Glad to be able to finally bring you my second mock draft! I actually started this mock during a podcast I was recording for our series Single-High Safety and really liked where it was going. So, here’s the four rounds you heard plus three. The mock in terms of picks was completed before the Saints signed WR Cameron Meredith to an offer sheet, so I’ve added some possible picks where I think the signing (should the Bears not match) would affect. There’s of course a domino effect that would take place from there, but I didn’t go all the way down that road. If we end up landing Meredith, it’ll be good fodder for a 3.0.
Round 1 Pick 27 Boise St. LB Leighton Vander Esch
If the Saints stick around for pick 27, they’ll likely go BPA. Vander Esch was by far the best player on the board for my First-Pick.com simulation. While only being a one-year starter, it’s clear that Vander Esch is a big time talent. He has some development that needs to take place, but that’s why I think New Orleans is a good fit for him. He needs to improve on his tackling and getting off of blocks, but those are easily teachable adjustments. Especially in a situation like New Orleans where he doesn’t have to be a day one starter. However, if he were to improve a bit on those areas, not even a lot, he’s got everything else he needs to contribute immediately. He’s a hell of a coverage players, has a nose for the ball, and welcomes contact. At 6’4” 256 lbs. with 34” arms Vander Esch is a prototypical playmaker at the second level. Group him with Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone, there’s so much range in the LB unit and very good depth behind them in Robertson, Te’o, and Klein.
Round 3 Pick 27 (91) Washington WR Dante Pettis
I was shocked to see Pettis available here, but boy was I pleased. I was actually looking for DaeSean Hamilton out of Penn St., but this was a welcome fall. Pettis is in between the frame of the conventional slot receiver and the Saints build at 6’0” 186 lbs. Pettis is quick, runs every route in the tree and does so well, has go-up-and-get-it ability, and can be a factor near the goal line. What’s not to love here? One of his big knocks is that he tended to get thrown off by more physical CBs, so putting him in the slot will help with that. He’s got late hands and tends to excel when working as a secondary option. Added value in that he is an explosive punt returner, returning nine for touchdowns in his college tenure. A great new chess piece for Sean Payton and an boost to the third element of the game in special teams.
NOTE – With the Saints having offered Bears WR Cameron Meredith an offer sheet, Chicago has 5 days to match and retain their RFA. If they do not, Meredith would end up being a possible (and very likely) solution to the Saints’ slot questions. If that’s the case, here are 5 of my alternative picks.
Humboldt St. OT Alex Cappa
South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
Utah EDGE Kylie Fitts
Ohio State EDGE Jalyn Holmes
Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta
Round 4 Pick 27 (127) Tulane DE Ade Aruna
You all know I like this guy. Here’s the deal. At pick 27 the only two edge rushers on the board were Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard and LSU’s Arden Key. Key is no more than a 2nd or 3rd round pick. So I wasn’t about to reach for him in the first. Sam Hubbard is a great player, but just not the best player available at 27 in comparison to Vander Esch. So this is the DE I wanted to wait for. I truly believe that, with the proper situation and coaching, Aruna can be as good in his role as Arden Key and Sam Hubbard in theirs. The Saints might be in the market for improving the EDGE position, but not necessarily in the hunt for a three-down starter. Aruna is a big, physical, quick pass rusher that can spell Okafor alongside Hendrickson and Kikaha. He stands 6’6” with a near 39” vertical, which adds another pass-batter on the line opposite Cam Jordan. Aruna also ran a 4.60 40 at the combine, the second fastest behind only Marcus Davenport. You can see the other reasons I like Aruna a lot in my article about him, but his highlight reel ain’t so bad either.
Round 5 Pick (147) NC State DT BJ Hill
This is where I continued beyond the podcast so that I didn’t bore anyone as I was swapping between research pages and tape. The fit with the Saints is real here. Hill is a big stop-gap kind of run-defender who made himself well known throughout the Senior Bowl. His strength is presently his biggest knock, but that can be remedied with access to better facilities. Saints Defensive Line Coach Ryan Nielsen came to us last year from NC State, so there’s going to be a solid relationship and connect already established between the coach and DT. While New Orleans did pursue Ndamukong Suh, Coach Payton has let us know that he doesn’t feel that interior DL is necessarily a “need”. But it’s probably still worth it to build depth in the trenches. Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and Teyler Davison have been great for us on the line, but adding another big-bodied and athletic piece to defensive line can’t be a bad idea, especially if Hill is still there in the 5th round.
Round 5 Pick 27 (164) Miami TE Christopher Herndon
The Saints signed Benjamin Watson last week, which to me means that they might not go TE too early in the draft. But picking up a receiving option at the position like Herndon would be a good look. It’s safe to say that Fleener is on his way out after this season if not sooner. Herndon provides a big, imposing, pass-catching option at the position. Giving him the opportunity to learn how he’d fit into the gameplan over the next season certainly wouldn’t hurt. His frame is almost identical to Watson’s who went off for 74/825/6 his last season in New Orleans. Herndon would be in the perfect scenario to learn the system and completely recover from his November MCL injury before making his way out on the field. The Saints find a way to reunite with a Miami TE after all, just not the way we all expected. Take a look at his highlight reel below and pay special attention to his run after catch ability. I’m sure Sean Payton would love to add more TE screen options.
Round 6 Pick 15 (189) Northwestern DB Godwin Igwebuike
Igwebuike has an NFL pedigree with a couple of NFL players in his family including Chiefs bruiser Christian Okoye. He fits the same kind of position versatility as Jacksonville State’s Siran Neal who I was expecting to draft here, only faster (ran a 4.44 40 at the combine) and even more flexible. Igwebuike is a guy that can play any position in the secondary and is a force in the run game when he plays in the box-safety scheme. He has the ability and talent to potentially rotate with the safeties and also challenge PJ Williams for the 4th CB position. Getting him involved in the defense with a chance to learn from Patrick Robinson, who excels in the slot, can pay dividends for Igwebuike’s future. He has the size and strength to cover big receiving targets and make life hard for them. Will just need to see if he can handle the change of speed at the NFL level.
Round 6 Pick 27 (201) SMU WR Trey Quinn
Trey Quinn was an unsung talent during the NFL combine. While his test scores didn’t have the chance to impress around the other talent in Indy, his receiving drills were what caught my eye. His route-running was outstanding and his hands were brilliant. Quinn also excels in the slot, where the Saints are currently searching for help. Doubling up on WR in this draft might not be the worst idea in order to maximize the potential of hitting on a wideout. Quinn’s production at SMU is hard to ignore. The LSU-transfer (from Lake Charles, LA) went to SMU and outperformed 2nd round talent Courtland Sutton 114/1236/13 to 68/1085/12. He’s a big time talent without big time attention. Deuce Windham shared some insight on his underrated production as well.
Round 7 Pick 27 (245) Washington St. OG Cody O’Connell
Cody O’Connell is a biiiiig man. 6’9” tall and 352 lbs. is huge for a guard. There’s a natural chance that he might end up moving to tackle, but if that were the case he’d have the flexibility that the Saints love to have on the offensive line. The AP Second Team All-American and AP All-Pac-12 First Teamer quickly went from being a redshirt freshman to Washington State’s decorated veteran when their starting guard graduated. O’Connell was also rated as the second-best offensive lineman in the country by PFF in 2016. He’d add depth to the trenches and would give himself time to develop without the pressure of having to try and contribute his first year. Especially if the Saints want to move him to Tackle, which would take some time.
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