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Saints with one of the NFL’s best UDFA classes

Could the Saints find their next diamond in the rough?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl - Houston v Auburn Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints have been one of the NFL’s better teams at finding productive undrafted free agents. Pierre Thomas, Deonte Harty, Josh Hill, Chris Ivory, Delvin Breaux, Jonathan Casillas...even Junior Galette...all were signed as undrafted free agents and produced in New Orleans for various periods of time.

The Saints are hoping they can strike gold again with this year’s class of undrafted free agents, and the good folks at NBC believe they have a chance. NBC analyst Thor Nystrom ranked the undrafted free agent class of each NFC team, and the Saints were given the second-best class in the conference:

The Saints are one of three NFL teams that have finished in the top-10 of my UDFA rankings all four years. The Saints, who check in No. 3 overall this year, finished No. 1 in 2019, No. 3 in 2020, and No. 7 in 2021. Sean Payton was notoriously aggressive on the telephone in the late-rounds recruiting UDFAs during his tenure, and the Saints kept to the same ethos this year without him.

The Saints signed four players I had draftable grades on, including two R5s (RB Abram Smith and S Smoke Monday) and two R6s (WR Dai’Jean Dixon and CB Vincent Gray).

In his only season as a full-time starting RB after shifting over from LB, Smith posted a Baylor-record 1,601 rushing yards on 6.2 YPC. Smith is a profit-taking runner that’s rarely finished behind the line. He exhibits good patience and tempo, along with crisp cuts into the hole in Baylor’s wide-zone system.

In this RB class, Smith finished top-10 last year in both overall PFF grade and yards after contact per attempt. He’s a little stiff in the lower half, remains raw as a receiver, and lacks joystick agility and high-end speed – but I think his early-down efficiency will translate to the NFL.

The piece is definitely worth a read because Nystrom provides an NFL comparison for many UDFAs signed across the NFL. For Smith, Nystrom compares the player to former Indianapolis Colts starting running back Marlon Mack. Many Saints fans were hoping the team could end up signing a veteran free agent running back with a possible suspension to Alvin Kamara on the horizon, and before he signed with the Texans, Marlon Mack was one such potential target. In fact, the Saints had previously explored trading for Marlon Mack just last season.

Nystrom went on to discuss other players in the Saints 2022 UDFA class:

I was surprised Monday didn’t get picked in the draft. He’s long and athletic, and a proven playmaker in the SEC (three-straight years with a pick-6). Monday will be able to contribute on special teams immediately. He’s a willing contributor in run defense and can be played in the box. But while he has the athleticism and ball skills for coverage, Monday is a risk-taker who can leave himself susceptible to getting burned. That’ll be the primary thing New Orleans works with him on this summer.

Dixon has great size and ball skills but will need to improve as a route-runner to make a difference at the next level. Gray is blessed with length, and possesses the instincts Monday arguably lacks. But Gray lacks take-on play strength, and needs to improve his ball skills (zero career INT despite playing WR in high school).

In all, the Saints signed 12 UDFA that made my Thor500 big board. That group had an average size-adjusted RAS athletic composite slightly above the 75th-percentile. Those are the projectable developmental stabs you want to add during the Dessert Draft.

Smoke Monday is already a player climbing up fans’ depth charts and into their hearts. Despite being a new New Orleans Saint and attending high school in Atlanta, the former Auburn star has already jumped headfirst into the Saints’ side of the rivalry.

If he can make plays like that against the Falcons, we should hang his jersey in the rafters now.