New Orleans Saints fans are fanatical in their hope for a trade down. It’s their great hope, the white whale to their insane Captain Ahab. Every day they ask me on Twitter if the Saints will trade down out of the 27th-overall pick. Every time I mention a prospect worth looking at for that pick or drop a new mock draft, trading down is the suggestion.
My frustration with this is that it’s not up to the Saints whether they trade down. Each of the last few years they’ve been open to it but couldn’t find any offers, at least not early in the draft. It’s just not their M.O.
So what would it take for that course to change in 2018? To find out, I’ve highlighted three players who would need to be available at the Saints’ first round pick for other teams to ask about trading places. Let’s dive in:
Every touchdown by Derrius Guice from the 2016 season. pic.twitter.com/PsClCvuRiZ— James Simpson (@JS_Football) April 1, 2018
RB Derrius Guice, LSU Tigers
Guice has cemented himself as a top option at running back, second only to Saquon Barkley, despite weird comments about “character concerns” from cowardly anonymous sources. The only feat Guice has made the news for is saving someone from a bad car accident. That smells more like a smokescreen than serious criticism, which is typical for this time of year. It’s lying season.
Anyway, Guice is a lock to go in the first round of the draft, which would be great for the Saints. Guice being selected ahead of them will push another talent down (at a position of need) to their pick. Word on the street suggests the Washington football cognoscenti is in love with Guice, but they pick too highly and will probably go in another direction. Should Guice fall to 27, look for the Philadelphia Eagles (picking at 32) to submit bids to New Orleans to leapfrog the Pittsburgh Steelers (28).
Per FanRagSports’ Jon Ledyard, Philadelphia is investing four days in Guice this weekend: they flew top staff members into Baton Rouge on Thursday night to grab dinner with him, then ran through a private workout on Friday morning. Their further plans include hosting Guice officially in team facilities on Monday and Tuesday of next week (with Guice squeezing a workout with Washington in between Sunday and Monday, per Ledyard). That’s a ton of time to devote to a prospect if you’re just going for a smokescreen. A backfield of Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Derrius Guice would be terrifying.
So why would the Eagles trade up with the Saints rather than another team? If Guice makes it past other running back-needy teams like the Detroit Lions, he could slip right on down to the Saints and be minutes away from joining the Steelers. Pittsburgh is the other team to show the most interest in Guice, again per Ledyard’s reporting; general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin followed up on a formal interview at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine with a private dinner before Guice’s April 4th pro day. Steelers star Le’Veon Bell has been very public in his dissatisfaction of contract talks with Pittsburgh, and Guice would provide a clear succession plan/eject button.
It’s easy to imagine a world where the Saints war room is working the phones to each Pennsylvania rival, angling for the best offer. The New England Patriots could even get involved, having flown Guice into Foxoboro for an official visit. And by moving back from 27 to 28 or 32, it’s very possible the Saints could still get whichever prospects they wanted for themselves in the first place.
LG Will Hernandez (UTEP, 6’3”, 330lbs). This is a man amongst boys, even vs. Texas & Oklahoma (#76). I think I’ll be comfortable with him in the late 1st round. pic.twitter.com/ofLX1ROLhG— Jeremy Stevenson (@MyColtsAccount) November 30, 2017
G Will Hernandez, Texas-El Paso Miners
Teams that don’t need a quarterback in the top ten picks – or even top five – are wracking themselves over a big question: are we really about to draft a guard this early?
Thanos, the Mad Titan, has been hiding in plain sight as an offensive lineman for Notre Dame the last few years while calling himself Quenton Nelson. Nelson is the best football player in the 2018 NFL Draft regardless of position, having never allowed a sack (and hardly any other pressures) in several years as a starter while dominating everybody lined up against him. He’s the closest thing to a perfect prospect imaginable, and rightfully coveted for it – to an extent. He’s still “just a guard”, after all.
But that’s what’s so interesting from the Saints’ perspective. Teams that love Nelson and don’t end up getting him could be in luck should his colleague Will Hernandez be on the board late in the first round. The New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos could all use a dynamic guard but pass on Nelson early in the first round, only to trade up in the round’s closing picks for Hernandez – a player who is equally dominant a blocker and carries just as fierce a reputation, though doesn’t share Nelson’s top-flight pedigree.
So there’s a quick avenue for the Saints to take when trading out of the first round. Hernandez is on the board, and any of those clubs (or a dark horse I haven’t listed) give them a call, looking to jump ahead of each other and other teams who could use a great interior blocker. This argument holds up for other talented guards-to-be like Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Billy Price (Ohio State), and James Daniels (Iowa), who could hear their names called at the end of the first round.
We know the Saints are content with drafting offensive linemen in the first round those players need to either have some position versatility or offer immediate upside as a sixth man in unbalanced sets. Hernandez has, like Nelson, played nothing but left guard throughout his college career. So the Saints would have to again move Andrus Peat and likely make a tough decision on Terron Armstead, who will cost more off of the roster than on it until 2019.
They could – in theory – train Hernandez at a new position but that would be totally new to him and it’s impossible to say right now whether it work out. The other players listed have cross-trained at either tackle and guard (Wynn) or guard and center (Price and Daniels) so I think they are more realistic fits than Hernandez. That said, Hernandez has numbered among New Orleans’ top thirty official visits, so they have some kind of interest in his talents.
Seeing this a time (or four) with Mason Rudolph...know thyself. pic.twitter.com/QCe3jgv3K0— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) February 9, 2018
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Like Davis Webb last year, the dark horse quarterback to go in the first round (to hear unaccountable NFL sources tell it) is Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is a prospect very similar to Webb and A.J. McCarron coming out; an unrefined passer who struggles to throw with anticipation or arm strength, consistently putting his receivers in tough spots and trusting them to come down with the ball. Again, like those other late-round draft picks, Rudolph is kind of going through the motions and not directing his offense in the same way other quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or Lamar Jackson have.
Regardless of Rudolph’s shortcomings and likely plummet into the draft’s third day, the NFL rumor mill has suggested his name as a prospect who could hear his name called early in the draft. He’s the only quarterback who qualifies for Bill Parcells’ traditional baselines of seniority, volume of wins, and game experience, while checking other boxes the NFL values in height-weight-speed combinations and raw production.
I don’t see the appeal with Rudolph, and the Saints have not been heavily connected to him, so if the buzz is real and he is there at the 27th selection, I’d hope one of the teams picking early in the draft and missed on a quarterback could try to compete with the Jacksonville Jaguars (picking at 29), who have indicated they really like Rudolph as a threat to Blake Bortles. Jacksonville brass made frequent trips to Oklahoma State during the previous college football season and met with Rudolph formally at both the Senior Bowl and Combine. Look at the Giants, Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and Buffalo Bills as possible trade partners.
So why would the Saints pass on Rudolph if Brees is playing out the final yeas of his contract? He just isn’t a good fit. Rudolph lacks Brees’ pocket mobility as well as the quick information-procession and decision-making triggers that have made the Saints’ offense hum for over a decade. Rudolph puts his receivers into too many contested-catch scenarios and limits their ability run after the catch by struggling to lead them into passes or air it out deep. He can hit short-range throws with some accuracy, but I just don’t see many tools for the Saints coaching staff to develop here.
What do you think? Who are some other coveted prospects that could help the Saints move down and add more picks?