The NFL draft is just one month away. The New Orleans Saints currently own eight draft picks; one in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round, and two selections in the 5th and 6th rounds. We can expect some movement with some of these picks, and today I give you my first mock draft for the 2018 New Orleans Saints.
Round 1 (27th overall)
Da'Ron Payne (DT, Alabama)
The Saints heavy pursuit of Ndamukong Suh despite limited salary cap space may be a sign that New Orleans isn't completely satisfied with their defensive interior. The 6'2 311-lb. Payne was a dominant inside presence for the Crimson Tide. He combines amazing strength with good leverage and balance to shred opposing blocking schemes. Payne not only commands double and triple teams to free up his teammates to make plays, but has the ability to defeat multiple blockers on his own. He struggles to sustain a pass rush after his initial move, but possesses a quick first step and push to quickly collapse the pass pocket. Payne would be an immovable force against the run, further improving a Saints run defense that ranked 16th last season.
Round 2 (*projected trade)
*New Orleans surrenders a 2018 4th round pick, 2018 6th round pick, and a 2019 3rd round pick to Indianapolis for a 2nd round pick (37th overall)
Mike Gesicki, TE (Penn State)
The Saints tight ends were perhaps the weakest position on the team in 2017. New Orleans attempted to bring back Jimmy Graham via free agency, but the former Saint spurned their offer for Green Bay. The Saints are currently without a second round pick, having traded it last season to move up and select the eventual offensive rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara. The guess here is that coach Sean Payton moves into the 2nd round this year to get another offensive playmaker. Gesicki is more of an oversized receiver than an in-line tight end. The 6'5 Gesicki has tremendous leaping ability, good speed, and is an athletic mismatch against linebackers and most safeties. He is able to get deep quickly, but also able to run every route, and makes excellent adjustments to the ball with great hands to make tough catches in traffic. He is not a good blocker, and his lean build can cause him problems getting away from physical coverage along the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Drew Brees has proven in the past that he will utilize a weapon of Gesicki's skill set perfectly. The Nittany Lions all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for a tight end would be a match up nightmare for Saints opponents that already have to contain with in the likes of Kamara and Michael Thomas.
Round 3 (91st overall)
Anthony Miller, WR (Memphis)
Despite the Saints 5th ranked passing attack in 2017, the team struggled to get consistent production from their wideouts outside of Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. Miller would give the team an additional inside/outside threat to further open up their offense. He doesn't have great size (5'11 190-lbs.), but plays with a fiery competitive chip on his shoulder comparable to former NFL Pro Bowler Steve Smith. He is a deep threat from any spot on the field, with great body control and the ability to adjust to the ball. Miller has good upper body fakes to set up double moves, and has quick hands to make him deadly on back shoulder throws. He needs to refine his routes to be more crisp, but accelerates into his cuts to create separation. Miller is a good open field runner, setting up blockers well on screens and fighting through tacklers for extra yardage. He can struggle against bigger corners on the outside, but would likely be utilized most often in the slot to use him in space.
Round 5 (147th overall)
Tyquan Lewis, DE (Ohio State)
The pipeline from Columbus to New Orleans continues with Lewis, a key contributor in all four of his years with the Buckeyes. Part of a deep defensive line at Ohio State, he had 37 tackles for loss and 24 career sacks while being named to the All Big Ten team each of the last two seasons. Lewis has good initial quickness and bend around the edge as a rusher, then shows a burst of closing speed to get to the quarterback or running back. He is effective on either side, but can get overwhelmed by bigger blockers if he doesn't beat them quickly. A bit limited athletically, he is much better coming up the field than in pursuit, Lewis also possesses the size and strength to hold the edge against the run, even moving inside to tackle in some situations.
Round 5 (164th overall)
Colby Gossett, G/T (Appalachian State)
Lost in the excitement of some of the Saints free agent signings was the fact that they lost veteran tackle Zach Strief to retirement, and versatile backup Senio Kelemete to free agency. Some of that was offset by the return of former Saint great Jermon Bushrod in free agency, but the team would add youth and versatility to the line with this pick. Gossett was a versatile lineman for the Mountaineers that likely projects to a guard in the pros. He sets a strong anchor as a pass protector, and did not allow a sack last season. Considered more of a technician than a mauler, Gossett is quick off the snap into his blocks. He must improve his footwork to handle more athletic defensive linemen, and needs to get into the second level of the defense faster. He held his own when stepping up to face top competition this postseason, and will be given time to develop behind a very good New Orleans line.
Round 6 (201st overall)
Trey Quinn, WR (S.M.U.)
Quinn comes from a high octane Mustangs offense, possibly dropping this far due to average athletic ability and poor measurables. His production in 2017 cannot be overlooked, as he outperformed his more hyped teammate, wideout Courtland Sutton. A graduate of Alfred M. Barbe High in Louisiana, Quinn set state high school receiving records before committing to L.S.U. After two seasons in a struggling Tigers offense, he transferred to S.M.U., where he caught 114 passes for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. He operates best out of the slot, where he shows good zone recognition and route execution. Quick more than fast, Quinn does have deceptive deep speed and good hands. Plays bigger than his 6'0, 212-lb. frame, he could thrive in a faster tempo Saints offense that struggled to get production from their secondary receivers.
Round 7 (245th overall)
Quandree Henderson, KR/WR (Pitt)
Henderson is the selection here purely because of his kick return abilities to a New Orleans team that struggles in this area. He is the Panthers all-time leader in touchdown returns with 7, and his ranking near the top of the FBS in return yards and punt return average led to All-American honors in 2016. The 5'8 Henderson contributes little as a receiver, catching just 45 career passes with one touchdown. His open field abilities has made him a weapon on end arounds, scoring 5 touchdowns as a runner. The Saints desperately need a kick return threat. Neither Tommylee Lewis or Ted Ginn were able to be consistent. The Saints used Kamara on kickoff returns down the stretch of the 2017 season, but he is such a valuable offensive weapon that it seems certain that the team will look for an additional special teams threat.
The Saints 2017 draft was historic, and helped propel the team to it's first NFC South title in six years. It not only produced the NFL's offensive and defensive rookie of the year (Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore), but also placed safety Marcus Williams and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk on the All-Rookie team. Linebacker Alex Anzalone and end Trey Hendrickson look like solid defensive players as well, despite struggling with injuries last year. New Orleans looks to continue it's draft success from the last two years, as they continue to rebuild their roster to contend for another championship.