line, Daniels should seamlessly inherit the starting job at center from Max Unger.
- TE Christopher Herndon, Miami Hurricanes
- TE Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin Badgers
Round Five, 166th Overall: QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State Buckeyes
Barrett has had a weird career in Columbus. He’s been one of the most-productive quarterbacks in recent years, coming up just short of 9,500 career passing yards with 104 touchdowns to just 30 interceptions. He’s also tacked on 3,200-plus rushing yards with 43 scores on the ground. Barrett has been slow to process as things develop in front of him and makes too many poor decisions per game, but I think he’s shown enough to work with as a developmental prospect.
- CB Darius Phillips, Western Michigan Broncos
- RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State Sun Devils
Round Six, 193rd Overall (via Arizona Cardinals): TE Durham Smythe, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Durham Smythe hasn’t gotten the opportunities of other tight ends in this class, but all he’s done is make plays. He shows great understanding of his role in the offense and quickly built rapport with his quarterbacks in Senior Bowl practice. Smythe has some suddenness to his game and can change directions fairly quickly. He also doesn’t drop the ball when it’s his to get, which is nice. His high effort as a blocker just gives you more incentive to get him involved in the offense early.
- LB Skai Moore, South Carolina Gamecocks
- OL Braden Smith, Auburn Tigers
Round Six, 205th Overall: DL Justin Jones, NC State Wolfpack
Nick Fairley’s career is probably done, if the upcoming arbitration hearings over his contract guarantees are any indication. The Saints have gotten great reps out of David Onyemata in the rotation with Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison, but too often the Saints had to sign an old defensive lineman (John Hughes, Tony McDaniels, and George Johnson come to mind) to field a capable unit. So look for second-year Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen to get any of the talented prospects he recruited and developed at NC State: Bradley Chubb is a longshot but B.J. Hill, Kentravius Street, and Justin Jones are all possible. Jones was the best of the group in this month’s all-star game practices and can do many of the things Fairley was signed for.
- RB Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
- CB Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech Hokies
Round Seven, 246th Overall: DB Damon Webb, Ohio State Buckeyes
Webb hasn’t been praised as highly as other Ohio State defensive backs but the young safety looks like a future pro. He communicates well and did alright in East-West Shrine Game practices last month. He helps fill this year’s Buckeyes quota and could be a nice project on the back end with Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush both headed for free agency. His ball skills (five interceptions last year) would definitely be welcome.
- OL Timon Parris, Stony Brook Seawolves
- LB Shaquem Griffen, Central Florida Knights