There are two players I desperately want the Saints to draft. I fear that each will be gone before the Saints try to nab them — unless the Saints make a trade. I think what is most likely to be possible is for the Saints to just miss out on the first, but to trade down to nab an extra pick while still getting value for the second of my two targets.

I also think the second of my two targets might be the next Rickey Jackson, albeit at a different position (defensive end instead of linebacker).

Okay, now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, let me explain.

The two players I want most for the Saints are Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd.

The Saints first two picks right now are slated for spots 12 and 47. I fear Hargreaves will be picked, though, somewhere in spots 9-11, and I fear Dodd will go somewhere between 24 and 34.  I do not approve of trading up in the draft, giving up choices for a targeted player; I prefer, if anything, trading back, for more total choices, because I think there is a better chance of getting at least one big success of a choice from more picks rather than fewer. Which leaves us… where?

Well, first, let’s understand why Hargreaves and Dodd are so desirable — especially Dodd, even though Hargreaves’ “book value” right now is higher.

For years, I have been frustrated watching Saints defensive backs (and, indeed, way too many NFL DBs overall) watch their man but not the ball. I’ve always insisted it is possible in most cases to do both. But again and again, we see Saints DBs in very good position on the receiver, only to have the ball fly right past them into their opponents’ hands because they had no idea where the ball was.

Hargreaves appears to be one of those rare breeds who always seems to be able to have one eye on the ball — to have tremendous “ball awareness,” as the expression goes. He combines that with superb (and superbly quick) footwork, good hands, and the ability to perfectly time his attempt to break up (or intercept) the pass. He also has good speed, and is a hard-hitting tackler. I see him as a surefire NFL star, maybe even a regular Pro Bowler.

As for Dodd, I was blown away by his performance against terrific Alabama offensive linemen in the national championship game. Although his Clemson team lost, his own performance was one for the ages: three sacks and another five tackles for losses.

When watching it, I was reminded of another phenomenal bowl game performance, this one from 35 years earlier: Rickey Jackson, playing for the University of Pittsburgh, against South Carolina. Jackson was all over the field that night, making a whopping 14 tackles, partially blocking a punt, and generally outshining his more widely celebrated teammate Hugh Green, who played at the other end of the defensive front for the Panthers.

Green was one of those rare defensive players seriously mentioned for the Heisman Trophy. He would be a top choice in the upcoming draft. Jackson was thought to be quite good, but not in Green’s lofty class of surefire superstar. But in the pros, it turned out that while Green was indeed an excellent player, it was Jackson rather than Green who wasn’t just excellent, but who turned into an all-time great, eventually (and deservedly) a Hall of Famer.

The situation for Dodd is eerily similar. His opposite number at the other end of  Clemson’s defensive front, Shaq Lawson, is the one pro scouts have been drooling over for years. He was the one with all the public attention — just like Green was. Dodd, meanwhile, was thought to be solid, maybe even very good, but not the superstar-in-the-making that Lawson is. But, although Lawson had a good game in the national title bout, it was Dodd who absolutely blew people away.

And it wasn’t a fluke. Dodd is slightly more of a late developer than Lawson, but his performances had been rapidly tending upwards all year. And the scouting reports I read now say that while his base and his experience isn’t as superb as Lawson’s, his upside potential is even better. He is taller heavier (but not at all fat), and has a wider wingspan. He’s maybe a tiny step slower in straight-ahead speed, but also stronger. And, if you watch one of the videos linked above, you’ll see he comes across as quite intelligent, a guy who really “gets” what he is doing.

Lawson may be a great pro. I think Dodd’s “floor” is just a bit below Lawson’s (but still darn good), but I think he is likely to be a truly great NFL player. He can be an every-down player, like the Saints’ current Cam Jordan, but be an even better pass rusher.

Yet, because of that slightly lower floor, he will likely go a bit later in the draft than Lawson (and than Hargreaves).

So if I were the Saints, here’s what I would do: Hope against all hope that Hargreaves falls to them at pick 12. If so, nab him, because he won’t drop farther than 15.

But if Hargreaves isn’t still available, I’d trade down. I would take a pick as late as, say, 22. Dodd should still be available then. They could get him PLUS probably an extra second rounder, and maybe yet another later pick thrown in as well.

And if somehow I’m wrong and Dodd is gone by the time their choice does roll around, it’s not a disaster: This is a draft very, very deep in defensive linemen and edge rushers, so they’ll still get an excellent players (maybe Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky) in the first round plus then have two picks, not just one, in the second round. It’s a win-win deal even without Dodd — but Dodd probably will be available anyway, and thus become a Saint.

Now, the question arises as to what the Saints should do if they do get Hargreaves, but fear losing Dodd well before their next scheduled pick, at 47, arrives.

I’d try to trade up — but not by giving up another of this year’s draft pick. Instead, I’d try to move into about the 23rd or 24th spot, from 47, by packaging that 47th pick with their current nickle back, Kyle Wilson — a former Jets first rounder who actually graded out well last year for the Saints when they rescued him from the scrap heap, but who would now be expendable with Hargreaves in tow. A trade of the 47th, plus Kyle Wilson, plus, say, a third rounder in 2017, might be able to do the trick. For the Saints, Dodd would be worth it.

In all likelihood, though, the Saints will be able to get either Hargreaves or Dodd, but not both. That’s not bad. Either one will be a wonderful addition to the Saints defense for years to come.

 

 

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