After a 2-0 start to the season for the New Orleans Saints, they have since gone 3-6 and now sit behind the Atlanta Falcons for the division lead. In a season that was supposed to be promising, the team has struggled to produce a consistent level of play through any two games this season. Earlier in the season, they won 34-0 (granted that was against the New England Patriots), and then proceed to lose to the Minnesota Vikings without Kirk Cousins or Justin Jefferson, and to their division rival Atlanta Falcons back-to-back.
With that in mind, we are only six more weeks away from the end of the NFL season, and with the current trajectory of the team, the Saints sit with the #12 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft as of now. This would give them the opportunity to hopefully draft a high-level talent and continue to usher in younger players for the future. Today we will be looking at what the Saints should do with this pick, and why. Keep in mind this is what should happen, not what would happen, as the Saints front office and scouting department clearly have certain parameters, they look for in players physically. This article will focus on what would be presumably the best outcome of what the Saints could use this pick for. So, let’s take a look at some of those options.
Find the quarterback of the future
Derek Carr has had a... not great start to his Saints career to put things lightly. Through 12 games he has a 65.6% completion rate for 2,535 passing yards, with 10 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. Overall, he has looked to struggle with the Saints offense under Pete Carmichael. Is this an issue of Carr or Carmichael? It looks to be both the large majority of the time, as Carmichael cannot control poor throws into double coverage, but Carr cannot control poor play calling. If the Saints want to start building for the future (presumably moving on from portions of the coaching staff first to start building) quarterback is the start of that process.
Simply put Caleb Williams and Drake Maye will both be gone by pick 12 barring the worst performances at the combine ever. After that, things get interesting, as there are plenty of QB-needy teams in the top 15 (New England #3, Potentially Washington #5, New York Giants #6, Potentially Tampa Bay Buccaneers #7, Las Vegas Raiders #11). There are three (four?) other QBs who could go in the top 20/first-round range, those being Michael Penix Jr, Bo Nix, Jayden Daniels, and J.J. McCarthy. To be frank, all of these QBs would be intriguing for New Orleans in some capacity. While I think all four would be great pickups, I think two stand out to me personally as Saints candidates.
Starting with the in-state prospect, Jayden Daniels at this point is likely the Heisman Trophy favorite and has shown an exceptional level of talent at LSU this season. With an immense lack of defense on that team, they are still 9-3 due to their offensive explosiveness. Daniels has the ability to both stand in the pocket and deliver (3,812 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns to only 4 interceptions with a 72.2% completion rate) but also rush outside the pocket and make plays as well (1,134 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns). Keeping an LSU prospect in-state, never mind your future QB, would most definitely win over a lot of in-state fans as well obviously, which is a positive.
J.J. McCarthy would also be intriguing as he would have time to develop considering Carr cannot be cut feasibly until the end of the 2024 season at least. McCarthy is only 20 years old and has shown flashes of success at Michigan as a high-level developmental prospect. With QB coach Ronald Curry in the building as well, who was highly regarded by Sean Payton and most of the other staff, odds are he would be developable as well. This season he has thrown a 74.3% completion rate with 2,483 yards and 19 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. While this may not seem like a lot counting-wise, he has also had premier back Blake Corum taking many snaps. McCarthy has some of the best pass placement in this class and is able to throw to nearly any part of the field with precision. He also works well through his progressions for such a young QB which is a positive sign. He will need time to work on technique and adjust to the NFL game, as he shows instances where he forces unnecessary throws, which will be worked out with time.
Left tackle replacement
This pick primarily comes down to ensuring that the left side of the offensive line is fixed up by next season. With Trevor penning not panning out well so far, Andrus Peat has been kicked out to left tackle and James Hurst is playing out of position at left guard. Taking an offensive lineman here should likely be tackle just because of the premier on that position compared to guard, and because the tackle class in 2024 is very strong at the top. The best case scenario is the coaching staff could get Trevor Penning to work at left guard and have a line of (top 10 pick, Penning, McCoy, Ruiz, Ramczyk) from left to right. Obviously, that is asking a lot of Penning to transition inside, as he has very minimal guard experience which was limited to his first two collegiate seasons. But with his size and weight, he may pan out better with a tackle outside him to take a little bit of pressure away.
Similar to the QB class, this draft has two top prospects at the position who will likely go before the Saints’ pick in Olumuyiwa “Olu” Fashanu and Joe Alt. Beyond those two, there is a similar case with multiple other tackles having roughly first-round value:
- Taliese Fuaga - Oregon State
- JC Latham - Alabama
- Amarius Mims - Georgia
The issue with Amarius Mims would be he was injured back in September of this year and had to receive ankle surgery, missing all but six games so far this season. He did not look up to standard the first two games after returning, but this past week against Georgia Tech he looked to be back to form and really on his game. My belief is he may end up returning for next season to improve his stock even further and show he can go even top 10, so I will not include him here under that assumption.
Fuaga has been a quick riser and has had an exceptional season with Oregon State which has jumped him further into first-round conversations. At 6’6” and 334 pounds, he clearly has the physical frame to play the position. He has allowed 0 sacks this season and only 13 pressures (in 12 games played). Penalties have been somewhat of a concern as he has had eight this season so far, but that is fixable with positive coaching. He has not allowed a sack in his collegiate career as well according to PFF.
Latham has a nearly identical frame to Fuaga, at 6’6” and 335 pounds, and has played for nearly the same amount of games. The strength of Latham is his ability to completely nullify opposing edge rushers, as he has only allowed 9 pressures this season, and 12 the season prior. He did allow 1 sack this season but has only accrued 6 penalties (1 of which was offsetting). Playing with the SEC pedigree may also sway teams in his favor, but the combine will likely have a large hand in their future as to who gets taken higher.
Finally solidify the edge rush
Ah, the bi-yearly occurrence of drafting an edge rusher. Drafting the trenches will continue to peeve fans as long as the picks are not panning out, but luckily, Bryan Bresee has been a force on the defensive line this season. The Saints have generated essentially no pressure from the edges despite drafting Isaiah Foskey, Payton Turner, and Marcus Davenport all within the first two rounds in the last six years. Turner and Davenport have been continually injury-prone, to the point where Davenport was not extended and Turner has played 14 games in three seasons. However, given the chance to take one of the top rushers, the Saints should strike for the correct one.
First off, I will be clear about my vision of Laiatu Latu. I believe he is an absolutely phenomenal edge rusher, and has the talent to be a high-quality player for the foreseeable future. However, with the Saints’ propensity for injuries, I think they need to forego Latu, as he medically retired from football due to a neck injury before transferring to UCLA and will be 23 by the end of 2023. With that, I would focus on a player who is already polished but avoids the injury history, as the Saints have tried many times to make that work but failed.
JT Tuimoloau probably fits every narrative the Saints’ front office loves to push. He is an Ohio State University edge rusher who is 6’4” 270 pounds and is somewhat of a developmental prospect. However, if we are picking so early, going for one of the top edge rushers should be the focus, at JT is closer to a late first round early second-round talent.
The three names that are generally considered the top in this class at Edge are Dallas Turner, Jared Verse, and Chop Robinson. Out of the three, Chop and Dallas are the youngest (Dallas is the youngest by about a month), and Dallas also has the most collegiate experience with 36 games played to Chop’s 30 and Verse’s 24. Turner also has the most sacks and tackles of the group this season with 8.0 and 46 respectively. Though Verse has arguably the best single season of any of them, as in 2022 he had 48 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and a fumble recovery in 12 games. Chop has the most explosiveness of the three which is his value, as he has an extremely quick jump off the line. He will be closest to a developmental prospect of the three named here. The pressure stats for each this season are the following:
- Chop Robinson (10 games) - 26 pressures (2.6 per game)
- Jared Verse (12 games) - 49 pressures (4.1 per game)
- Dallas Turner (12 games) - 50 pressures (4.2 per game)
So pick your poison with any of the three, but they are all notable talents who would really help to generate pressure for the Saints in coming seasons.