The Saints have had some great pick ups this Free Agency period. They successfully retained future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, bolstered their defense with the addition of PFF’s top-ranked free agent LB Demario Davis, and filled other needs with the reunions of CB Patrick Robinson, OL Jermon Bushrod, and TE Ben Watson. The Saints also resigned DE Alex Okafor. While Okafor was playing spectacular ball before he went down for the season with an ACL injury, Coach Sean Payton has made it clear that EDGE is still a need.
The Saints haven’t at all been trying to hide this. They went after DE Muhammad Wilkerson and then also pursued DT Ndamokung Suh who would have been helpful in the pass rush though not playing on the edge. They missed out on both and are now staring at a rather dry market of free agent EDGE talent. Meaning, they’ll need to turn to the draft.
Some of the most popular EDGE talent in the draft will be long gone by the time the Saints roll around at pick 27. Despite that though, there will still be viable possibilities there and even in the mid-rounds. What’s for sure is that the Saints cannot skip on the position come April 26-28. New Orleans is in a prime position to take the best player available with most picks, but one will need to be an EDGE rusher at some point.
It’s more than likely that NC States Bradley Chubb and UT-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport will be off the board before the Saints’s first-round pick. The latter of which, I’d personally pass on at 27 anyway. Viable options at 27 include Boston College’s Harold Landry, Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard, and LSU’s Arden Key.
Landry is probably the least likely to remain of the three. The thing about Arden Key though is that he’s really a 2nd round talent. Meaning that if he’s the best EDGE rusher on the board, chances are that there’s a better player available with a 1st round grade. That makes Sam Hubbard the most likely best option in terms of value and position need. It all comes down to how the Saints have their board built and what they have these players graded as.
It is possible that the Saints may not select an EDGE with their first pick, especially if Louisville QB Lamar Jackson is still available as well as a plethora of TE talent, or a pair of WRs that might fall to them in Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and Maryland’s DJ Moore. This would mean that the Saints would need to address the defensive line in later picks. Bear in mind too that, for now at least, New Orleans doesn’t have a second round pick. We know the Saints brass to be aggressive when it comes to trading up in the draft so look for a possible shake up in the second round with Sean and Mickey at the helm. At which time, Arden Key would make perfect sense.
If they choose to stay put and not obtain a pick in the second round, they would still have some good possible options in the 3rd. Those options include Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis as well as Wake Forest’s Duke Ejiofor and Ole Miss’s Breeland Speaks. Speaks and Holmes, in my opinion are the best options at this pick. Holmes has insane measurements with an big-time wingspan of 81 7/8″ and large 10″ hands. These measurements suggest that he’ll be able to create leverage against offensive lineman as well as keep a clean distance from being locked up by a pass-blocker. Meanwhile Speaks and Ejiofor are more project draft picks, which makes the 3rd round feel a little too early. If the Saints don’t decide to pull the trigger in day 2, there’s another potential pick that I like, and I’m not alone. In addition to being connected to the Saints in recent mocks, the homie Bryan Bienemy of ESPN New Orleans 100.3 FM tweeted this yesterday.
I agree. Wholeheartedly. Ade Aruna, a different Louisiana product, isn’t getting a ton of recognition despite absolutely killing the combine. He rated near the top in 40 time (4.60), vertical jump (38.5″), and broad jump (10.8″) among DEs. His game still needs polishing and his numbers don’t entirely match up to someone like possible first-rounder Harold Landry, but it’s not all about the numbers. Aruna has a high-motor and can be the speed rusher that the Saints have been waiting for. His 4.60 40 might not look fast in comparison to the 4.39, 4.40, and such that made headlines in the media this year, but it’s faster than Chubb, Landry, Hubbard, Key, Holmes, and everyone else I’ve already mentioned except for Davenport (4.58). The Nigeria native has played end for both 4-3 and 3-4 sets, shows potential as an edge setter as well as a pass rusher, has wingspan and hands akin to Holmes (80″ and 10 5/8″ respectively), has NFL size standing 6’6″ while weighing in at 270 lbs, and has great speed off the snap. His biggest knocks come from a lack of pass rush move development and appropriate use of leverage and base. He gets stood up at the line when he loses and sometimes doesn’t seem to know yet where to go from there. These are issues that an NFL coaching staff can clean up, and often expect to have to clean up regardless of draft position.
I think of Aruna as a day 3 steal if he goes to the right team. His fit with the Saints makes a lot of sense. With the re-signing of Alex Okafor, the Tulane prospect would enter a playing situation that will give him a lot of time to develop while working with other players that are doing or have done the same. He’d be in a group with Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata who were also smaller-school prospects that were brought on the the New Orleans defensive line with the intent of development. That’s not a bad situation to be in for a guy that was a starter in the AAC. It’s worth noting too that Ade hasn’t had injury concerns throughout his time in playing in all 36 games of his final three years after playing 8 as a redshirt freshman. Valuable and reliable depth in the trenches is important. But valuable and reliable depth that could end up developing into a disruptive pass rusher? Even better.