We’re one week away from the draft and I decided to scour the internet to find some useful draft information relative to the New Orleans Saints. Some of these pertain to this year’s draft directly i.e. positions the Saints may be interested in, while some of it is based on historical data unearthed from the coal mines of Saints fandom memories.
So lets get into it.
#1. Saints are in the market for a linebacker
The New Orleans typically categorize their off-season priorities by must, needs, and wants. One of the very first free agent targets tied to the Saints was linebacker Jamie Collins as reported by Larry Holder of the Athletic in early-March. After failing to secure his services they turned to restructuring Kiko Alonso’s contract to bring him back at a lower rate as he recovers from an ACL injury suffered vs the Minnesota Vikings.
A short while later linebacker A.J. Klein signed with the Buffalo Bills, further weakening a unit they obviously wanted to improve on in free agency. With Alonso, Demario Davis, and Alex Anzalone all in the last year of their contracts, linebacker definitely counts as a must and the only other avenue to address it at this point is the draft. It’s plausible that the first pick for the Saints to be announced from Roger Goodell’s basement will be a second level contributor.
#2. The Saints are a prototype team.
Dating back to 2017 you can find New Orleans really starting to implement prototypes into their drafting. Head coach Sean Payton learned from the legendary Bill Parcells in that regard. Parcells was known for having a height, weight, speed prototype for every position on the team, something he learned from legendary head coach Tom Landry. “Draft an exception, and pretty soon you’ll have a team of exceptions” said Landry. The idea is to change the team’s size, simply put – big people beat up little people, and if a player doesn’t fit the mold, then there better a good reason.
In 2017, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis spoke about this prototype mentality:
“If you’re taking one, they’re going to have some elite quality, something about them that is really elite or exceptional that overcomes the traits that are missing.”
One example would be Sheldon Rankins, at 6’1 299 pounds Rankins was the only defensive tackle prospect on the team under 300 pounds when he was drafted, but his exceptional length (33-inch arms), explosiveness (34.5-inch vert) and versatility (ability to play 5, 1, 3, or 4 technique) likely made up for his lack of size at the position.
#3. Payton and Loomis do not draft wide receivers under 6’0”
This idea piggy backs off the prototype theory but pre-dates the 2017 revamping that Payton spoke about during that time. Payton, like Andy Reid, has always liked bigger receivers and Michael Thomas, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Tre’Quan Smith, Kenny Stills and Nick Toon all checked in above 6’0”. The only receiver that they’ve made an exception for was Brandin Cooks whose 4.33 speed and near 10” hands made up for his lack of height (5’10) and length (30 3/4”) in the 2014 NFL Draft.
If you’re looking for a player that doesn’t quite measure up but has a significant redeeming quality, look no further than Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The receiver checked in at 5’11 ¾ at the Senior Bowl and has an 81-inch wingspan. To put that in context 6’6 Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg has a 79 5/8” wingspan. The one thing that could knock him off New Orleans’ board is his medicals.
Aiyuk failed his physical at the Senior Bowl and recently underwent core surgery, right on the heels of Payton admitting that the team may be more cautious than normal with regards to prospects.
#4 - New Orleans will draft a defensive back (Graphic)
They say it is smart business to draft a quarterback every year. Obviously Payton subscribes to the defensive back theory of similar principles. Since Payton took over the helm, the Saints have drafted a defensive back, whether safety or corner, in every single draft for a total of 21 players. It makes sense considering the Saints are a 60/40 passing team, and the chances of their opponent playing from behind are greatly increased. This results in more passing and more opportunities for a defensive back. It also conversely leads to more injuries as New Orleans has lost a member of the secondary to the injured reserve every year since 2009 (as far back as I could find the stats).
Another thing we know is that Payton couples the defensive back position right in there with quarterback and pass-rusher as positions that go early. So if you want one you better get one quickly. Much like the linebacker position, the Saints have P.J. Williams, Patrick Robinson, and Janoris Jenkins all in the final year of their contract. It may not be a must but it’s certainly a need.
#5 - The Saints are more likely to trade up than back.
In terms of tendencies, here are the most selected positions in #Saints' trade ups since 2006 (positions designated by collegiate play)— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) April 13, 2020
DL - 7
DB - 4
RB - 3
WR & OL - 2
If there’s anything else guaranteed to happen besides the Saints drafting a defensive back it’s them trading up at some point in the draft. Thanks to Ross Jackson we also have a list of tendencies on those trade-ups in the tweet above - with defensive line leading the pack followed by defensive back. It’s a common belief that New Orleans may be hard pressed to wait until pick 88 before their next selection and could be inclined to move up from that position to select a defensive back or receiver.
In a draft where it’s been suggested you can find a contributor at receiver as late as the fifth-round, I’d keep an eye on the top two positions in those tendencies as possible targets. New Orleans may be willing to part with a 2021 pick to move up knowing they’ll likely receive a compensatory pick slotted in the third-round next year.
#6 - Quarterback may quietly be a must
It was a must going into the season, an “empty space on the board” as Coach Payton would refer to it. Bringing back Brees was a piece of the puzzle and places a magnet next to QB1, but the future beyond that is uncertain. Fact is, as of now, Taysom Hill has NOT signed an extension nor his tender, leaving the Saints still with only one quarterback under contract.
Add that to the importance of Hill’s multi-faceted role during the season and New Orleans must have a third QB on the roster. Whether that comes during the draft or after it remains to be seen, but with roughly $3.5-million available in cap space, you’ve got to think the preference would be to land a guy between the second and fifth-rounds.
As of now they’ve been tied to Jordan Love as well as Jake Fromm via Larry Holder and both are polarizing prospects for different reasons. Fromm reads the field well but doesn’t have the arm talent you’d expect and after a spectacular season the year before Love came crashing back to earth in 2019 with 20 TD’s to 17 INT’s.
Still, Payton seemed to understand that there was more to his regression:
“He turned the ball over a lot this season.”
They had a coaching change, though, and I think that hurt him to some degree.
What happens as it pertains to the Saints next Thursday is anyone’s guess and trying to predict it would be like searching for Dragon Balls empty handed. At least with this information you have the equivalent of Bulma’s Dragon Radar to guide you in the right direction. And if all else fails, don’t be surprised if offensive lineman is the pick at 24. It’s their go to “safe” pick when players they like or coveted are off the board. Who Dat