With free agency on the verge now of being completed, it only makes sense to look forward to the NFL Draft which, despite all of Mother Nature’s attempts to ruin it, is still on course to begin as expected on Thursday, April 23rd.
Teams will look to rebuild, or in the case of the New Orleans Saints, reload, as they head into the new-look NFL in the upcoming year. With the Saints possessing a pick in every round except for the second and seventh rounds, they’ve got plenty of draft capitol for a team that, typically, prefers quality over quantity in the first place—and this draft class is chock full of quality.
From their first round pick, to their last pick in the sixth (probably), the Saints have a real chance to put together the finishing touches on a team that is already expected to contend for a Super Bowl title this year, coming out of what could be the league’s toughest division in the NFC South.
With plenty of challenges on the road ahead, let’s take a look at what proverbial armor the Saints may put on to finish their roster off, and face them.
Round 1, Pick 24 – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Before you go and ring my metaphorical doorbell on twitter—hear me out.
Drew Brees to Jordan Love, with one or two years on the bench learning the Saints offense, patiently learning behind one of the greatest to ever sling a football downfield, would provide an immediate, seamless transition that could serve to keep this team in Super Bowl contention for years to come.
Breaking down Love as a prospect, it’s only due to the sheer talent at the top-half of this class that such a solid, developmental starter could fall to the Saints at pick No. 24. In other years, I think Love would still go higher than this—but for this year’s sake, it’s just possible he falls and you wouldn’t have to trade up to get him.
Rather than add someone at the linebacker spot or corner spot here (think, Jeff Gladney out of TCU) the Saints extend their window, ideally. In this year’s linebacker class, there are plenty of guys that you could put onto the field in addition to their current linebacker room, and you can get them for a much later draft pick.
Guys like Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma or Patrick Queen are options here, no doubt. Rather than set all your chips on this being the season you win the Super Bowl, why not take the potential of, still doing that, and expanding the window? And the Saints appear to be interested.
The most intriguing QB in the 2020 class, Utah State's Jordan Love, has been busy.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 30, 2020
He's connected with the Dolphins, Packers, Colts, Chargers, Colts, Raiders and Saints in advance of the draft later next month.
Love has a rare set of physical skills that allowed him to shine, even in a lackluster (to put it nicely) Utah State defense—he’s a quarterback coach’s dream come true physically, and someone NFC South defenses would hate seeing multiple times a year in the post-Drew Brees era.
Round 3, Pick 88 – Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
Let’s preface this by saying that getting Van Jefferson in the third, to me, would be an absolute steal.
Even though Jefferson, son of former wide receiver and now coach Shawn Jefferson, will be 24 before his first NFL snap, he’s one of the best route runners in this class, and considering the talent level in this class of receivers, that’s quite the feat. Jefferson has better route running than many of the NFL’s veteran receivers and works all of his moves with intentionality.
He’s not the fastest, but working out of the slot he is a smooth, quick athlete. He shouldn’t have any trouble fitting into any scheme at the NFL level, and thanks to a natural football IQ also creates easy leverage in the short to immediate areas of the field. Jefferson provides a pro-ready target that is a hard worker, and steady contributor right away.
Drops were a large problem for the Saints last year out of the slot, and with the addition of Jefferson, not only do they start to (finally) build a formidable wide receiver room with Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jefferson and TreQuan Smith—they find a slot receiver with dependable hands.
Round 4, Pick 130 – Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, App. State
Yes, Saints fans—finally, I have taken someone to fill one of the team’s most needed positions.
With the linebacker room still fairly full with the likes of Demario Davis, Kiko Alonso (who notably took a team-friendly deal to return to New Orleans), Alex Anzalone and others—if it can stay healthy, it’d be a formidable front.
That’s been the problem, however.
Here to add another dependable pair of legs to that problem is one of the best reactive-athletes in the class and someone who, if pro days had continued, may have shot even further up draft boards than this. The truth is, in this class, the side-to-side linebacker is fairly limited, with many prospects looking like downhill players at the next level.
Davis-Gaither has great versatility in the position, and has lined up as a stacked backer, an outside linebacker and even out on wide receivers in sub packages. He’s a physical, contact seeking linebacker against the run who can work side to side well thanks to plus athleticism and speed. He could use to put on some size, but his frame suggests that he could carry about 20 more pounds or so if asked to.
I would say that his pathway to success at the next level is lining up inside, and letting him flow freely to the football and rack up tackles in a defense. That’s just what he’ll do, along with special teams likely, for the Saints.
Round 5, Pick 169 – Josiah Scott, CB, Michigan State
As we get into the later rounds, with the majority of the Saints needs being filled either through the prior free agency or earlier on in this draft, the focus goes to best player available and depth pieces. I think rather than take the general best player available, it only makes sense for the Saints to look for pieces they can mold into the future of their squad.
Scott was a solid player for the Spartans in his tenure, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten as a junior, and leading his squad with three interceptions and eight pass breakups in his 13 starts. Scott has a bit of an injury history, missing eight games in the 2018 season—but he rebounded in that same season to earn the RedBox Bowl Defensive MVP Award for his performance.
Scott has been nicknamed “The Gnat” by his teammates for how he plays his defense—pesky, annoying and quick. Scott would be a nice pickup in the fifth round, with good ball-hawking abilities, and experience playing a variety of coverage techniques. If he can get a bit bigger in size, but keep that same nickname-earning attitude and burst for recovery and attack, he could be a quality backup in the short term, and perhaps a starter long-term.
Round 6, Pick 203 – Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA
With Taysom Hill reportedly going to be the No. 2 quarterback on the roster heading into the next season, the time to list and use him as a tight end may be fleeting. However, when you draft Jordan Love, it’d be a waste to not use the complete-football player Hill in a few different ways.
Whether or not you utilize him this way, Jared Cook and Josh Hill are getting up there in age, and though they’re both still solid contributors in this Saints team at the tight end spot, Garrett Griffin and Jason Vander Laan make up the remainder of the depth at the spot. Asiasi would provide a fascinating prospect moving forward.
The UCLA product made the most of his 2019 season to showcase impressive receiving ability in the midst of a tight end class that many have their doubts about. He’s a natural, quick-flowing athlete with plus hands and impressive play after the catch. Though he’s still learning how to use his size, he’s got a nice frame and the potential to eventually become a starter. With the catching and after the catch skills he has, if he can learn a bit of blocking skill from someone—say, Josh Hill—he could be a nice addition to this Saints offense down the line.
Undrafted Free Agents
I think that this, in addition to some free agent signings (there are a few gems that will likely be going undrafted this year that have the potential to slot in right away—more on that in a later article), not only puts the Saints in position to challenge for the Super bowl this year, but expand their window for many a year to come.
If the Saints want see themselves taking a quarterback in this draft to groom under Brees in the coming year or more, this strategy allows them to keep on pace with the rest of the league, and expand that challenging window.