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Saints stick with tight end in Mel Kiper’s third mock draft

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Between Ben Watson’s signing and this mocked pick, the Saints tight ends have gotten a facelift.

COLUMBIA, SC - South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst (81) carries the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks defense during a game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
COLUMBIA, SC - South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst (81) carries the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks defense during a game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft is drawing closer by the day, and the New Orleans Saints are sitting stagnant in between ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s updates. You can find the first version of his mock draft here, and the second iteration by following this link. His latest update is located here, but requires ESPN Insider for access.

After projecting big-time SMU Mustangs wide receiver Courtland Sutton to join the Saints in his first mock, Kiper instead has them sticking with South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst, writing:

As I noted in Mock Draft 2.0 when I pegged Hurst to New Orleans, Drew Brees needs a No. 1 tight end. Coby Fleener was a free-agent bust, and we thought the Saints might try to bring back Jimmy Graham. Hurst is an all-around tight end who can help in the running game while he develops as a pass-catcher. The New Orleans offense is loaded, but this is a critical void that needs to be filled. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints targeted a quarterback at this spot or on Day 2.

Kiper’s opinions can be lackluster - for some reason he doesn’t think completion percentage matters for Josh Allen, but it’s a major red flag for Lamar Jackson - but he’s readily admitted that he botched his evaluation of the Saints 2017 draft class. It’s also worth noting that Kiper published this mock before the Saints re-signed Benjamin Watson after his two-year sabbatical with the Baltimore Ravens. I wrote yesterday on what Watson’s return means, and what it doesn’t mean, in regards to the upcoming draft and Coby Fleener’s future.

Now that we’ve gotten through the NFL Scouting Combine and initial two waves of free agency, I feel confident naming Hurst one of the top three tight ends in this year’s draft class - the others being Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert. He runs well and is an eager blocker, if lacking refinement in his technique as far as taking false steps and mistiming his punch. Hurst is a former minor league baseball player who’s only been a tight end for a few years at South Carolina, so it makes sense that his game has some warts to work out. But he’ll be turning 25 in August, and you have to wonder how much room he really has to grow as a pro.

Update: Saints head coach Sean Payton and a group of assistant coaches - likely including tight ends coach/assistant head coach Dan Campbell - are visiting privately with Hurst in South Carolina today, per Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune/NOLA.com. Elsewhere, Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi are among the 32 representatives taking in Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson’s pro day, per Nick Underhill of the Advocate.