No need to wait for the NFL draft: Herewith, I’ll tell you who the New Orleans Saints will draft.
Well, sort of. Of course it’s just educated guesswork. I reserve the right to update this mock draft before the real thing starts on April 30.
I’m obsessed with the Saints’ draft, even though I don’t follow college football anywhere near as closely as I once did. But I do follow the Saints with a passion, and have a pretty good sense of GM Mickey Loomis’ tendencies. Plus, I read everything I can get my hands on, on the prospects.
I am a big advocate, for teams picking outside the top 10, of “trading down.” After the top 10, rarely is any player a really sure thing, and I’d rather get two bites at the apple. Loomis, on the other hand, usually seems to aim for a particular player, and has been known to trade up more often than down, especially in the early rounds. On the other hand, he has made more noises this year than usual about trading down and about getting as many promising prospects into camp as possible. Plus, most analysts this year think the near-certain-superstars in this year’s draft run 10 (as usual) or at most 12 deep, but that there is plenty of depth in just-shy-of-certain prospects in positions, oh, 18 or so through 60. So, for once, I see Loomis trading down, unless somehow edge rushers Vic Beasley or Dante Fowler or offensive lineman Brandon Scherff somehow falls to pick 13. They won’t.
So here’s how it plays out. At their 13th slot, the Saints see the best player on the board is DE/OLB Randy Gregory of Nebraska. But the Saints this year are rightly determined to avoid “character” issues, and they balk, based on Gregory’s lack of discipline in smoking marijuana even when he knew the “Combine” was coming up. Luckily, several teams come calling, wanting to move up to draft him. The Steelers offer the best deal: their first rounder (22) and second rounder (56) for the Saints 13th slot.
In the 22nd spot, the Saints decide they can’t resist a high-IQ, high-character, all-effort, great-instinct, quick linebacker who can play well all three downs (i.e. against both run and pass), even though he’s an insider backer and their bigger need is the outside. They know the Panthers, at pick 25, lust after Eric Kendricks of UCLA (brother of Mychal Kendricks of the Eagles), so the Saints pull the trigger and draft him.
When the Saints’ second pick in the first round comes up, at position 31, New Orleans is attracted again by a versatile, agile player with good character and work ethics – but again, not at edge rusher. Instead, they see Oregon OT Luke Fisher drop to them, and they see that he was the top Combine performer for his position in (amazingly) four different tests: the 40, the vertical jump, the three-cone drill, and the 20-yd shuttle. They know he also has played guard and TE – so he can fill in, in a pinch, next to the center and he can also report as a third TE in goal-line running situations, even while backing up RT Zach Strief for another year – and even get free for a surprise TD catch or two.
Then Loomis starts to get nervous about not having the DE/OLB he and Sean Payton sought as they came into the draft. They see the final remaining certain-impact player at that position sitting there for the plucking, and they worry he won’t still be there when they draft at position 44. So they trade up in the second round, with the Bucs, to spot 34. (The Saints give up their 2nd rounder, 44, and their first third-rounder, 75, and the Bucs give up their 2nd rounder, spot 34, along with their 4th rounder, spot 109, and a sixth rounder, spot 184.) With pick 34, the Saints take explosive pass rusher Eli Harold of Virginia.
With their other second-round pick (spot 56), the Saints are torn between a few available wideouts and a freakishly athletic offensive lineman from a small college. Mickey Loomis loves freakishly athletic offensive linemen from small colleges. Ali Marpet of Hobart is the choice. With Fisher, he will provide long-term relief for when Zach Strief and Jahri Evans wear out. Indeed, as early as 2016, one could see a phenomenally rising starting offensive line of Terron Armstead at LT, Tim Lelito at LG, Max Unger at center, Marpet at RG, and Fisher at RT, with only Unger even slightly long in the tooth – but still with at least two good years left in him, and probably good through about 2019.
In the third round, at spot 78, the Saints swallow their concerns about the inconsistency and reported attitude problems of WR Sammie Coates of Auburn, deciding that his size, speed, and tremendous athletic ability (he, too, was the top performer at the Combine in four different tests, and he torched Alabama last year for 206 receiving yards) are worth the risk.
In spot 109 in the fourth round (received from Tampa Bay), the Saints pick super-strong, competitive CB Steven Nelson from Oregon State. At spot 148 in the fifth round, the Saints really want a tight end, and they move up two spots to 146 by trading spot 148 plus their seventh rounder (pick 230) to draft Jack Nicklaus’ grandson, TE Nick O’Leary. With pick 154 in the fifth round, they choose defensive tackle Leterrius Walton of Central Michigan.
The Saints finish up with two choices in the sixth round, spots 184 (from Tampa Bay) and 187. For the first, they take Georgia defensive lineman Ray Drew, who has great upside but hasn’t reached his supposed potential. For the last, they select all-motor, quick, fast Davis Tull from Chattanooga, who projects as an outside linebacker but is recovering from both a balky hamstring and a torn labrum. Both will end up on the practice squad (or Tull on the PUP list/injured reserve).
As their first undrafted free agent signee, the Saints secure the services of 5’7” Colorado State RB Dee Hart, in hopes that he turns into the second coming of Darren Sproles while backing up C.J Spiller. He, too, eventually lands on the practice squad.
There you go: The Saints end up with ten picks (plus their usual contingent of 10-14 undrafted signees, starting with Hart), including four in the first two rounds. The day after the draft, seeing they have a glut at LB, they trade LB Ramon Humber for a 2016 fifth-rounder. A few weeks later, they trade safety Jamarca Sanford for a 2016 seventh-rounder.
When the season opens, their active roster is as follows: QB: Brees, McCown, Griffin. RB: Ingram, Spiller, Robinson, Lorig, Johnson. TE: Hill, Watson, O’Leary. OL: Armstead, Lelito, Unger, Evans, Strief, Harris, Kelemete, Marpet, Fisher. WR: Colston, Cooks, Toon, Saunders, Coates, Jones, either Morgan or Coleman. DL: Jordan, Bunkley, Hicks, Jenkins, Walton. DE/OLB: Galette, Spencer, Harold. LB: Kendricks, Ellerbe, Hawthorne, Haralson, Edebali. DB: Byrd, Vaccaro, Lewis, Browner, Bush, Wilson, Sunseri, Warren, Nelson, Jean-Baptiste. LS: Drescher. K: Graham or Hopkins. P: Morstead.
Practice squad: Hart, Drew, Tull, Breaux, Charles, Miller, Virgil, plus three UFA.
Tough cuts/could make team (or practice squad if still eligible, which Brian Dixon MIGHT be): Glenn Foster, Dixon, Terrence Frederick, Morgan/Coleman, Tim Hightower, Kyle Knox, Kenny Phillips, Andy Tanner. Of course, as there surely will be injuries, some of these guys I say will fall just short will instead make the team after all, in place of the injured.
If this is how the draft turns out, I really like how the Saints will look for 2015.