Introduction: Herewith, the (almost-) annual Hillyer mock draft for the Saints, courtesy of Tarot cards soaked in a Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane.

For those of you who just want the list of who I would draft, when, if I were the Saints, I’ll start with it right below, and then continue this introduction explaining how I approached this, which you can read or ignore as you wish. After that, in subsequent posts, I’ll explain each individual selection. So, to start, here’s the list:

Saints trade choices in round 1 (28), 3 (98), and 7 (229) to Cincy for 2 (38), 3 (69), and 6 (202).

Round (spot), player, position, college

2 (38)   Nick Bolton, LB  Missouri

2 (60)  Tylan Wallace, WR, OK State

3 (69)  Kellen Mond, QB, Tex AM

3 (105) Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA

4 (133) Saints trade down from this spot (plus give up 2022 7th rounder) to get Dallas’ 138, also receive Dallas’ 2022 5th rounder; i.e., we move down five spots in this year’s draft, but move up two full rounds next year. Draft Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech

(alt: Kary Vincent Jr, CB, LSU)

6 (202) Darrick Forrest, S, Cincinnati

6 (218) Patrick Johnson, DE, Tulane

7 (255) Kayode Awosika, OL, Buffalo


Okay, continuing the introduction. First, I used this, from the Advocate/T-P, to determine who would be available early.

Draft simulation:

Alas, desired targets Jaycee Horn, Mac Jones, Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, and Rashod Bateman are unavailable, as is one many Saints beat writers have focused on, Zaven Collins. The beat writers are all high on Greg Newsome II for spot 28, but I am wary of a CB with only one career interception in college (among other doubts I have about him).

Now, to explain how I approach all this. To start with, let me say I do not even for a minute think I know more than the Saints’ brain trust about what they need for their team. At least once Dan Ireland got here, the Saints’ player assessments have been awesome. And I’m not even much of a college football fan. But that said, for months I use rainy days and nights when golf or tennis matches are postponed, plus quick ten-minute hits during some lunch times, and random other times where I can grab them, to read everything under the sun about the players available, search for video on the Internet, and do whatever other research I can, to determine what I would do in the draft if I were the Saints. Yes, I’m obsessed.

More than that, I’ve often done a pretty good job recognizing talent, targeting “diamonds in the rough” who I think should go earlier in the draft than they do, and then watching them become starters or Pro Bowlers. Several years ago, for example, I was absolutely on fire for a guy from the University of Tennessee named Alvin Kamara. I think I was right about that one. (I must admit that, with one exception, I have proved really bad at evaluating offensive linemen. For example, I thought Ryan Ramczyk would make only a serviceable pro, not a superb one. I obviously was way wrong, and the Saints right!)

And before Ireland came along to revamp the Saints scouting, I arguably outperformed the Saints. Consider 2015, when the guys I suggested at each spot would indeed have been available still when the Saints drafted other guys instead. I wanted Erick Kendricks at LB, not Stephone Anthony, and I was right, with Anthony a big disappointment but Kendricks turning into a Pro Bowler. I wanted Ali Marpet at OL instead of Andrus Peat, and while Peat overall has been better than most fans credit him for, Marpet remains a captain and superb starter for the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Bucs. (I wanted Jake Fisher, too, and he proved to be a versatile piece and starter for a few years, but developed heart and back problems and didn’t last.) The Saints also did pick up P.J. Williams in that draft, and he has been solid. I had not thought he would last that year until spot 78.

Anyway, the Saints almost certainly won’t do what I would do (and again, I trust them to do it better than I), especially because they like to trade up whereas I like to trade down for extra picks, which seems anathema to Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton. Still, I do agree with the Saints modified “best player available” approach, rather than drafting mostly for positional need – which is one reason, for example, that my mock draft takes so long to get to a CB, even though the Saints clearly need one. (I still hope, indeed expect, Loomis to work some more cap magic and sign Richard Sherman to fill that need, so I’m not as worried about this as I otherwise would be.)

Another note: I tend to value intelligence and ball recognition/play recognition to a particularly high degree. Guys who actually produce on the field are ones I value ahead of “workout warriors,” although I am partial to straight-line speed if other factors are nearly equal. With regard to speed, it is for that reason that I really want the Saints to target lightning-fast CB Eric Stokes of Georgia even though he is still working on how to defend the ball and not just the man on deep passes. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s better than Bolton as our first pick, and I don’t think he will be around at spot 60 for our second pick. Also with speed in mind, if the Saints can’t get Bolton, I will be thrilled if they are able to get LSU linebacker Jabril Cox, but there’s no need for both of them, and I think Bolton is a fiercer and savvier playmaker.

Finally, an explanation of how I slotted these guys. In every case, I chose these players at spots well within the range that various draft experts suggested, after checking multiple different published sources. I don’t cheat, for example, by taking at spot 120 a guy who most analysts think will be gone between, say, spots 70 and 90. In other words, there is a good chance that each one of my suggested picks will indeed actually be available in the slot where I would draft him.

Okay, enough said. To see my explanation for my individual picks, follow the following links.

Round 2, spot 38, Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri. The way I see it, the top 20-24 available players are close to sure things, but from about spot 25 on through about 75, there are so many excellent players who are just barely less than sure things that I would rather have multiple picks in that window than reach for one at 28. In this case, the guy I really want will probably be available ten spots later (and if he isn’t, several others I really like probably will be), so I am willing to trade down in order to get an extra choice within the top 70. Here, the Bengals desperately want offensive line help to protect Joe Burrow, and they fear that the Chiefs, who also want OL help, will grab their man at 31 if the Bengals don’t move up. Hence, The Bengals offer this deal to the Saints, and I accept.

Why Bolton? Everything about him screams “star” to me. I think he is the best player available, the surest one to play at a top level for years in the NFL. I haven’t seen a LB take such great, fast angles to players in the middle of the field and then hit so brutally hard and effectively since Vaughn Johnson of the Saints’ vaunted Dome Patrol. Plus, Bolton was the signal caller for the Mizzou defense and is described as of the highest character, work ethic (including tape study), and intelligence. And he can cover TEs and H-backs quite well, with requisite speed, quickness, toughness, and play-reading ability. The only knock on him in that regard is that at 5’11” and with shortish arms, he may lack the reach to contend on good throws to tall, long-armed TEs, even is he is covering them well. Well, I’ll take that chance, because that will only matter if the QB is particularly precise with the pass. No matter the situation on defense, there will almost never be reason to take Bolton off the field.

And yes, the Saints really do need a LB. The difference between the Saints’ so-so defense last year without Kwon Alexander and their great defense with him (before he, alas, got hurt) is proof of how important this is. Well, Bolton is someone I think will be even better than Alexander was….

Continued in posts below…. First here. Then here.


Tags: , , , ,