Here it is: my final New Orleans Saints mock draft ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. I’ve done my best to project different trades based off of recent deals from the 2017 and 2016 NFL Drafts rather than relying on any of the different and conflicting draft pick valuation charts out there, so hopefully this is a better projection to what we can really expect to go down this weekend.
Round 1, Pick 27 (27th Overall): Traded to the New England Patriots.
The Saints agree to move down four spots, allowing New England to leapfrog the Pittsburgh Steelers at 28 for LSU Tigers running back Derrius Guice. In exchange, New Orleans receives New England’s 2018 first and third round picks: the 31st and 95th overall selections. This allows New Orleans to stay in range for any first round players they like while adding another pick in the draft’s top 100 selections.
Why would New England not pick Guice with their first choice at 23? I expect that pick will be used in a trade up for UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen or spent on a defensive prospect - New England has drafted a defender with their first pick for six consecutive years, and in nine of the last ten drafts.
Round 1, Pick 31 (31st Overall): Tight end Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State.
I fully expect New Orleans to select the best player available at this spot regardless of the position they play. In this scenario, the player the Saints covet most turns out to be the draft’s best tight end. Goedert is a great athlete at his size, hitting above the 90th-percentile in agility drills while scoring above-average in his jumps and catch radius.
Goedert comes from a complex offense that asked him to line up all over the field and while he’s not a great blocker, he’s willing to mix it up - as New York Giants rookie Evan Engram showed last year, that’s all you need right away. Ben Watson and Josh Hill can handle that traditional inline work right away, freeing up Goedert to focus on developing a rapport with Drew Brees.
Round 2, Pick 27 (59th Overall): Running back Alvin Kamara, All-Pro Second Team.
You didn’t really think I’d leave Kamara out? New Orleans traded this pick last year to get him, so I’m including him in the writeup. It helps add some context to what New Orleans is getting out of this draft class. And what New Orleans got out of Kamara was everything they asked for and more: a dynamic pass-catching back who could contribute immediately on passing downs, but turned out to have untapped potential as a runner between the tackles and out on the edge. He even chipped in on special teams through some effective kickoff returns down the stretch. Kamara should only improve in year two, and no reflection on the 2018 draft class is complete without considering him.
Round 3, Pick 8 (72nd Overall): Defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hayes State.
New Orleans trades up this time, receiving the New York Jets’ third round pick (72) in exchange for New Orleans’ own third (91) and a fifth round pick (147), as well as their 2019 third round pick (TBD). The Jets gave up a lot to trade up to the third spot for Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield, so they could use the extra fifth and future third.
The player New Orleans adds here is well worth the price. Shepherd is a beast, pure and simple. His D-II tape is laughably good as he never encountered a player who could block him. That didn’t change against top NFL prospects at the Senior Bowl. Shepherd can line up most-effectively over the guard’s outside shoulder at three-technique, but he has the size to move all the way inside to head-over-center at zero technique. Wherever he lines up, he is the dynamic interior pass-rusher they lost in Nick Fairley and pursued through Ndamukong Suh and Sheldon Richardson. With Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata approaching contract years in 2018 and 2019, Shepherd gives New Orleans an in-house option for the long haul.
Round 3, Pick 27 (91st Overall): Traded to the New York Jets.
Round 3, Pick 31 (95th Overall): Wide receiver Anthony Miller, Memphis.
New Orleans uses this pick to get Brees one more weapon on offense: a prolific receiver who saw plenty of time in the slot (43.7-percent of his routes) while also winning outside. Anthony Miller excels at attacking the intermediate and deepest areas of the field while being hard to stop after the catch. Miller can play right away after Willie Snead’s signing with the Baltimore Ravens, and should be a nice band-aid should Cameron Meredith be slow to recover from his knee injury. Miller can also provide continuity when contracts expire after the 2019 season for Meredith, Ted Ginn Jr, and Michael Thomas.
Round 4, Pick 4 (103rd Overall): Defensive back Siran Neal, Jacksonville State.
New Orleans makes a big move up here, picking up the Houston Texans’ fourth round pick (103) while giving up their own fourth (127) and a fifth round pick (189). Houston gave up a lot last year to go get Deshaun Watson, so these assets give them much-needed draft capital. New Orleans gets to move up and make their fourth selection in the draft’s top 103 picks.
Siran Neal offers extreme position versatility, lining up everywhere in the defensive backfield. He can capably play slot cornerback, single-high free safety, bump-and-run single coverage, overhang defender, and nearly anything else asked of him. Initially he’ll just be a dime defensive back who makes splash plays off of his explosive short-area speed and aggressive style of play, but in the long-term he gives New Orleans what they thought they had in Kenny Vaccaro and can become a starting defensive back wherever he impacts best.
Round 4, Pick 27 (127th Overall): Traded to the Houston Texans.
Round 4, Pick 30 (130th Overall): Edge defender Arden Key, LSU.
The Philadelphia Eagles agree to trade one of their fourth round selections (130) to New Orleans in exchange for picks in the fifth (164) and sixth rounds (189). Philadelphia picks again two selections after this (132) so any prospects they’re eyeing should still be available. New Orleans gets to vault up the board for a talented prospect they’ve done more homework on than anyone else.
New Orleans has more connections to Key than any other team: besides visiting with Key on four different occasions, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has a relationship with Sean Payton going back at least ten years, and current Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen filled the same role for Orgeron in previous stops at USC and Ole Miss. Whatever Key’s issues are, by this point it can be assured New Orleans knows them intimately and has a plan should Key join their team. At this point in the draft he’s worth the risk - pass rushers with Key’s upside don’t come around often.
Round 5, Pick 10 (147th Overall): Traded to New York.
Round 5, Pick 27 (164th Overall): Traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Round 6, Pick 15 (189th Overall): Traded to Houston.
Round 6, Pick 27 (201st Overall): Traded to Philadelphia.
Round 7, Pick 27 (245th Overall): Linebacker Kenny Young, UCLA.
New Orleans spends its final pick on one of the draft’s faster linebackers. Kenny Young is quick to diagnose the play, read his keys, and move quickly in a straight-line, but he’s vulnerable when asked to run horizontally or change direction. He figures to replace Craig Robertson - whose contract is up after 2018 - as the team’s fourth or fifth linebacker and chip in on special teams, though potential for growth is definitely in Young’s future. Importantly, Young’s presence continues to bring New Orleans fresh legs at one of its oldest units.
These picks in review:
1.31. TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
3.72. DL Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hayes State
3.91. WR Anthony Miller, Memphis
4.103. DB Siran Neal, Jacksonville State
4.130. ED Arden Key, LSU
7.245. LB Kenny Young, UCLA
I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a way to add an offensive lineman like Billy Price or Tyler Crosby, but I’m otherwise pleased with the players acquired through these trades. There’s the potential for a major trade up in pursuit of Lamar Jackson, but I just don’t think the Saints have the draft capital to make that happen. Instead, I think using the team’s collection of third day picks to maneuver the mid-rounds is a more-realistic expectation than New Orleans actually drafting six players on the event’s final day. At any rate, I’m exhausted by the predraft process. Let’s get it over with already.