Lots of movement Thursday morning regarding both the NFL and AAF. Just a day after the AAF put their operations on hold and players were stranded in away cities having to settle their own ways home, the NFL sent a notice to all clubs asking teams to hold off on contacting AAF players. Despite what the internet thought, this was standard protocol as though the AAF did suspend operation, it did not fold completely. Which means the players participating in the AAF were still technically a part of another league, barring communication but NFL teams. Less than 20 minutes after that, the AAF tweeted a statement that effective immediately, AAF players could begin contact with NFL teams.
Now that the AAF talent pool is available to the NFL, and more specifically the New Orleans Saints, let’s take a look at my top five players I think the Saints should have a look at during the offseason.
1. Jayrone Elliott, DE from the San Antonio Commanders
Elliott led the AAF in sacks at one point within it’s eight game season and, of course, has a connection with the Saints. He was on the Saints 90-man roster last year before the 53-man cuts had to be made. He had three sacks in the preseason although they all came in the same game against Jacksonville and also forced three fumbles. Standout element about Elliott’s game though is that 118 of his 125 pass rush snaps and all eight of his sacks came off the right side of the defensive line in the AAF. That’s an important detail and fit because Alex Okafor, the player he could replace as a rotational edge defender took 83.7% of his pass rush snaps from the right side rotating with Davenport as Cam Jordan focused on his left edge position where 97.4% of his pass rush snaps come from.
2. Mike Purcell, DT from the SLC Stallions
The 6’3”, 327 pound DT spent 2014 through 2016 with the 49ers playing along the defensive interior in both 3- and 0-technique spots. The Saints could use another player in the interior to rotate if Tyrunn Walker doesn’t remain. Purcell, who had 14 hurries and four sacks in the AAF, could be a good look in training camp. In addition to his effective pass rush game, Purcell also led the AAF in the run defense PFF grade with a 92.0 with 19 run stops and 0 missed tackles. He was the third-highest rated defensive player in the alliance overall as well with a 91.2.
3. Rashad Ross, WR, Arizona Hotshots
Ross had 36 catches for 583 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns on 53 targets. He led the AAF in receiving touchdowns and was second in yards. The former Arizona St. product spent time on NFL active rosters 2014 – 2016 with the Bears and Washington and also bounced around on practice squads and future/reserve contracts with the 49ers, Bills, and Cardinals before joining the AAF. His primary focus in the NFL had become kick returns during the 2015 season with Washington where he returned 28 kickoffs for 684 yards and a 101-yard touchdown return. But only returned one in 2016 while active for five games. In the AAF, of course, there are no kick returns but if he still has that talent, he’d add that value to his game in New Orleans. But the big draw for me that makes him so valuable and, I think, a good target for the Saints is that of his 36 catches, 583 yards, and 7 touchdowns, 32 catches, 481 yards and 5 touchdowns were all from the slot. While at 6’0″ and 181 pounds he doesn’t fit the Saints usual “big slot” mold, his 92.6 snap percentage from the slot was fourth in the AAF among players that took more than 100 snaps from the position. He also led that same group in yards per snap with an enormous 2.26 while carrying the lowest drop percentage at only 5.9%. A good option for the Saints.
4. Damontre’ Moore, DE from the San Diego Fleet
Moore is connected to the Cowboys already as a former 2017 signing, but with the Cowboys having traded for Robert Quinn, he may not be looking for familiar territory again. His 9 sacks lead the AAF in its eight games before termination. He was also near the top of the Alliance in QB hits with a massive 18 off 51 total pressures on only 220 pass rushing snaps. No one had near that pass rush productivity in the NFL on that limited amount of snaps. The closest to that would be Adrian Clayborn who had 39 pressures on 257 snaps. Moore also posted a very respectable 82.6 run defense grade with PFF with 18 run stops.
5. Derron Smith, S, San Antonio Commanders
Smith was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 6th round of the 2015 season. He’s actually already logged three seasons worth of work in the league between Cincy and a short stint with Cleveland in 2017. He is the top overall defensive player according the PFF grades in the Alliance. He received a 93.1 overall grade with a 93.2 coverage grade, also atop the AAF. While he did allow 14 of 18 targets to be caught for a 13.4 yards per catch average and two touchdowns, he added five pass break ups and three interceptions. Two of which he returned for a touchdown. The Saints are in need of Safety depth, likely a third safety, and veteran presence. Smith could bring both and additional experience with his unique path back to the NFL. Fun fact: Smith also had two consecutive interceptions on back-to-back plays against the Arizona Hotshots that got negated due to penalties by his teammates.
Any other prospects on your radar? Send them to us at @AllSaintsBlog on Twitter and we’ll continue to highlight these players that are now in need of work.