Hayden Reel: Calijah Kancey (DT, Pittsburgh)
The Saints defensive line will look completely different from what it did in 2022, as Cameron Jordan is the only returning starter headed into 2023. The Saints did sign veterans Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders at DT, but I would like to see them draft a defensive lineman who could potentially develop into a dominant player to compliment Jordan. Pitt’s Calijah Kancey could potentially be the best tackle available when the Saints are on the clock. Kancey has 7 sacks each of the last two seasons despite missing the final two games of 2023. He is a great pass rusher but does need some work in defending the run, but the Saints lack of sack threats outside of Jordan means they need all the help they can find. Kancey may not be available at pick #29, but regardless I would like to see the Saints draft the best defensive lineman available with their first-round pick.
John Butler: Mazi Smith (DT, Michigan)
It’s no secret that the most pressing need heading into the 2023 NFL Draft for the New Orleans Saints is the defensive line. While quarterback pressure wasn’t bad in 2022, the inefficiency at stopping the run up the middle was glaring at times.
Mazi Smith gives you a plug-and-play answer in the middle of the defensive line that can help in both areas. Smith The 6’3”, 323-pound DT is a freak athlete and fits the size and athleticism criteria that the Saints typically look for on the d-line.
Tina Howell: Calijah Kancey (DT, Pittsburgh)
With the hits that the Saints defense took this off-season, especially at DT losing both David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle, it would make sense that they would want to draft a young DT and who better than Calijah Kancey, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year who racked up 14 sacks, 19 QB hits, and 64 total tackles while at Pittsburgh. Kancey, at 6’1’ and 281 pounds, may be undersized for his position but he is lighting fast. He set a new record for the 40-yard dash among defensive tackles at the NFL combine, at 4.67 seconds. A record that was previously set by another undersized DT, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year and Pittsburgh alumni, Aaron Donald. Kancey could be the key to helping the Saints’ defense improve on their disappointing ranking of 24th against the run last season.
Charlie Hubbard: Drew Sanders (LB, Arkansas)
I agree with Hayden and John that D-line is the biggest need for the Saints in this draft, but to switch things up, I’m going to go away from a lineman at 29. Drew Sanders is a linebacker from Arkansas who can fill the void Kaden Elliss left. The Saints like linebackers who can rush the passer, with Elliss and Davis finished second and third on the team recording 7 and 6.5 sacks respectively last season. Sanders can do just that. He led Arkansas in sacks with 9.5 last season. He also totaled a team-high 103 tackles and recorded double-digit tackles in six of Arkansas 12 games last year. Sanders also plays the run very well, and for a Saints team who had an uncharacteristically bad year defending the run in 2022, he would slide in very well next to Davis and Werner.
I think Sanders is the best linebacker in the draft. While Kancey or Smith makes the most sense at 29, if the Saints don’t like how the D-line board is falling, Sanders could be a guy to watch for one night one.
Jonny Camer: Myles Murphy (DE/Edge, Clemson)
While my original pick probably would’ve been Calijah Kancey, I decided to switch it up a bit and go with Myles Murphy. It might take some luck for the Clemson product to fall to the Saints. Murphy is a 6’5” edge that is a freaky good athlete. Murphy ran an outstanding 4.53 40 time, putting him in the 97th percentile for his position historically at the combine. Murphy is a fast edge that possesses strong pass-rushing abilities. He could easily come in and be an impact player for the Saints.
Hayden Klinkhamer: Drew Sanders (LB, Arkansas)
As much as I hate to be unoriginal, I just think Drew Sanders makes way too much sense here at 29. Drew is a former 5 star that transferred from Bama to Arkansas after playing sparingly and he exploded onto the scene. Saints love linebackers who are versatile and Drew is exactly that. He led Arkansas in sacks, tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. Drew is the perfect guy to draft replace Kaden and especially because I think you can still get Mazi at 40. Sanders here just makes too much sense especially with the losses they had this off-season. Sanders can play all 3 downs too as he plays the run as well as he rushes the passer. Don’t over think it Saints and take the guy you know you want but in the first round compared to the third or fourth.
Carson Caulfield: Calijah Kancey (DT, Pittsburgh)
As for me, I think drafting a defensive lineman or edge is the smartest choice for this year’s first round. Losing Onyemata and Shy Tuttle really hurts, and although I applaud Mickey Loomis for picking up DT Khalen Saunders DE Nathan Shepherd, the line still needs help. Luckily for the Saints at pick number 29, there are plenty of potentially available options for DT/DE. If available, I believe that Calijah Kancey is the best option. Kancey, standing a touch undersized at 6’1, 280 pounds, makes up for his smaller stature with incredible speed and agility. At the combine, he ran a 4.67 40-yard dash, breaking the DL record for the fastest 40 time. He was last year’s ACC defensive MVP after recording seven sacks and 31 total tackles. He’d be a huge addition to the past rush game and has a massive upsize. I think Bryan Bresee, Mazi Smith, or Felix Anudike-Uzomah would be great options as well if Kancey goes earlier in the first.
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