It’s the 11th hour and it’s safe to say that there is enough data to draw a conclusion about the New Orleans Saints options when they take their turn with the 24th pick in 2020 NFL Draft.
First, let’s list a few positions the Saints may want to address. In no particular order there is offensive line, linebacker, wide receiver, quarterback, tight end, and cornerback.
I left off defensive line because although New Orleans may want another defensive end or tackle, they don’t necessarily need one. Cameron Jordan, David Onyemata, Marcus Davenport, Shy Tuttle, and Malcom Brown are all under contract through 2021. With that level of stability, even pending the potential loss of Sheldon Rankins on the horizon, it’s not a position of need.
The next thing we want to do is look at what may be available in free agency with regards to the Saints positions of need following the draft.
- At quarterback you’ve got Cam Newton and Jameis Winston waiting on their phones to ring.
- At tight end you’ve got a newly released Trey Burton
- At wide receiver the Jacksonville Jaguars just released Marqise Lee
- At cornerback a familiar name in Eli Apple still remains unsigned
There are two positions in free agency that are typically difficult to come across after the first few waves of signings, those being offensive line and linebacker. Simply put, the really good players don’t generally hit the market unless their home team is unwilling to pay them what they will command (Carl Nicks), or they were devalued because of system fit (Demario Davis).
The reason Andrus Peat was able to secure his current contract is because teams are willing to pay for a reliable offensive lineman in a league that has seen deteriorating positional play over the last few years. This deterioration in quality is also the reason plenty of offensive lineman go earlier than expected on Day 1 of the draft.
Another piece of the puzzle is knowing the positional depth in this draft from the perspective of a particular team. Luckily, coach Sean Payton gave us some insight here:
“After doing the front-board meeting, certainly it’s a deep draft at receiver,” Payton said, referring to a conference with college scouting director Jeff Ireland and his staff. “We think [it’s also deep] at defensive back as well, and defensive line.
After rounding up this data, here are two critical points:
- Linebacker and offensive line aren’t deep in the draft nor free agency
- Cornerback and wide receiver offer more options if you combine draft and post-draft free agency
Furthermore, New Orleans has already lost A.J. Klein to the Buffalo Bills and subsequently missed out on signing Jamie Collins, making the need for a LB glaring. What hasn’t been talked about enough is the remaining need for additional offensive line additions.
Mike Detillier shined a little light on this immediately following the re-signing of Peat.
“Now, the Saints can’t keep all three (Peat, Easton, and Warford) because of the finances. What it does here, they (Saints), Larry Warford or Nick Easton will be gone because of the finances involved.“
To further add to the case that I’m about to make, I present Larry Holder of The Athletic. Holder has spoken since early-March about the Saints being unhappy with Larry Warford’s play last year. He has also added an important nugget about New Orleans’ willingness to move last year’s starting center and second-round draft pick Erik McCoy over to guard if need be.
Graham Glasgow seems like the best interior OL on the market at this point. Can play guard or center. I've written how the Saints will likely be open to moving Erik McCoy to guard if it meant the best five on the field. But Glasgow will likely get paid, though.— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) March 16, 2020
Holder’s comments were in reference to potential signing of Graham Glasgow but one could easily assume the circumstances haven’t changed. This leads me to believe New Orleans could actively be looking for a new starter on the offensive line right now, not in a year as we’ve previously thought.
Let’s catch up here. The draft isn’t deep in offensive lineman or linebackers and the Saints have needs at both, so here’s the issue:
Without one of the top offensive linemen falling, there isn’t a guard or center worth the 24th pick. Additionally, the prospect that best fits the Saints needs at linebacker, Kenneth Murray, is likely to be gone before then.
Well, what about Patrick Queen?
Based on past draft data he isn’t a clear cut first-round pick. He doesn’t have first-round size nor does he have first-round production. In comparison, a guy like Murray has three years of tape, the production to go with it, a pristine background, and is topped off with the size/weight/speed to be successful in the NFL. He’s a first-rounder through and through.
Queen on the other hand is relatively smaller and only has one year of data to go off. Yes, he played for the National Champion LSU Tigers but it doesn’t all line up.
Notable comparisons could be Deion Jones and Devin White, who are both undersized and are doing fine in the NFL. However, before they left college both eclipsed 100 tackles in their final season with multiple double-digit tackle games (Jones -5 and White -5) Queen’s highest tackle output game was 9 against Ole Miss and all 9 were assisted.
Is this saying Queen won’t be good? Absolutely not. All I’m saying is that he screams second-round value more than first when looking at the player as a whole. I feel the same way about Zach Baun, another prospect I’ve seen tied to New Orleans as the draft looms overhead.
Here is where we stand:
- The Offensive line and Linebacker are needs that will be hard to find post draft
- Wide Receiver and Cornerback are needs that will be easier to find post draft
- The draft is deep at the Wide Receiver and Cornerback position
- The Offensive Line may be the most immediate need despite not seeming like it.
- The Saints are open to moving McCoy around.
At this juncture it’s pretty clear that New Orleans is very much ripe for a trade down to acquire an extra pick in the top 100. This doesn’t mean they won’t trade up and target a player (on the contrary I find that still highly likely) but that the Saints are primed to move down for the first time since 2007.
Payton has refused to close the door on the possibility:
“And there’s nothing to say that five (picks) can’t be six as you get closer, relative to where you’re picking and whether you want to make any trades.”
Meanwhile Loomis scoffed in the face of history:
“There’s a notion because there’s history. … We’d be open to trading back if the timing is right and if the value is right.”
The timing and value have never been better due to COVID-19 and the impact that it’s had on teams’ access to players. Payton recently alluded to that impact while discussing the draft plans during a conference call with the local media in early-April:
“The grade and the system and the way it’s set up on the board remains the same,” Payton mused. “But you may not be able to clarify or clean up some of the question marks you normally would in each year. How do we philosophically then approach the draft this year? I think it’s a great question. You might be more conservative relative to, aversion to taking a risk if you don’t have the information that you’re looking for.”
If a risk accepting New Orleans team has a tendency to move up, then a risk-adverse Saints team may decide to do what?
It’s plausible to ask, if sure first-rounders like Justin Jefferson and Kenneth Murray are off the board at 24, could New Orleans move back to acquire an extra pick while still nabbing Queen or a similar prospect? Zach Baun and Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson come to mind.
In the second-round the Saints will be in position to nab the best offensive lineman that falls to them once the run on WR’s start. Guys like Tyler Biadasz or Lloyd Cushenberry both stand out as options.
After getting the two most pressing positions out of the way you are clear to move up and be aggressive to nab a CB or WR prospect that you may be targeting to upgrade specific packages on offense and defense.
In a nutshell, I think there’s a 10% chance the Saints trade up from 24, 60% chance they stay put and a 30% chance they slide back and acquire an extra pick in the Top 100. Teams like to move up for big men and if a defensive lineman like Javon Kinlaw falls to them and a general manager comes calling, It could be a perfect storm to to break up 13 years of history.
In fact, there’s potential to kill two history birds with one stone if the Saints trade back and still land an LSU player in Queen.
Wouldn’t that be something....?