The theme of the 2019 draft class was simple, quality over quantity. The Saints ended the draft with 5 new additions, all picked in the second round or later. GM Mickey Loomis expressed his excitement with the draft, sharing the Saints had selected three players in their top 70 graded. However, a grade does not mean your safe, and the 2018 class proved that exact sentiment. Out of the seven players selected in 2018, only three remained at the end of the regular season. Can this years rookies survive the same fate?
In a surprise move, the Saints traded up to pick 48 to select versatile interior offensive lineman Erik McCoy. The Saints also received Pick 116 while trading away Pick 62, 202 and a Round 2 selection in 2020. Max Ungers retirement came as a surprise to everyone this offseason, but the Saints quickly made up for it by signing center/guard Nick Easton. Now the Saints are in a unique situation, Andrus Peat, who is on a contract year, is slated to be the starting LG, with Nick Easton and Erik McCoy battling for the center position. However, both Easton and McCoy have experience playing LG, so the transition post Peat should be smooth. I fully expect McCoy to be starting week 1, whether that comes from injury or winning in camp. It should be no surprise, he is my first lock for the roster.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson may be one of the biggest steals in the 2019 draft. Again, the Saints trade up to 105 while parting ways with both the 116th and 168th picks of the draft. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson provides versatility as a Safety, as he can play in the box, as a single high, or where the Saints envision him, as a nickle corner back. The slot corner position will be an important battle in camp, with PJ Williams returning on a one-year deal and Patrick Robinson returning from injury. Despite the crowded group, I have Gardner-Johnson as a lock. His long term potential and versatility are too valuable to cut, and we should see a contribution from the rookie this year.
With the 177th pick, the Saints selected Saquan Hampton. Despite being graded in the Saints top 70 players, Hampton may have the hardest path to the 53-man roster. I’ve lived by the saying that you don’t draft to fill roles, but instead to add the most talent possible. For that reason I loved this pick. Hampton is extremely athletic, plays box safety, and can contribute on special teams. However, Chris Banjo plays a similar role and has proved to be one of the leagues best special teams players. Hampton, who has a similar play style to Vonn Bell, will have to show he can contribute on special teams while showing potential at safety if he wants to make the roster. For this reason, I give Hampton a 50/50 chance to make it.
Alize Mack has quickly become a fan favorite by embracing the culture of New Orleans. The 6’4″ Tight End was largely underutilized at Notre Dame and has shown flashes that he can be a starting pass-catching Tight End at the next level. Despite the signing of Jared Cook, Tight End is not a huge position of depth. Behind Cook, Hill is most likely going to be the #2 TE due to his blocking ability and experience with the team. This leaves a three way battle for the last spot between Mack, Dan Arnold, and Garrett Griffin. I expect Griffin to move down to the practice squad at the end of camp, leaving the real battle between Arnold and Mack. Coaches will be looking for a TE who can take over after Cooks two year contact is up, and are hoping Mack or Arnold can be that guy. Despite Arnold spending two years in the system, I give the edge to Mack. Alize Mack should have around 70/30 odds to make the roster.
The Saints closed out the draft by picking LB Kaden Elliss. Instead of talking about Elliss, I am going to refer you to Ross Jackson’s draft day article and recent interview with the Idaho standout. All I will say is Elliss at 244 is a steal, and I fully expect him to make the roster. Similar to Mack, I will give him a 70/30 chance to end up on the 53.
Each draft pick provides a new element this roster. If a player does end up getting cut, I fully expect them to sign with another team. Sometimes, your roster is so overfilled with talent you have to part ways with the younger guys. It will be interesting to see how camp goes, but one thing is certain, each rookie better come out with intensity because no spot is guaranteed.