The New Orleans Saints 2018 NFL off-season is officially upon us, which means that now it's time (as it is every year) for a few months worth of extensive NFL Draft coverage that will focus exclusively on how the 2018 version of the New Orleans Saints can further improve their team roster from the one in 2017; that saw them finish with an (11-5) record and win the NFC South Division Championship.
Over the last 20 years or so, the NFL 'Mock Draft Season' has slowly evolved as a favorite pastime for NFL Draft enthusiasts and football fans in general; and has become a nice appetizer throughout the boring months of Winter-time (especially February and March) before the "real thing" during the Spring-time in late April.
A mock version of the NFL Draft every year is meant to educate Saints fans on a potential Saints draft pick's background and achievements in college, and in some instances: even keeping them entertained as well.
And at the very least: it helps you pass the time as you count down the months until the beginning of August (only 6 more months to go); which is exactly how long it will be until the 'official' return of Saints football (and the next time that the Saints will play in a game) once the 2018 Pre-Season arrives.
What follows in these next few profiles of players in our very first Saints Mock Draft of 2018, is an early attempt at figuring out who the best players available are for the Saints in this year's 2018 NFL Draft Class; during the annual event which will be held this year from April 26th-28th in Dallas.
The Saints will be picking at #27 overall in the 1st Round, and will be picking near the end of each round (the actual round-by-round numerical draft order itself will be released at a later date in the upcoming weeks) with the exception of Round 2 — in which the Saints don't have a pick this year, since they already used it last year when they traded up to take superstar and eventual 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
However, as of this moment the Saints do have TWO 5th Round and 6th Round picks to go with their 3rd, 4th, and 7th Round picks; which as of right now (it could all possibly change in the months leading up to the Draft itself) would give New Orleans a total of 8 picks.
Also, please note: this Mock is being written a whole month BEFORE the start of 2018 NFL Free Agency, which starts on March 14th. Depending on who ever the Saints do (or don't) sign to deals in Free Agency, it would obviously alter these picks based upon how their team needs have (or haven't) been filled.
With that in mind, this morning the Saints News Network proudly presents our very first 2018 Saints Mock Draft; and we'll begin first with the young man who could be the "missing piece" for the Saints defense when they return to action in 6 months from now........
ROUND 1 (#27 PICK OVERALL) - RASHAAN EVANS, LINEBACKER, ALABAMA
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller says that Evans “has the football IQ, athleticism, and instincts to be a 'game-changer' on defense.” That's EXACTLY the type of player — a 'game-changer' — at the linebacker position that the Saints have been lacking.
The assumption here is that the other two LB's who fall into that "game changer" category (Georgia's Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds) will both already be off the Draft Board by the time the Saints get on the clock at #27, but "settling" for Evans wouldn't be a bad consolation prize.
Obviously it goes without saying that with 5 National Championships in the last 9 years, the University of Alabama has a very notable as well as recent history of developing future NFL players, and in just the past few years they've had several "franchise-caliber" linebackers impact the League after playing under head coach Nick Saban.
That's evidenced by the recent NFL Draft selections of current young NFL stars and former Crimson Tide alumni such as Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster — who nearly became a Saint last year until right before the San Francisco 49ers traded up to snag Foster with the 31st overall pick ahead of New Orleans (who then took Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk at #32).
The 6-foot-3, 234-pound Evans recorded 74 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, six sacks, and one forced fumble in his senior season. He also played a key role in Alabama’s National Championship run, racking up 17 tackles and a sack in the College Football Playoff.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. says that Evans is versatile enough to play EITHER inside or outside, and had 15 career sacks at Alabama, where he often played on the edge and blitzed. Kiper says that Evans "is a perfect fit in the middle of a modern-day defense — he can play every down."
For the Saints, it's likely that Evans would play at either the "Mike" / middle LB or "Sam" / strongside spot alongside last year's starters (until they both ended up on IR for the remainder of the season) A.J. Klein and "Will" / weakside LB Alex Anzalone; and ahead of capable back-ups Mantai Te'o, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar, and Michael Mauti.
There are only a handful of top-tier / immediate impact players that potentially will still be left remaining to choose from when the Saints finally do get to pick at #27; and assuming Evans is one of them, it's the pick that the Saints would be wise to make if they really want to get Drew Brees another Super Bowl ring before he retires.
ROUND 3 - MIKE GESICKI, TIGHT END, PENN STATE
If a "game changer" at the linebacker position on defense is the biggest area of need for the Saints in the 2018 off-season, then a tight end that can make an impact as a receiver in the passing game on offense is running a very close 2nd place.
And assuming the Saints don't sign another tight end capable of catching the football in Free Agency to replace the disappointing Coby Fleener, then their next pick in Round 3 would seem like the logical time to get one with Penn State's Mike Gesicki.
The 6-foot-6, 252 pound Gesicki is one of the top tight end prospects for the upcoming draft and is arguably the top senior tight end in this year's class. Gesicki has the size to be a future in-line blocker at the next level, but he has impressive movement and ball skills that should make him a solid "receiving" TE at the NFL level as well.
Gesicki will be yet another name for Saints fans to monitor at the upcoming 2018 NFL Scouting Combine beginning in 2 weeks (February 27th-March 5th), as he looks to solidify his position as a Top-3 tight end in this year's 2018 TE class. Gesicki caught 57 out of 80 targets for 563 yards and 9 TD's as a senior for the Nittany Lions in 2017 and flashed "next-level athleticism" along the way.
ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Steve Muench says that Gesicki is a big target who has great length and big hands. He doesn't drop a lot of passes and can create match-up problems. and an NFL team that takes him will be getting a guy that’s going to be someone you can use in that way.
Muench notes that you can isolate Gesicki against a corner or safety in the red zone, and it’s going to be tough for them to win that jump-ball situation. He’s an athlete who, because of his volleyball and basketball background, is used to going up and high-pointing balls.
Gesicki will end up reminding a lot of NFL fans of current Seattle Seahawks (and former Saints) tight end Jimmy Graham because of his very similar build and outstanding athleticism, as well as his notable need to improve upon his blocking capabilities — but Saints fans should be thrilled if he's still on the board at this point (he may or may not) for them to fill their glaring need at this critically important position within the Saints offense.
ROUND 4 - D.J. MOORE, WIDE RECEIVER, MARYLAND
As of this moment, there are ZERO guarantees that the Saints plan on bringing back either #3 WR Brandon Coleman or #4 WR Willie Snead, and the possibility exists that the Saints will NOT offer a tender for either player. (Per current estimates, an offer with no compensation attached from any NFL team to a player with Restricted Free Agent status is estimated at $1.9 million, according to OverTheCap.com).
So what options are out there if the Saints move on from either Coleman or Snead, or perhaps even BOTH of them? That's an easy one: go out and get a WR that fits perfectly within the Saints offensive scheme, and no one player at the WR position in this class might make a better "fit" than Maryland's D.J. Moore.
Often compared to former NFL superstar WR Steve Smith, Moore might just be the most underrated WR in this year's entire 2018 NFL Draft Class. Coming off his best year at Maryland, Moore had 80 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior for the Terrapins during the 2017 season.
He also won the Richter-Howard Award (given annually to the Big Ten’s best receiver) and was ranked in the Top 10 in every category in Big Ten receiving stats. He finished 1st in receptions, 1st in yards and 6th in touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Moore has drawn rave reviews for his ball skills and run-after-the-catch ability, that will likely see him taken off the board within the Draft's first few rounds.
Canal Street Chronicles NFL Draft Analyst John Sigler says that Moore has all the qualities to thrive in New Orleans, playing bigger than his size and displaying a great catch radius by confidently catching away from his body. He was Maryland’s whole offense last year, catching passes from four different quarterbacks and being the only player on his squad to break the 1,000-yards from scrimmage mark.
Sigler adds that Moore's combination of reliable hands, detail-oriented routes, and big-play potential as a runner both before and after the catch make him almost certain to be an early round pick. Actually getting Moore at this particular spot in the Draft would seem to be unlikely at the moment, given his chance to move even further up Draft Boards in the upcoming weeks and months ahead — but for the purpose of this Mock we'll say that he was still available.
ROUND 5 - SIRAN NEAL, SAFETY / CORNERBACK, JACKSONVILLE STATE
Much like Coleman and Snead, there are no guarantees that the Saints intend on re-signing 5th year veteran and now free agent safety Kenny Vaccaro; who finished his 2017 season on IR with 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7 pass defense, and 3 interceptions in 12 games. Vaccaro stands out at the moment as one of the most important off-season decisions that the Saints will be forced to make in 2018, and as of this very moment his status with the team remains "up in the air".
If Vaccaro isn't re-signed, then the Saints would need to find a player capable of filling multiple roles in their defense; as Vaccaro has done previously as a safety, slot cornerback, and even at strongside and weakside linebacker when other players were hurt. One player who might be a capable (and definitely underrated) replacement for Vaccaro if he isn't brought back: versatile Jacksonville State safety / CB Siran Neal.
Neal just had a "break out" performance at the Senior Bowl recently a few weeks ago, that has put him on the minds of many NFL personnel men during this current 2018 Draft process who are looking for a bonafide mid-round "steal". FourthandNine.com NFL Draft analyst Eric Crocker says that at 6-foot, 205 pounds, Neal has the ideal size that a majority of NFL teams are coveting, and the position versatility to go with it — as JSU used Neal all over the field. On film he can be seen making plays at safety, slot and outside boundary cornerback.
In both the box and back deep at free safety, Crocker notes that Neal can fill in gaps and (figuratively) run through running backs while simultaneously dismantling offensive players with big hits. He seemingly is always "flying around" and batting balls, and has developed a knack for creating turnovers particularly with making interceptions.
Crocker adds that cornerbacks who get "too handsy" at the line often stop their feet causing them to get beat right off the line of scrimmage. Neal shows the ability to be patient at times, but at the Senior Bowl showed that he can also "stonewall" receivers. Going up against Oklahoma State's top-rated WR James Washington in that game, he flashed patience and strength; two things a cornerback will need to play in the NFL.
If the Saints eventually decide to NOT re-sign Vaccaro, then Saints fans will probably want to keep Neal's name in mind at the upcoming Scouting Combine in 2 more weeks, and most definitely at this particular portion (the middle rounds where the Saints have most of their picks) of the Draft on Day 3.
ROUND 5 - JA'VON ROLLAND-JONES, DEFENSIVE END, ARKANSAS STATE
The Saints STILL can use another reliable player on the opposite outside edge of their defensive line to complement All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan, regardless of whether or not they decide to re-sign free agent veteran defensive end Alex Okafor — who ended the season on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.
SB Nation NFL Draft Analyst Dan Kadar says that part of the college post-season all-star process is watching players moving to different positions and seeing how they fare; and that’s clearly been the case for the player who would be a nice addition to an improving Saints pass rush from last year: Arkansas State DE / OLB Ja'Von Rolland-Jones —who without any doubt might just be one of the biggest 'sleepers' in this year's entire 2018 NFL Draft class.
Kadar noted that the 6-foot-2, 244 pound Rolland-Jones was a "stat stuffer" at Arkansas State, finishing his career with the Red Wolves program by recording 43 1/2 sacks and 63 tackles for loss. He did most of that playing end with his hand down in a four-man front.
Sporting News NFL Draft Analyst Eric Galko has his own take on Rolland-Jones; and says that he wins with lower body flexibility and an explosive first step. He isn’t overly powerful, but he has a knack of getting into the backfield.
If he can get stronger and develop a couple go-to counter moves, Galko adds that Rolland-Jones could be a good third-down pass rushing specialist who could eventually develop into an "every down" player. And while he certainly could be a stand-up end / outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment, he seemingly would fit nicely in the Saints defensive scheme at the Right Defensive End spot, as well.
If there's any potential "draft day steal" for New Orleans at the pass-rushing defensive end position in this year's 2018 Class, then Rolland-Jones certainly could be their guy with the second one of their two 5th Round picks.
ROUND 6 - DEADRIN SENAT, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, SOUTH FLORIDA
While getting another defensive tackle to add to the Saints interior defensive pass rush to essentially "replace" former Saints veteran defensive tackle Nick Fairley isn't exactly a priority for team brass this off-season (since they had their 2016 top draft pick Sheldon Rankins already in place to take over that role), it doesn't mean that they aren't still looking to add one.
One player who definitely merits consideration: University of South Florida defensive tackle Deadrin Senat. The 6-foot, 322 pound Senat has drawn many comparisons to L.A. Rams DT and reigning 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald because of his lack of height, but showed everyone in last month's East-West Shrine Game that he is more than capable of becoming a very good player at the next level.
FanSided's KC Kingdom NFL Draft expert Ben Almquist says that Senat is a powerful interior lineman who holds up well at the point of attack. He’s got a quick-twitch that allows him to get off the ball quickly and gain his leverage. Senat can get into the backfield and create havoc, especially if he isn’t getting double-teamed. Additionally: he's tenacious as a pass rusher and can get to the quarterback.
Almquist notes that the reason why Senat will likely still be available on Day 3 is because of the lack of height. Senat is often swallowed up by larger / taller offensive linemen. His lack of height also prevents him from being a threat to knock down any passes or disrupt the passing lane. He is generally considered a two-down lineman who would likely come off the field in passing situations.
Nevertheless, that (being a 2-down player capable of generating pressure on the QB) is an accurate description of what Fairley brought to the Saints defense during his time in New Orleans; and picking a player with Senat's capabilities at this point of the Draft would be an easy decision to make for Saints team brass.
ROUND 6 - COLBY GOSSETT, OFFENSIVE GUARD, APPALACHIAN STATE
New Orleans had what seemed like having some type of injury nearly every single week of the 2017 regular season among their starting 5 linemen, and now they dive head first into the off-season process with 12-year veteran right tackle Zach Strief’s future still up in the air, as well as the impending free-agent status of versatile tackle / guard Senio Kelemete; whom the team would no doubt like to retain because of his age (27) and his critical contribution (he started 8 games in the 2017 season and 9 games the year before in 2016) to the team's overall success.
So it goes without saying that the Saints would be wise to add depth on the O-Line in this Draft; and SB Nation's Cat Scratch Fever NFL Draft analyst Erik Sommers says that since taking over as a starter at right guard (and occasionally both tackle spots) in his sophomore year, Gossett has only allowed one sack his entire career.
Sommers notes that Gossett's no slouch in the run game either, being part of a rushing attack that saw small school Appalachian State of the Sunbelt Conference, ranked in the top 25 of college football for the past two years running. Gossett was selected first team All-Conference in the Sun Belt for the past two seasons, and hasn't missed a single game in his career due to injury.
Sommers notes that although he did play some tackle in college, Gossett projects to be purely a guard at the next level. Sommers makes the observation that Gossett is a very smart player who rarely misses an assignment, and plays with good leverage based firmly in a strong lower body. He needs to improve his initial hand-fighting technique but has shown an excellent ability to respond to both primary and secondary maneuvers by pass rushers.
At this point of the Draft, any player that you can get who is actually good enough to go on and become an eventual starter in the NFL someday is an added bonus — and the Saints would become the beneficiary with a pick of Gossett.
ROUND 7 - LOGAN WOODSIDE, QUARTERBACK, TOLEDO
Now obviously this entire Mock Draft would become a complete waste of time (if you didn't already think that), should the Saints just decide to say "the hell with it" and trade up with another team somewhere in the Top 10 of the draft order, to go and get their next "QB of the future" for when Drew Brees finally retires (Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is a huge favorite currently among some Saints Draft followers in that particular scenario).
But either way, don't kid yourselves into believing that the Saints — at some point in this year's Draft — still won't at the very least consider addressing the future of the QB position (no matter how long Brees keeps playing); and this is a classic textbook example of how one player every single year in the Draft gets totally overlooked by a lot of teams because of where they played at or who they played for — and no one fits that description more accurately than University of Toledo (Ohio) QB Logan Woodside.
Woodside leaves Toledo as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (10,514 yards) and passing touchdowns (93). In 2017, Woodside earned MAC Offensive Player of the Year and the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the conference’s top overall player after throwing for 3,882 yards and 28 touchdowns.
During the last two seasons combined after redshirting in 2015, the Toledo product completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 8,011 yards, 73 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In fact, Woodside led the FBS with 45 touchdown tosses in 2016. Bleacher Report NFL Draft Anayst Brent Sobeski compares Woodside heavily to Vikings QB Case Keenum (because of his smaller size at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds); and adds that Woodside is an outstanding touch passer and adept deep thrower to boot.
A slight downturn last season in 2017 is one of the reasons why Woodside isn't more highly regarded. That was due in part (Sobeski adds), to Woodside losing most of his surrounding cast (like former Toledo star and Chiefs rookie sensation RB Kareem Hunt) to the NFL. Nevertheless, Woodside still ranked 7th overall with 1,284 deep passing yards, per Pro Football Focus. He also finished his Toledo career ranked 12th all time in FBS history in career passing efficiency, too.
Sobeski cautions that Woodside needs to improve his overall pocket presence, but he's a pure passer who will be drafted late in the process only to become a reliable backup or potential starter if given a chance. For the Saints, it would be the true definition of a "low risk, high reward" situation; and it's one that we have them taking action on during the 7th and final round of the 2018 NFL Draft, in Saints News Network's Mock Draft 1.0...........