The start of the 2017 NFL Draft is a only a mere 22 days away from now, for the New Orleans Saints. Unless you've been away out of the country for the past few weeks on that Caribbean cruise that you and your significant other had been talking about taking for the last several years; then you already know that we're currently right in the the heart of the "Mock Draft season".
The term "Mock Drafts" are of course where writers from across the country (myself included) put out their best educated guess on how the 32 teams in the NFL will look to improve their team's rosters through the selection of the nation's top athletes in the sport of college football, during the annual NFL Draft.
Some "Mocks" cover the entire NFL, while others are geared towards one specific team's picks; and in this particular case the picks of the New Orleans Saints. This one that you're reading right now is my first one ever for the Saints News Network; after doing them in the past several years for the previous sites where I've covered the Saints on a year-round, daily basis.
Now as of this very moment, the Saints now come into this year's Draft armed with 5 out of the first 103 picks in what many consider the deepest draft for players on the defensive side of the football specifically, in a very long time.
The Saints will be picking at #11, 32, 42, 76, 103, 196, and finally at 229 during the Draft, which this year will take place in Philadelphia beginning on Thursday night, April 27th and ending on Saturday, April 29th. The Saints do not have a pick in either the 4th or 5th Round.
Now as you likely already know in advance if you're a fan of the Saints, the team has several holes at a variety of key positions that they still need to address, despite the players that they've signed in Free Agency in the past few weeks.
I'll go ahead and spare you the re-hashing of just what the Saints "needs" are, since we know it's been the team's defense that has prevented them from having a winning season or making the NFL Playoffs for the past 3 seasons.
But keep in mind: the Saints also have some positions on the offensive side of the football (most notably at the back-up QB position behind Drew Brees), that they may decide to address in this Draft as well.
While there's a strong argument to made for the Saints to go "all in" with defensive players in this year's Draft, they could also decide to further strengthen or upgrade their top-rated offense as well.
So with those things in mind, let's cut right to the chase --- as I give you the Saints News Network's 2017 Saints Mock Draft 1.0, beginning with this talented young man with their first pick at #11 overall........
ROUND 1 (#11 OVERALL) HAASON REDDICK, LINEBACKER, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY
Just last week I wrote an article about Reddick where I compared him to Hall of Fame former Saints linebacker legend Rickey Jackson; because just as Jackson did coming out of college from the University of Pittsburgh back in 1981, Reddick is a "hand in the dirt" 4-3 defensive end who most teams that run the 3-4 defensive scheme, envision utilizing him as an outside linebacker.
But because of his athleticism, Reddick can not only rush the passer off the outside edge, but he's athletic enough (as he showed back at the Senior Bowl in late January) to line up as both a middle linebacker or weakside linebacker in the 4-3 as well.
What sets Reddick apart from many players in this Draft besides his versatility, is his ability to DOMINATE a game; much in the very same manner as Jackson did all of those years ago. A bone-jarring hit here. "Blowing up" a RB in the backfield for a loss there. Sacking a QB on a 3rd down pass-rushing situation in a game's most crucial of moments.
If you're an older Saints fan, then when you watch the film on Reddick, his "style" might not remind you of Rickey Jackson. But what will remind you of Jackson is that Reddick is literally EVERYWHERE all over the field, making play after play after play after play --- just like that former defensive end-turned-outside linebacker from Pitt named Rickey Jackson did for the Saints over 35 years ago.
Grant it, the Saints more likely will target the best pure edge rusher (whoever is still on the board at #11, most likely Derek Barnett of Tennessee or Taco Charlton of Michigan), but if they're smart? Then they should take the best all-around defensive player in this Draft PERIOD. And that player is Haason Reddick of Temple University.
ROUND 1 (#32 OVERALL) CURTIS SAMUEL, WIDE RECEIVER (AND PART-TIME RUNNING BACK), OHIO STATE
We're all well aware that the Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, which leaves the Saints with a "void" (although not a significant one) at the WR position. Perhaps even more notable: with the loss of back-up RB Tim Hightower, the Saints are suddenly a bit "thin" at the RB position.
The Saints do have a reliable and capable starter at RB in Mark Ingram, but what they have clearly lacked in the last few years is someone that's an electric "playmaker" at this position, someone who can be the "scatback" out of the backfield in the same mold that former RB's Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles were during their time in New Orleans. The Saints just recently re-signed RB Travaris Cadet to continue in that role, but Cadet lacks the "big play" ability that both Bush and Sproles had.
That's where Ohio State University RB / WR Curtis Samuel comes in. Samuel -- who ran a "blazing" 4.31 second 40-yard dash at the Combine -- is very similar to the 'type' of players that Bush and Sproles are. He's ridiculously quick, elusive out in the open field, and great at catching the ball. Saints head coach Sean Payton has taken an obvious liking to Ohio State players recently, and it's easy to envision Payton using Samuel either in the backfield or even more likely: splitting him out wide.
Following the graduation of former Buckeyes All-American RB Ezekiel Elliott into the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, Samuel became one of the featured play-makers for the Buckeyes in the 2016 regular season; recording 65 receptions for 822 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. On the ground, he has averaged 7.7 yards per carry for 704 yards with eight scores.
Samuel isn't big enough to "pound the ball between the tackles" as a featured /lead NFL running back, so chances are that Payton will use him sparingly as a running back, and become more of a receiver. The primary concern with a player like Samuel among NFL scouts and personnel men is that with him being considered as a "tweener" and not having a true position, that he could be a risky pick.
But Samuel -- who's often compared to former NFL star Percy Harvin -- is expected by both NFL scouts and personnel men to develop into a WR in the classical sense; and with the return of WR coach Curtis Johnson to the Saints coaching staff, Samuel could use Johnson's guidance to develop the polish necessary to eventually play the receiver position on a full-time basis in the NFL.
ROUND 2 (#42 OVERALL) KEVIN KING, CORNERBACK, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Assuming the Saints don't trade for Patriots CB Malcom Butler, which as of right now doesn't seem likely as it had been speculated a few weeks ago, then it's almost a given that they'll target the cornerback position with this pick. After an edge rusher to put on the outside edge opposite of Cam Jordan, the Saints' biggest team "need" is an outside cornerback to play opposite of Delvin Breaux, and King is exactly what the doctor prescribed for New Orleans.
A strong performance at the Combine has seen King rocket up NFL Draft boards, and assuming that LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White -- the player that the Saints are hoping is still available at #32 -- isn't there, then getting King in this slot would be considered "the next best thing".
Amazingly, King didn’t allow a single touchdown in 2016 and only allowed just one in his last 28 college games. That ladies and gentlemen, is rather impressive. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, King has the "prototype" NFL size, speed and length. He furthered his cause last month at the Combine, posting a 4.43 second 40 time (impressive for a "big" corner), jumped almost 40 inches in the vertical and he additionally had what are considered "elite" measurables in other drills.
Pro Football Focus says that King has an excellent pass breakup radius, with length, height and leaping ability making it very hard to fit the football past him when he is in the area. They also note that King is good in press coverage, squeezing receivers to the sideline and giving them no space to work with. He allowed just three catches from 17 targets on "go" routes in 2016.
Now of course like every draft prospect, King has some flaws. PFF warns that he struggles against top-flight "speed" WR's at times and has some issues with missed tackles along with being a bit "grabby" at times (which could lead to quite a few illegal contact penalties at the NFL level), but all in all those are issues that can be worked out with the proper amount of coaching and game experience. Bottom line: the kid can play, and he would serve as a perfect complement to Breaux with this pick.
ROUND #3 (#76 OVERALL) MARCUS WILLIAMS, FREE SAFETY, UTAH
With the release of veteran free safety Jairus Byrd in February, New Orleans likely will look to target the safety position; despite the presence of last year's 2nd Round pick Vonn Bell and the recent signing of free agent free / strong safety Rafael Bush, who returned to the Saints after a 1-year stint with the Detroit Lions. The Saints could still use some quality depth at the position, especially given many of the 3-safety sets that they use in pass coverage.
Which is why if you're the Saints and University of Utah Marcus Williams is still available at the end of Round #3 (for the sake of this Mock, we'll pretend that he is), you "pull the trigger" immediately on the pick. This year's class is also very "deep" at safety, which is why there's a good chance that New Orleans could still land a talent like Williams at this point in the Draft.
Williams tallied 18 turnovers (11 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries) during his three seasons with the Utes. A "ball-hawk" in the truest sense of the word, Williams would give the Saints almost the identical type of skill-set that they THOUGHT that they were originally getting when they signed Jairus Byrd back during the 2014 Free Agency period.
Williams can play the single-high safety spot for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's scheme as well; and last year the the 6-foot-1, 202-pounder graded out as PFF’s third-best safety in college football and additionally led all FBS safeties in run-stop percentage. He also manged to finish with the 2nd-highest tackle efficiency (a total of 3 missed tackles in the entire 2016 FBS season) among all safeties, per PFF.
While other higher-rated safeties such as LSU's Jamal Adams and Ohio State's Malik Hooker have gotten most of the attention from analysts leading up to this Draft, a kid like Williams -- who was tucked away quietly in Salt Lake City, Utah for the past 3 years -- is the perfect example of a player who can potentially play very well at the next level, minus the "hype". If the Saints can land Williams at this spot, it would be a major coup.
ROUND 3 (#103 OVERALL) TREY HENDRICKSON, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE RUSHER, FLORIDA ATLANTIC
The Saints need to have a solid pass rusher capable of getting to the QB on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan; and although the Saints did sign former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Alex Okafor to a 1-year deal a few weeks ago in Free Agency, they cannot count on Okafor beyond 2017.
Add to that the uncertainty surrounding returning 3rd year veteran defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha from what is already the 3rd torn ACL that he's suffered to his left knee in his young career, and it becomes obvious that the Saints need to make edge rusher a position that they should address in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft later this month.
If you've been keeping up with the all of the analysis surrounding the Draft later this month, then you've heard it said that this Draft is the "deepest" class in years on the defensive side of the football, particularly at the edge pass rusher position --- and a player like FAU (Florida Atlantic University) defensive end Trey Hendrickson is the prime example of why that's so.
The 6-foot-4, 266-pound Hendrickson didn’t earn his starting role until very early on during his sophomore year; but in the subsequent 32 games that he did end up starting after winning the job, the 22-year old posted an impressive stat total of 28 sacks, a whopping 39.5 tackles for loss, and forced seven fumbles. Hendrickson finished as FAU’s all-time leader in tackles for loss, QB sacks, forced fumbles and quarterback hurries.
Hendrickson is a player that despite his "small school" pedigree, shows good natural burst coming off of the outside edge along with a great quickness for that position. While he's not what you'd consider a "great athlete" by any means, he definitely qualifies as a 'pure' pass rusher (in the classic sense) with a "high motor" who can create a whole ton of pressure -- something that other than the notable exception of Cam Jordan, the Saints haven't been able to do very much of in recent seasons.
Hendrickson would probably be used mostly in substitution packages along with Okafor (and Kikaha if he fully recovers) with the Saints to begin his career, but this is a young man who if given an opportunity, can make a real impact and could end up being one of the true "steals" of this Draft class.
ROUND 6 (#196 OVERALL) ELIJAH McGUIRE, RUNNING BACK, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
A surprisingly large portion of Saints fans out there would like to see the Saints draft sensational Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in the 1st Round, but it's hard to imagine that the Saints would take him at #11; and McCaffrey will more than likely be gone by the time that the Saints pick again at #32. Nevertheless, with the departure of back-up RB Tim Hightower to the 49ers in Free Agency; the Saints are definitely in the market for an all-purpose back that can not only both run and catch passes out of the backfield, but more importantly be a capable RB in relief of starting RB Mark Ingram.
Proof of that notion lies in the fact that the Saints had controversial Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon in for a visit yesterday. But it's hard to envision New Orleans drafting Mixon because of his long list of legal issues, which then makes a player like Elijah McGuire of the home-state University of Lousisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns a perfect late round addition.
A native of Houma, La. (just 57 mikes southwest of New Orleans), McGuire played all four seasons for the Ragin’ Cajuns, amassing over 4,000 career rushing yards. He also recorded over 1,300-yards receiving and scored a total of 52 touchdowns in those four seasons. Grant it, the competition level of the Sun Belt Conference isn't on par with that of the SEC or the PAC-12, but McGuire is a player who can be successful in the NFL.
What will hold the biggest appeal for the Saints and Sean Payton is McGuire's capacity to be a tremendous receiver out of the backfield. He can make catches near the line of scrimmage, and use his combination of elusiveness and sheer brute strength to create yards after the reception. He also can run routes down the middle of the field or down the sidelines, and in essence become a deep target with his impressive capability to haul in deep passes.
Where McGuire may have trouble the most however is in the pass-blocking area. Though he's a willing blocker, he often misreads picking up the incoming rusher on blitzes, which obviously leaves his QB vulnerable to being sacked. Despite his physical gifts, McGuire will have to develop as a competent pass-blocker over time, especially if he were to be playing in the offense of the man (Sean Payton) who is notorious for demanding that his skill players be able to block well.
ROUND 7 (#229 OVERALL) JESSAMEN DUNKER, OFFENSIVE GUARD / TACKLE, TENNESSEE STATE
Though the Saints signed former Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford in Free Agency, it's safe to say that the Saints will still consider a taking a guard in this Draft; and former Florida Gators O-Lineman Jessamen Dunker could be a player that the Saints may be able to grab in the late rounds, which is where we project him to be when the Saints make their final pick of the 2017 NFL Draft at #229 overall.
In his recent featured article on Dunker, Palm Beach Post staff writer Jason Lieser says that the versatile 6-foot-4, 318 pounder is coming off an excellent season as the Tigers’ left tackle—he was their starting left guard before that—and is eager to prove he’s as good as any of the big-school prospects. But Lieser adds: That starts with proving he’s grown up.
Dunker came out of Boynton Beach High School in southeast Florida back during 2012 as one of the most coveted offensive linemen in the country, and looked like he was on his way to stardom at the University of Florida. But Lieser adds that Dunker's dream lasted less than a year before he was charged with a felony count of grand theft of a motor vehicle when he botched the purchase of a scooter. Dunker paid cash for it from a graduating student, but didn’t get the title or a receipt --- a felony in the state of Florida.
Dunker told Lieser that it was a mistake, but it still forced him to have to restart his college football career at FCS program Tennessee State --- where he was a four-year starter at left tackle. Dunker ended up being the best tackle in the entire FCS level, and his notable athleticism with the Tigers earned him invitations to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. At the Combine, he finished seventh among offensive linemen in the broad jump at nine feet and eighth in vertical leap at 28.5 inches.
Dunker would like to continue at left tackle, but many teams have talked to him about playing guard in the NFL and says that he’s fine with that. Dunker still has appeal as a tackle because of his athleticism, though. Given the fact that the Saints probably wouldn't mind having another O-Lineman that can play both guard and tackle, the selection of Dunker would be yet another "value pick" for the Saints at the end of Round #7.......