Team Mock Draft: New Orleans Saints

I thought I’d do a few of these while it occurred to me. I don’t know how many I’ll finish by draft time, but based on our rankings and projections, these are drafts that I think match a team’s needs well with the expected talent available at each position. (I’ve also included some other possible selections for the Day One and Two picks, in case the player I mentioned is already gone or that need has been filled.)

I’ll start with my favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

Round 1, Pick 13
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

I expect Dupree to be the last of the “big four” (I do not count Shane Ray among that group anymore) edge guys available at this point. That makes him a good value here and an obvious selection for a team hurting on defense.

Possible Alternatives: Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska; DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Round 1, Pick 31
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

You can see my reasoning in the previous mock draft I wrote. Hundley would be allowed to sit until he was ready, and in an ideal situation as well. If the Saints don’t think their quarterback of the future is here, though, several potential options remain:

Possible Alternatives: Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA; Nelson Agholor, WR, USC; Owamagbe Odhigizuwa, EDGE, UCLA; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Henry Anderson, DE/DT, Stanford

Round 2, Pick 44
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State

I think Smith’s elite deep game is going to offer the Saints offense a major factor it lacks after the Kenny Stills trade. I think Smith can be even better than Stills as a deep threat; I also think he’ll develop into a well-rounded-enough receiver to justify the pick here. If he’s gone, Sammie Coates and Phillip Dorsett offer alternatives.

Possible Alternatives: Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson; Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State; Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest; Eli Harold, EDGE, Virginia; Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Round 3, Pick 75
Ali Marpet, G, Hobart

“Athletic small-school lineman” is a prototype that’s worked well for the Saints in the past: Bloomsburg’s Jahri Evans and Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead currently anchor down crucial positions on the offensive line. Marpet could slide right in to replace the departed Ben Grubbs.

Round 3, Pick 78
Paul Dawson, LB, TCU

An instinctive playmaker on film who isn’t as fast or fluid as you’d like, Dawson slipped down some boards after poor speed times at the Combine. He’d likely be available here, where he’d represent good value.

Possible Alternatives (Picks 75 and 78): Tre McBride, WR, William and Mary; Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State; Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson; Tre Jackson, G, Florida State; Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke; Dayrl Williams, OT, Oklahoma; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB/S, Oregon; Eric Rowe, CB/S, Utah; Clive Walford, TE, Miami-FL

Round 5, Pick 148
Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

A Matt Waldman favorite, Bell compares in many ways to the Saints’ departed 2013 fifth-rounder, Kenny Stills. Similarly, Bell could start off in a limited role in year one before expanding to be a bigger part of the offense. (I’m assuming Marques Colston and Nick Toon don’t stay on the roster past 2015, and the jury is out on late-season pickup Jalen Saunders.)

Round 5, Pick 154
Derrick Lott, DT, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Lott is one of my favorite small-school prospects in this draft, a defensive tackle who crushes film and whose combine measurements stack up to that performance. (A 7.30 three-cone time at 314 pounds is crazy!) The middle of the Saints’ defense has been questionable, despite the resources spent on Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins, and Broderick Bunkley. Lott adds a player who can be an aggressive part of a rotation early on until he’s ready for a bigger role.

In addition to these two players, the Saints may strongly consider a candidate for slot cornerback– Lorenzo Doss, Quandre Diggs, Senquez Golson, Bobby McCain, or Bryce Callahan are all viable options.

Round 6, Pick 186
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

The Bowling Ball Bulldog has been seriously underrated nationally– I have him as a high fourth-rounder; I project him in the sixth here because that’s closer to where most rankings have him. If the Saints are looking for a thumping clock-killer who breaks every tackle possible, Robinson is a guy who could make moving on from Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson very easy.

Round 7, Pick 230
Alani Fua, LB, BYU

A linebacker whose versatility will be a selling point for Rob Ryan, and whose agility and athleticism will probably allow him to be a valuable special-teams contributor right away.

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The Human Torch: Devin Smith

If you haven’t watched any tape of Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, then you’re in for a treat. He’s preternaturally gifted when it comes to making catches deep down field. In fact, that’s essentially all he does. He only caught 33 passes as a senior, 12 of which were touchdowns, for an average of 28.2 yards per reception. These numbers are meaningless without context. That’s what the game tape is for, and thanks to Draft Breakdown I’ve been able to watch four of them (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Cincinnati).

In the game against Michigan State, Smith makes two beautiful over-the-shoulder catches. On the first play, he starts off standing on the 35-yard line, runs more or less straight down the field, and makes a rather ridiculous reception around at the 20-yard line. I’ll leave the math to you. That’s a big chunk of yards. The most impressive aspect of this play isn’t the speed, but the way he locatesĀ  the ball midair and plucks it with both hands over his shoulder at an awkward angle. Later in the game he makes this catch for a touchdown. Just another routine over-the-shoulder 45-yard reception. I feel bad for the Michigan State safeties there. That is a touchdown presnap as long as the ball is on target.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wisconsin fans might want to skip this next section.

  • Touchdown #1 is all about the adjustment to the ball. He locates it in the air when he turns his head, then he gets his body where it needs to be in order to make the catch. He also plays it like a basketball player boxing out his opponent to snare a rebound.
  • Touchdown #2 is similar to his touchdown in the Michigan State game. This time he gets one-on-one coverage from the slot against a safety. Lamb to the slaughter.
  • Touchdown #3 is a leaping two-handed grab. Smith’s location, location, location abilities are otherworldly. He didn’t drop a single deep bomb in any of the games I watched.

Alright, so he can catch deep bombs. Can we move on? If this is what you are asking, get the hell out of here. Two more. First, this play against Illinois. This guy Devin Smith sure can make deep over-the-shoulder touchdown catches. To prove he is, in fact, human, watch this play. He… almost didn’t catch it! Throwing the ball in the general direction of Smith and letting him do the rest is a foolproof plan I’m tellin’ ya.

He can do a bit other than run deep routes. Not a lot, mind you, but I have some evidence that he can. For instance, there’s this play where he finds the right spot to sit against zone coverage and runs in for a touchdown. Here he makes a catch over the middle on what appears to be a post route. On this play he just comes to a screeching halt. Even though the quarterback is looking the other way, you still need to try to get open if the play breaks down. And, at least to me, both this and this are poorly run routes.

In order to stay on the field (or become elite), Smith must get better at running short to intermediate routes. He will come in on multiple receiver packages and force the defense to respect his deep game, which opens up space for teammates. His deep game is special even among NFL players. He knows how to locate, and, more importantly, to adjust his body in order to make difficult catches with the ball flying 40+ yards. Over and over again.

If you’re going to be a one-trick pony as a rookie wide receiver, this is the best trick to have up your sleeve. Smith has excellent hands. In the four games I watched, he dropped one pass, and the degree of difficulty on his catches were very high indeed. At the end of the first round, I wouldn’t hesitate to send in his name if I needed some help outside. Are you telling me you don’t want to see Devin Smith catch bombs from Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson, over the next five or more years? Please.