The 2018 NFL Draft is getting closer by the day, and the New Orleans Saints are feeling the pressure. The organization was on full deployment this week, with members of the coaching staff, scouting department, and even some front office executives running the roads to attend pro days and private workouts around the country. Here’s where they were assigned this week based off multiple reports:
Central Florida Knights
Top prospects: linebacker Shaquem Griffin and cornerback Mike Hughes
At #UCF Pro Day. @Shaquemgriffin on his 2nd L-cone drill. I’m told he met with the #Titans last Sunday, & was scheduled to meet with Sean Payton/#Saints last night. Will follow up after his workout. 31 #NFL teams present, Vert: 36.5, per school. pic.twitter.com/3WNU6IXnbn— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 29, 2018
31 NFL teams were present at the College Football Transitive National Champions’ pro day, with the Saints sending defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to help conduct workouts and assistant general manager Jeff Ireland to headline other members of the scouting staff, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The sensational one-handed playmaker Shaquem Griffin put on a show, excelling in drills at both linebacker and defensive back, and revealed that he had a formal meeting with Saints head coach Sean Payton the night before. Griffin also accepted an invitation to the 2018 NFL Draft next month in Dallas, an honor reserved for prospects expected to be among the draft’s top 50 picks.
Top prospects: quarterback Lamar Jackson and cornerback Jaire Alexander
Lamar Jackson's best throws from @UofLFootball Pro Day! @lj_era8 pic.twitter.com/ybuMcJ9V42— NFL (@NFL) March 29, 2018
The Saints sent another large contingent to Louisville including offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, and defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, per the Advocate’s Nick Underhill. The interest in Lamar Jackson, college football’s most electrifying player and one of the elite quarterback prospects, is either very real or a very convincing smokescreen - or both. Sean Payton’s glowing review of Jackson earlier this week doesn’t provide much clarity. If the Saints were to draft Jackson it’s tough to envision the Saints rolling out the same offense they have flourished with under Drew Brees - Jackson offers much more mobility in the backfield and can throw from a variety of different launch points, while possessing the athleticism to convert critical third downs on his own. It’s an added layer of intrigue to say the least.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Top prospect: tight end Hayden Hurst
March 20, 2018
Saints head coach Sean Payton and a group of other staff members (likely tight ends coach/assistant head coach Dan Campbell, who was sent to cover Dallas Goedert’s pro day at South Dakota State later in the week, per Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst) were in Columbia for a scheduled private meeting with Hurst, per the Times-Picayune’s Josh Katzenstein. This is continuing their circuit with the draft’s top tight ends - including guys like Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki, and Mark Andrews at last month’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and other visits around the country. I don’t know that any of the tight ends will grade out highly enough to be picked at twenty-seventh overall in the first round, but the Saints have made their interest in the position very clear.
Texas A&M Aggies and Texas Longhorns
Top prospects: wide receiver Christian Kirk (A&M), offensive lineman Conner Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive tackle Poona Ford
Malik Jefferson was pumped that @PoonaF_95 got his chance to shine at Texas Pro Day:— Will Sherratt (@willsherratt) March 28, 2018
"It was the number one question I got. What guy would I take with me? And I think all of us said Poona. Without a doubt."#HookEm pic.twitter.com/4kG8QZUjaw
The Saints sent a number of position coaches to the back-to-back pro days including offensive line coach Dan Roushar, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, and linebackers coach Mike Nolan, per Texas sports beat writer Andy Fenelon. Each of those guys has a top prospect clearly assigned to them, and this pro day also gave the Saints another opportunity to touch base with Poona Ford, an ideal run-stuffer they already met with at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Top prospects: wide receiver Korey Robertson, running back Ito Smith, defensive back Tarvarius Moore
It’s Pro Day at Southern Miss. Here’s Ito Smith: pic.twitter.com/v93L4rRUDx— PineBeltSPORTS (@PineBeltSPORTS) March 29, 2018
We don’t have any names to connect them to, but the Saints personnel in attendance were tasked with running position drills and workouts in Hattiesburg, per USM student journalist Trevor Ritchie. Several NFL Scouting Combine snubs made strong impressions, including Ito Smith and Tarvarius Moore. The Saints met again with Korey Robertson per CSC’s own Deuce Windham, who they spoke with at the NFL Scouting Combine is projected to be a mid-round draft pick.
Again, this is all based off of what’s been reported, so there’s gaps in knowledge and things that we just don’t know right now. But it’s great to be able to get a snapshot into how the Saints are assigning pro days and prioritizing draft prospects.