As we settle in and get ready for the NFL Draft next week, there are lots of questions centering around the Saints and how they will approach their selections. The Saints only have one in the top 167 picks in the draft but they also have five day-three selections in the final hundred picks. Two of the most popular questions usually center around what position the Saints will go at 62 and whether or not they will make some trades throughout the three day event. To find some answers to those questions and more, I took a look at the Saints drafts since 2006 to see if their tendencies in previous drafts might inform what we should expect in 2019.
Before we start, I want to give a quick shoutout to Brandon Olsen of Whole Nine Sports who helped me get started with this article when he shared info on all of the draft picks during the Mickey Loomis era.
To start us off, let’s take a look at some of the basic information since 2006.
Total Draft Selections: 80
Most Drafted Position: Offensive Line (15 – 18.75%)
Least Drafted Position:Tight End, Kicker, and Punter (1 Each)
Here’s how those 80 picks have been spent by position:
That splits the 80 picks to 34 offensive, 34 defensive and 2 special teams (1 punter, 1 kicker not pictured). Incredibly evenly distributed meaning that the Saints like to keep a balance from class to class. Since Ireland joined the staff in 2015, the picks have been weighted towards defense 16 to 11. But with the improvement of the defense over the last two years, the selections balanced out in favor of offense (4 to 3) in 2018.
With this draft, it would make a lot of sense for the Saints to start with an offensive lineman. Even multiple selections would make would not be surprising actually, which they have done in 2006, 2007, 2016, and 2018. With Max Unger’s retirement and the question marks surrounding Armstead, Peat, and newly acquired Nick Easton’s health combined with the evident tendency to select offensive linemen in the draft, it’s almost a sure thing.
If the Saints do go o-line during the draft, expect them to either go with a multi-positional interior lineman like Michael Deiter or Elgton Jenkins or someone that could focus on the tackle position like USC’s Chuma Edoga or Tyler Roemer from San Diego State. They could also hold out until the late rounds for a project players like Florida’s Martez Ivey and Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans who could develop into great swing linemen that can play all over the line. That versatility if highly valued in the Saints’ system.
Tight End, the Saints’ least drafted position, has been listed as one of the team’s top needs. Some still consider it so even since Jared Cook has been signed. The Saints could easily select a Tight End in the second round and no one would blame them considering that most rookies at the position make no meaningful impact until they have been in the league for a couple years. Two years behind Jared Cook certainly couldn’t hurt. An argument could then be made that if you are going to try to develop a Tight End, you might as well use that second-round pick to grab an impact player. You could then invest a later pick- whether in the fifth or by trading up for a Kahale Warring, Alize Mack, or Dawson Knox, in that developmental pass-catching Tight End. This comes down to which of the top guys remains at 62, if any.
Now let’s have a look at the history of Saints picks by round. This is the first time the Saints have not had a first-round pick since they were forced to forfeit their 2012 day one selection along with 2012 and 2013 second-round selections. Let’s start our round-by-round analysis by looking at the second.
Total 2nd Round Picks: 9/80 (11.25%)
Most Drafted Position in 2nd Round: CB and S (3 Each)
Least Drafted Position in 2nd Round: DL (0 of 13 total DL taken)
The Saints have focused the majority of the second-round selections since 2006 in the secondary. That include selections like Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell, Tracy Porter, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. (Sorry. I had to do it.) After what feels like ages, this year’s secondary core feels solid and reliable enough that the team could wait until the later rounds to take a flier on someone like Tulane’s Donnie Lewis, Jr. or James Madison’s Jimmy Moreland. However, if someone like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson or Dionte Thompson take an unlikely fall, the Saints could be temped to leap.
Of the positions never selected in the second round during this time by the Saints, the two most glaring are Interior Offensive line and Tight End. As referenced above, there will be a ton of talent available at 62 in these spots, but the trends tell us that the Saints might look elsewhere. For the record, they have only taken one Wide Receiver in this round since 2006, and he was a damned good one in Michael Thomas. They could repeat their success with second round wideouts by selecting JJ Arcega-Whiteside out of Stanford or felly Buckeye Terry McLaurin. I’d be ecstatic with either.
Of the players the Saints have selected specifically in the back half of the second round, two were corners, one offensive tackle and one safety. Those picks stretch between 48th and 64th overall, the range they will likely select in this year. Sadly, the Michael Thomas pick was just outside that range at 47th overall. To throw a couple of names out there from these positions likely to be available:
Safety: Combine stud Juan Thornhill, Virginia | Dionte Thompson, Alabama
Offensive Tackles: Yodney Cajuste, West Virginia | Kaleb McGary, Washington
Cornerbacks: Justin Layne, Michigan State | Trayvon Mullen, Clemson
Total 5th Round Picks: 13/80 (16.25%)
Most Drafted Position in 5th Round: LB and CB (3 Each)
Least Drafted Position in 5th Round: RB (0 out of 7 total RBs taken)
*One punter selected: Thomas Morstead via trade up
The Saints continue their love for Corners in the draft, selecting 25% of the 12 taken since 2006 in the fifth. However with a total of 11 LBs taken, they take a larger share in the same round. These are two positions that are likely to be selected in day 3 assuming the Saints do not package #168 to move up into the third or fourth round. A possibility we will cover a little later in this article.
When it comes to Cornerback, the Saints are looking pretty set for once when it comes to depth. You have the obvious top three in Lattimore and Apple on the outside and Patrick Robinson in slot. PJ Williams returns as a backup in the slot and number four corner. Justin Hardee was also resigned who can round out the positional depth as the fifth corner, likely to be beat out tendered Ken Crawley. New Orleans also signed Marcus Sherels in free agency and he will be a seldom-kept sixth corner taking over TommyLee Lewis’s punt return duties. A rookie would have a tough time making the initial roster but if they can prove to be valuable depth in the slot as well as on the outside, there’s a chance they could beat out PJ Williams who will likely be suspended for the top of the season due to his offseason DUI.
As for linebacker, you’re also going to be looking for depth this late. Saints are set with Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone as the nickel-package starters. AJ Klein played the SAM role last season and could see some competition if a rookie is selected and could challenge for that two-down role. The Saints also retained Craig Robertson and Vince Biegel as valuable depth and special teams role players.
Saints could also go for more of a project pick at Linebacker here. Someone that has not yet found a home in the second level but has the athletic profile and building blocks available to find one at the NFL level. Keep an eye out for Idaho’s Kaden Elliss if they were to go that route. He has played SAM but also MIKE in the middle and has played as a pass-rushing backer as well.
Let’s have a look at some of the Cornerbacks and Linebackers said to likely be available at the too of Day Three.
Cornerbacks: Hamp Cheevers, Boston College | Jimmy Moreland, James Madison
Linebackers: Emeke Egbule, Houston | Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State | Kaden Elliss, Idaho
Total 6th Round Picks: 9/80 (11.25%)
Most Drafted Position in 6th Round: EDGE (2 of 6 total EDGE taken)
Least Drafted Position in 6th Round: LB (0 out of 11 total LBs taken)
* One Kicker selected: Taylor Mehlhaff
New Orleans currently has two selections this round so it is worth mentioning that the second most popular pick for the Saints here is, yet again, cornerback.
The Saints have shown interest in the EDGE position over the offseason. They brought in Ziggy Ansah for a visit early in Free Agency and are now waiting, like many other interested teams, for him medicals to come back. Ansah’s shoulder injury from last year has a lot of clubs concerned about how it might limit him in 2019. Saints also brought in Robert Quinn for a visit when they were in trade talks with the Miami Dolphins. Quinn eventually ended up being traded to the Cowboys instead. If the Saints are still invested in bringing in an edge rusher to split time with Marcus Davenport, or at least challenge 2017 selection Trey Hendrickson for the right to do so, they could find someone late in this year’s draft. They don’t need someone that has to come in and become an immediate starter or impact player. They’ll just be looking for a rotational role along the edge that can help rush the passer without being a liability in the run game.
Not much to say on Linebacker here considering they could go that was at 168 or even earlier in the sixth round 177 only nine picks later. Kaden Elliss could be an option here if the Saints decide to go out of tendency and draft their first linebacker in the sixth since 1998.
EDGE: Jalen Jelks, Oregon | Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State | Jonathan Ledbetter, Georgia
Cornerback: Donnie Lewis, Jr., Tulane | Jamel Dean, Auburn
Total 7th Round Picks: 11/80 (13.75%)
Most Drafted Position in 7th Round: RB (2 of 7 total RBs taken)
Least Drafted Position in 7th Round: CB (0 out of 12 total CBs taken)
Not only have the saints taken the largest share of their total 2006-2018 RBs in the seventh round, they have also taken one every year since 2015 when Jeff Ireland joined the Saints staff. With that, it feels likely that the Saints do take a Running Back at some point in this draft and there are a couple of nice options this late that can serve multiple roles. You can look for a work horse back that might find his way into the seventh like Alexander Mattison out of Boise State. Want more of a pass catcher? No sweat, look no further than Washington State’s James Williams. Need someone that can play all around the formation and return kicks? Don’t forget Tony Pollard out of Memphis. The blatantly obviously decline in value at this position could work in the favor of the Saints who might be looking for someone to challenge Dwayne Washington for the RB3 spot. Even a back like Elijah Holyfield who struggled at the combine might come into play for New Orleans here as well as they could just be looking to roll the dice this late.
Keeping in mind that the Saints also currently have two selections in this round, their second most likely selection in the seventh has been WR with two selected of the nine total selected during our study’s timeline. Selections like Jazz Ferguson and Terry Godwin could be nice gets here. I’d even throw in Anthony Ratliff-Williams as well though his developmental needs may push him into Priority Free Agent status.
New Orleans has also selected 3 offensive linemen here and there are some late-round gets much like last year’s gem Will Clapp.
Running Backs: Alexander Mattison, Boise State | James Williams, Washington State | Tony Pollard, Memphis
Wide Receivers: Jazz Ferguson, Northwestern State | Terry Godwin, Georgia
Offensive Linemen: Martez Ivey, Florida | Matt Kaskey, Dartmouth | Nate Herbig, Stanford
Total Picks Acquired via Trade Up: 15 (includes supplemental late-round picks)
Total Picks Acquired via Trade Down: 3
Position Most Often Selected After Trade Up: Interior Defensive Lineman (5)
Positions Selected After Trade Down: CB, S, OL (1 each)
*Selected one Punter via trade up: Thomas Morstead
The Saints have traded up every single year of Sean Payton’s tenure with the exception of his first year in 2006 and the suspension year in 2012. Trading up for nearly 20% of their total selections in his time in New Orleans, it is not at all a stretch to expect this tendency to continue in 2019. Payton, Loomis, and Ireland are obviously very comfortable with moving around in the draft and in particular, moving up. In doing so, they have leaned heavily on trading up for defensive linemen. Taking one Edge Rusher and five Interior Defenders is a huge trend that sticks out. Especially considering how complimentary Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis were of the depth of this year’s Interior Defender class at the Combine.While I am not expecting the Saints to trade up into the second round, I can more than certainly see them moving up into the mid-rounds. Of those 15 picks secured in a trade up since 2006, 9 of the selections received fell within rounds 3, 4, and 5.
Mid-Round Interior Defenders to Watch: Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois | Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M | Renell Wren, Arizona State
The next most popular trade up targets have been Running Back and Wide Receiver. This Wide Receiver class is super deep and without spending a pick at 62, a very good prospect could fall within striking distance. They may not need a Running Back this year around. However, New Orleans has selected one every single year since Jeff Ireland joined the Front Office in 2015. Despite that though, I do not expect that the Saints would trade up for one knowing that they can hang around with one of their 7th round picks to get camp body or go to their gold mine of UDFAs.
One trend that I can see the Saints breaking is their Tight End draft drought. Despite having only taken a single Tight End since 2006; Jimmy Graham in 2010, I can see the New Orleans making a move to secure a pass-catching, big-bodied guy in Day 2 or early Day 3. With the Saints selecting in the second and fifth rounds, most of the talent at pass-catching Tight End could be taken up before they come back around the bend at 168. Because of that, I would not be surprised to see them leap for a player that can sit back and develop behind Jared Cook over his two-year deal and potentially even Ben Watson if he does indeed return.
Mid-Round Tight Ends to Watch: Kahale Warring, San Diego State University | Dawson Knox, Ole Miss | Alize Mack, Notre Dame
New Orleans has the freedom and ammunition to move around in this draft. They can trade away future picks to get into those early mid-round slots and can also use some of their five day three picks to move up a bit earlier. We can look at recent trades to see what some possibilities might be for the Saints. Look back just to 2017 when the Saints made their move to select Alvin Kamara at 67 overall.
Saints Received: 2017 Round 3 Pick 3 (67th overall) from San Francisco
49ers Received: 2018 Round 2 Pick and 2017 Round 7 Pick 11 (229th overall)
With all of their 2020 picks intact, the Saints could do away with another future second in order to grab an impact player in this year’s third round. Ironically, the San Francisco 49ers have that very same 67th overall pick in 2019 while the Saints are not too far off from their seventh round offer from that year either with a 231st pick available this time around. Even though John Lynch might not be willing to deal with New Orleans again after last time, there are some other possible suitors in the same area. The Jets have pick 68 overall and the Patriots hold pick 73 overall, both teams the Saints have had recent dealings with. Especially the Patriots who always look to move around throughout the draft if they like their returns.
For a trade up into the fourth round, we can take a look at a division rival and a move they made just last year.
Panthers Received: Round 4 Pick 36 (136th overall compensatory) from Los Angeles
Rams Received: Round 5 Pick 10 (147th overall) and Round 6 Pick 23 (197th overall)
The Saints have a later 5th round pick at 168th overall, but have a much earlier 6th at 177th, just nine selections later. According to the NFL Trade Value Chart by Drafttek, that pairing would yield 44 points, four greater than the Panthers’ 147/197 combination. With that, the Saints could move up into the 128-138 overall range at the end of the 4th round.
You didn’t think I was going to leave you hanging with all this information and no simulated success, did you? Now we can piece the puzzle together and create our own scenarios taking a look at what prospects are expected to be available round-by-round and see what the Saints’ habits are at each position and placement. Go ahead and create your own scenarios with this information, but here is a thought:
Round 2, Pick 62: Juan Thornhill, Safety, Virginia
2/3s of the Saints 2nd round selections since 2006 have gone to the secondary. Half of which to Safety. Saints could also go offensive line here, but the tendencies say DB and I’m respecting that for this first selection. But not for long.
Round 3, Pick 68: Kahale Warring, TE, SDSU
Saints trade their 2020 2nd round pick and the earlier 2019 7th round pick #231 to the Jets to move up for a TE for the first time pretty much ever. This is the big trend buster I referenced earlier that I could see happening for the right guy. Warring fits the bill.
Round 4, Pick 134: Kingsley Keke, DL, Texas A&M
Saints send their 5th round pick #168 and 6th round pick #177 to the Patriots to grab Keke [do you love me?] Saints have used 40% of their selections acquired via trade up to grab defensive linemen. Keke fits the versatility trait New Orleans likes as a player that can help in the interior with Rankins and likely Onyemata out to start the season and can rush off the edge in a rotational role when they return.
Round 6, Pick 202: Jazz Ferguson, WR, Northwestern
With Thornhill and Keke selected, their versatility makes going EDGE and DB a little less necessary, which bucks the top tendencies. OL is more likely to be selected in the 7th round than the 6th and RB is a lesser need since the Saints have yet to go WR. The St. Francisville, LA native gets his number called here.
Round 7, Pick 244: Martez Ivey, OL, Florida
With nearly 30% of 7th round picks gong to offensive line, I was able to justify skipping the position in the sixth round knowing I could circle back to a versatile and long prospect here with Ivey.
In this draft, the Saints follow their tendencies with the exception of my bold Tight End prediction and address some needs all along the way. They also go three picks each on both sides of the ball, allowing them to maintain their remarkable draft balance.
Hope that you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look at the Payton-era draft selections. Like this content? Let Ross know on Twitter @RossJacksonASC