The Saints have filled some positions of need at the start of free agency, but several still remain. Today, I will try to address some of them in my first mock draft of the year. To do this, I used the FanSpeak draft simulator with Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s draft board.
Round 1, 27th Overall: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Linebacker has been one of the Saints’ biggest weaknesses for several years. Therefore, the team made a big move to address this by signing former New York Jets middle linebacker Demario Davis to a 3-year, $24 million deal. And while that certainly does improve the unit, it shouldn't stop the Saints from trying to improve the position further.
Rashaan Evans could step into Dennis Allen’s defense immediately and be an impact player. He has the speed, strength, and tenacity to be the linebacker this team has been missing in the middle of defense ever since Jonathan Vilma left.
Outside of being able to cover, Evans has the strength and quickness to get to and tackle the ball carrier. Here’s an example.
I love that Evans can rock blockers when he needs to, but is also quick enough to dodge them and win in his gap still pic.twitter.com/9cviCEOhNV— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 4, 2018
Outside of being a great linebacker, Evans also offers a lot of versatility. He specializes in rushing the passer both from his linebacker spot but also around the edge on passing downs. Having a dynamic weapon like that on defense could really help Dennis Allen shut down opposing offenses.
Guys I also considered:
- WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
- WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
- TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
- DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
- LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Round 3, 91st Overall: WR DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
The Saints need a receiver, and here they get a good one. DaeSean Hamilton might lack the top end speed and quickness you look for in a receiver, but he makes up for it with sharp route running and the ability to win 50/50 balls. Hamilton was one of the big winners at the Senior Bowl. He showed scouts how easily he could win the 1-on-1 battles and separate from defenders. It’s something the Saints could use and need in the slot going forward.
Hamilton’s stock has been on the rise lately, and it’s not clear if he will be available at this point for the Saints. If they don’t select a receiver in the first round, they should definitely consider making Hamilton the slot receiver of the future in New Orleans.
Round 4, 127th Overall: TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
Mickey Loomis and company just signed Benjamin Watson to a 1-year deal. That is great news for the team, as it certainly helps them going into next year. We must keep in mind that Watson is 37 years old, and the team will undoubtedly still be looking to add another younger tight end who could impact the team long-term.
Ian Thomas is the kind of tight end I would love to see the drafted by the Saints. He has the physical tools you look for in a tight end with great size (6-foot-5, 248 pounds) and the raw potential to be a great tight end. New Orleans doesn’t need a starter after signing Watson, so bringing in a guy like Thomas could be perfect, as he doesn’t have to be forced into the starting lineup right away. If the Saints bring him in, look for him to sit back, learn, and slowly work his way onto the field by being the TE2 or TE3 we know Sean Payton loves to use in his offense.
Round 5, 147th Overall: DT Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
The Ndamukong Suh thing never materialized, and the team should look to add depth to their front seven in the later rounds. Shepherd is a small school guy that simply looks the part. He has a massive frame (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) and he works hard on every play. He is obviously extremely strong, but he also flashes great quickness in the trenches which helps him work around double teams and get into the backfield.
Shepherd’s comp on NFL.com is David Onyemata — and like him, he will be a guy who needs to be coached up before we see him on the field. His technique is lacking and he is yet to face any competition close to the one he will be facing at the next level.
Picking him will be a bit of a gamble, but not one we have seen the Saints shy away from in the past. They know the coaching staff has the ability to help guys develop and maybe it’s time to take another chance on a big defensive tackle.
Round 5, 164th Overall: WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame
Earlier in the mock, the Saints already addressed the receiver position in this draft, but why stop there when a guy like St. Brown is available? He has great size and speed, but lacked the production in college you look for. It’s hard to put all the blame on him as Notre Dame didn’t give him enough opportunities to make plays.
Brown does a good job of separating from defensive backs and has the awareness to create big plays with his speed and run after the catch ability. He will need to learn how to use his size and strength to his advantage on the next level, as he struggled to fight off physical corners in college.
It’s unclear if St. Brown will be available at this time, but if he is the Saints should seriously consider taking a chance on him.
Round 6, 189th Overall: S Damon Webb, Ohio State
Safety may not be a big need for the Saints, but they could use some depth behind Williams, Bell, and Coleman — and Webb gives them that. After converting from a cornerback, Webb has been learning the safety position. While he’s not anything near a finished product yet, his tape indicates that he could become a solid strong safety over time.
He reads the field well, shows good technique on tackles, and often times knows when to be to the get to the football (5 interceptions in 2017). He clearly lacks the elite athletic traits you hope to see and he doesn't have the size to play up close to the line of scrimmage, but the Saints could use a guy like him to provide depth in their secondary.
Round 6, 201st Overall: OT/OG Cole Madison, Washington State
Jermon Bushrod was added to the team through free agency, and while he serves as a good backup, additional depth is needed. Madison played tackle at Washington State, but could move inside to guard at the next level where his weaknesses can be limited and his athletic ability can be put to good use. The Saints could use a guy like him in case any of the starters on the O-Line get injured.
Round 7, 245th Overall: DE Marcell Frazier, Missouri
Frazier has been a highly productive defensive end for the Missouri Tigers. Over the last 2 seasons, he had 15.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. He consistently gets to the quarterback and he does a good job against the run. He has a good amount of pass rushing moves in his arsenal with the strength and motor to power through blockers. He lacks the athleticism you look for from a defensive end and doesn’t have the ability to bend around blockers.
Frazier could be a solid rotational piece on the defensive line and hopefully on special teams. He is definitely worth a 7th round pick.