The New Orleans Saints are currently set to select at pick #28 in the NFL Draft come the end of April. At that position, several of the draft’s best will almost certainly be off the board, but the Saints shouldn’t be without a plethora of impact selections.
Should the Saints hold out to select late in the first round, here are five players that would make sense and, for now, be realistic options as day one draws to a close.
Miami Defensive End Gregory Rousseau
Miami ran Gregory Rousseau on the interior at points last season. He dominated there. They ran him as a pure DE, he dominated there. There was nothing he couldn’t do.— Kevin Fielder (@TheKevinFielder) March 15, 2020
This time next year, Gregory Rousseau might very well be EDGE1 in the 2021 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/pZnaug86qT
The pass rusher from Miami feels like a very good fit for the Saints, as does his running mate Jaelen Phillips. Unlike Phillips, Rousseau has fewer injury question marks even with a 2018 ankle injury sidelining him for the majority of the season. He returned to play a full and very impressive 2019 totaling 19.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks. Rousseau also opted out of the 2020 season.
A prospect that will still have some development to do at the next level, the former wideout and safety would be a part of a rotation that wouldn’t demand too much from his evolving game too quickly.
At 6’5” and 260 pounds, his size allows him a chance to also rush from inside in addition to his pass rushing prowess off the edge. Versatility is always a desirable trait in the Big Easy. His length is remarkable as well and hard to miss watching his film. Pairing the can’t-be-taught elements of Rousseau with the developmental support of the recently retained Ryan Nielsen could pay dividends for New Orleans sooner than it might with other teams and their staffs.
Tulsa Linebacker Zaven Collins
Zaven Collins was comfortably the best player on the football field in every game he played in.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) February 21, 2021
Perfect fit for a blitz/man heavy defense (Baltimore/Miami) that should come off the board in picks 20 - 40. pic.twitter.com/HjhUa9Mxra
A 6’4” and 260 pound pass rusher that also plays a modern brand of linebacker performing in coverage and downhill? If that sounds like your cup of tea than Collins is your pick. His size is wildly valuable at the position in coverage allowing him to take away lanes simply by being present, but also equips him with the necessary tools and length to generate a pass rush from the second level. Very reliable piece in the red zone where the Saints must starkly improve from 2020.
He’s not going to be as athletic as draft counterpart and my LB1 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out of Notre Dame, but he has a desirable set of skills and versatility. Because the Saints and Dennis Allen construct roles based upon what their players do well, having a young talent that can provide impact in so many different ways is a clear win. Collins is a rare commodity at his size and at this position, one that also packs immense football IQ, a quality the Saints leaned into in last year’s all-virtual offseason.
North Dakota State University Offensive Lineman Dillon Radunz
North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz (6-6, 300, Sr.) is impressive. He shows lots of intriguing traits. Intensity as a run blocker and plenty of tools as a pass protector. pic.twitter.com/KV5hCiFmR0— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) August 27, 2020
It’s common to joke around about the Saints drafting an offensive lineman in the first round like its’ a bad thing, but I personally always supporting building the trenches with first-round talent. Radunz doesn’t come from the big school or carry the reputation of many of his counterpart first-round linemen, but he’s a day one talent.
Radunz only got one game in the 2020-2021 season to put his skills on display against a national audience. However, after that game, which was his 32nd consecutive career start, he was invited to the Senior Bowl where he put on a show in Mobile. His performance lead to him being selected as the Overall Practice Player of the Week playing both at left tackle and left guard. He also excels in both pass and run blocking, protecting highly-touted draft prospect Trey Lance and paving the way for a top rushing attack. Again, versatility being a key trait. Also helps that he showed he could hold his own against more elevated competition.
Height and length concerns will follow him into the NFL just under the dreaded arm length threshold. But when a player is good at his position, he is good at his position. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Becker, MN native find his way to a day one selection after allowing just three sacks in his 32 starts for the Bison.
TCU Safety Trevon Moehrig
Washington’s running mate in the @TCUFootball secondary is Trevon Moehrig (@TheReal_Tre7). These two make up the best safety tandem in college football and I don’t think it’s close.#WNSFilm pic.twitter.com/34Q2gMlqIR— Brandon Olsen (@WNS_Brandon) June 25, 2020
As has been well documented by folks who understand the Saints’ salary cap situation and those who blatantly do not, the Saints will have some complicated decisions to make this offseason. One of which will be deciding just how much to offer safety Marcus Williams to stay in the Crescent City. If the former Utes can’t be retained and heads elsewhere, Moehrig could be a great replacement.
The thing is, the safety class in this year’s draft is nothing short of stacked. So what separates Moehrig from the pack? His ability to do just about anything. At 6’1” and 208 pounds ahead of his Pro Day on March 23rd, the Horned Frogs safety is a reliable middle-of-the-field safety in both cover one and cover three. While the Saints played a ton of cover two last season, that deep safety role is still a prominent one in Dennis Allen’s defense.
But because Allen diversifies the defense so much, having some ability to play split-safety roles and even in man coverage are of great benefit. Moehrig has shown a penchant for both. While there are still elements of his game in those areas to be developed, he is in the unique position to not have to start from square one. His biggest strides will need to be made in run defense, playing from the top, down into the box to make a play. He’s not going to be your safety at the line of scrimmage, but that’s okay when you’ve got Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Malcolm Jenkins.
Purdue Wide Receiver Rondale Moore
Rondale Moore— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) February 26, 2021
Don’t tell me what he can’t do.
When I can show you what he can do.
Tg depth - Passer Rating (tgs)
20➕: 104.1 (24)
10-19 : 86.0 (28)
1-9: 104.2 (106)
At / Behind LOS: 109.4 (78) pic.twitter.com/3D2TGm6tnL
I’ll be breaking down draft prototypes this offseason starting with receiver this week. If you’ve followed the Saints for just about any amount of time you’ll know that a 5’9”, 180-pound receiver isn’t usually the bread and butter build targeted in the draft. The only exception was 2014 when New Orleans traded up for Brandin Cooks. But Cooks was special. Despite his size, he had world class speed and the Saints were in the market for a deep threat. Enter Rondale Moore. Who, like Cooks, is special coming into this draft process.
Running a 4.33 40 with a 42.7” vertical leap going in to college is pretty astounding. Since then, he went on to be named to his school’s all-decade team after playing just one full season in 2018. During that season, and as a freshman he caught 114 passes for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns. Despite what his size may indicate, he’s more than just a deep threat, though. He’s just a much a possession slot receiver as anything else and he’s accustomed to getting work done underneath.
In his final year, though it was a short one coming back for just three games in 2020 after initially opting out, he caught was targeted only once beyond 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. The same goes for his über-productive 2018. 47 of his receptions came on screens while only 11 came in the intermediate area of the field, per Pro Football Focus. The rule is simply get the ball in his hands and he’ll do the rest. In 2020, he picked up 246 of his 270 receiving yards after the catch.
Those are only five of the realistic options the Saints can find at the end of round one, assuming they stay there. Next week, we’ll take a look at round two and hit each round throughout the series before revisiting after the free agency frenzy.
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