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2018 NFL Draft

A Few Draft Prospects Saints Fans Should Watch at the NFL Scouting Combine (Part 2)

This morning, Saints News Network presents Part 2 of our look at a few of the 2018 NFL Draft prospects that Saints fans should watch at the NFL Scouting Combine later this week (which will be televised live by the NFL Network), featuring comments and analysis on a couple of them from our good friend Mike Detillier, the well-respected and renowned NFL Draft and Football Analyst for WWL New Orleans TV & Radio

And we'll pick up where we left off yesterday (click HERE if you missed it), starting with.......

CHRISTIAN KIRK, WIDE RECEIVER, TEXAS A&M

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

As we noted in Part 1 yesterday: 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. Kirk is yet another player that's been linked to the Saints in some of the early Mock Drafts that were published recently, and may or may not still be available when the Saints pick at #27.

ANALYSIS (via WWL New Orleans Draft Analyst Mike Detillier): 

Christian Kirk from Texas A&M is a player a number of teams really would love to have late in Round One. He's not a big wide receiver being 5-11 1/4 and around 202-well built for his size, but he's not this lengthy end a lot of teams really want.

But he's explosive. Three years and 209 catches and 22 went for TD's and he had 7 returns on either punts or kicks for scores. That special teams element sticks out to me. Instant upgrade to any special teams.

At times has just dominated games. Strong hands and he has very good body balance and control skills. He has played with a number of QB's and still come up big. He's built more like a halfback than a wide receiver and he runs like a halfback after the catch and that jet-sweep stuff is being used at the NFL level, too.

Kirk runs good routes-the ones A&M asked him to run in their offense. Now he needs some work on expanding his route tree, but he's a quick learner and watch how quirk he gets into and out of his cuts and breaks. Impressive. He will have to work at that element of his game, but he's dynamite with the ball in his hands as a runner, receiver or in the return game.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

It goes without saying that Kirk would seem to be a great fit in New Orleans, because of his elite skills both as a receiver and in the kick return game, and he seemingly would be the perfect complement to #1 WR Michael Thomas in the Saints offense. Kirk's performance in Indy this weekend could sway a team that's likely torn between several different players at once — and likely to go with the "best player available" once their turn to pick comes up — and perhaps the Saints could be that team at #27 (he's being projected as high as the mid-teens of Round 1),  but only if he's still sitting there.

 

RASHAAN EVANS, LINEBACKER, ALABAMA

(Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Evans has been linked the most to the Saints recently in a handful of current Mock Drafts, in which many experts feel that the University of Alabama All-American — who can plug the remaining hole that the Saints seemingly still have at the position for a fast linebacker that can run sideline-to-sideline and also provide solid pass-coverage on opposing tight ends and RB's — will still be there once the Saints "are on the clock" with the #27 overall pick of Round 1.

ANALYSIS (via Jon Ledyard of NDT Scouting): 

First, let’s talk about the bad with Evans. There isn’t much of it, but some things that keep him from being a top-tier guy are important to note. As a tackler, he can be really inconsistent. You’ll get some great hits where he drives through contact and buries a guy with his helmet under their chin. 

But Evans will also swing and miss from time-to-time, stopping his feet and launching himself at ball carriers rather than driving through contact. His angles to the ball improved significantly this season, but there are still occasions where Evans comes in too hot and overshoots his target with sloppy form. I think he made progress in this area, but it still isn’t perfect for sure.

Evans can be a bit stationary in his stance as well, being a bit late to trigger and play downhill at times. This isn’t an overwhelming tendency on Evans’ tape, just something you notice from time-to-time because he can be a tad slow to process blocks in front of him and get in attack mode early to beat opponents to spots. I also think Evans’ injuries caught up with him toward the end of the year, as he seemed more reactive, energetic and explosive in early season contests.

Beyond everything else, Evans is a violent football player who brings maximum amounts of competitive toughness, passion and physicality to every snap. He might be a tad slow to react on the second level at times, but when he goes, it is show time. Evans can explode around blocks as easily as he can stack and shed them.

If you want a tone setter for your defense, a guy who can come in and revamp the culture with his style of play, that’s Evans. He isn’t a perfect prospect for sure, but much like the Jamal Adams and Jarrad Davis picks a year ago, the team that selects Evans will be looking for an impact beyond the field of play. He won’t back down from anyone and he’s out to send messages every time he steps on the field.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Evans' draft status could ultimately be determined by what happens over the course of the next few days. If he impresses, he's easily a pick in the late 20's range of Round 1. But if he falters, he could fall into the early part of Round 2 — and presumably off the Saints Draft Board altogether.

 

HAYDEN HURST, TIGHT END, SOUTH CAROLINA

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State (whom we covered in yesterday's article) is regarded by most as the #1 tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft Class, while some others consider Hurst to be the "top guy".

Either way, Hurst presumably is one of a handful of tight end prospects that the Saints could select to potentially (and ultimately) replace starter Coby Fleener.

ANALYSIS (via WWL New Orleans Draft Analyst Mike Detillier): 

Hayden Hurst is a super interesting story. I had a South Carolina coach tell me in the spring that he had never had a tight end before with the skills of Hurst. Hayden played a couple of years in the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball organization and then decided to give football a shot again.

Hayden has good size and he's athletic. Has 1st rate eye-hand coordination and he can adjust that big body to a poorly thrown pass. What jumped out is that he ran good pass routes after his baseball stint. He wasn't asked to run a ton of routes and he needs to expand his route tree, but he ran what SC asked him to and he did it well.

He has some "giddy-up" in his step after the catch also. Catches the ball in traffic. Has a feel for finding the "sweet" spot in both man and zone coverage sets. Physical guy and he wants to throw that key block and he has worked hard at it. Smart, and he will be 25 years old, but that is small potatoes to me. He still had 92 catches the past two seasons on a team not noted for pumping the ball to a tight end. I want that mature guy who has been productive and his skill-set translates well to the NFL level.

He's super competitive and he's never satisfied with his results, and I like that part about him. It's a quirk I have, but the best people in any profession always have a bit of a sense of paranoia about themselves. They're always looking to be better, and never satisfied. I like that element a lot in any profession.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. even has Hurst going to the Saints at #27 in his most recent Mock Draft, but Hurst's draft stock will ultimately be determined over the course of the next few weeks ahead. A strong performance this weekend in Indy could put Hurst into the end of Round 1, while a less-than-impressive performance puts him somewhere in the mid-to-late part of Round 2. 

 

DANTE PETTIS, WIDE RECEIVER / PUNT RETURNER , UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON 

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Pettis potentially could be a "replacement" for the Saints at the WR position if neither Willie Snead or Brandon Coleman are re-signed, and would be the ideal receiver for them in the slot, in part because he's one of the best route runners in the WR class.

He also set the NCAA record with an amazing 4 punt return TD's during the 2017 season, and obviously would serve as a HUGE UPGRADE for the Saints special teams return capabilities.

ANALYSIS (via WWL New Orleans Draft Analyst Mike Detillier): 

Productive player in college and he excels as a wide receiver and in the return game. He has started since midway into his freshman season on a pretty good damn team in Washington. Dante has a lean body build, he's thin based and he will need to get stronger, but he's another explosive athlete with very good take-off skills and he is super quick to get into and out of his cuts and breaks.

Sure-handed and he makes nice adjustments to balls off the mark. Tremendous punt returner and he can flat out break-it once he catches the punt. Owns the NCAA record for the most TD's on punt returns. Instantly helps your return game. He swears he is a sub 4.40 40-yard dash guy and so let's see.

In drills I want to see him catch the ball cleanly. He has good hands, but occasionally he will take off before the catch and drop an easy pass. 146 catches over the past three seasons and 23 went for TD's in a system based on throwing a lot of short throws.

Early 2nd round pick guy, but he could make that move with a strong Combine. He has some strong athletic genes in him. His dad, Gary was a good Major League Baseball player and now a coach with the Astros and his cousin , Austin Pettis, played in the NFL.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Pettis is yet another player who is quickly rising up Draft Boards, and the general consensus at the moment is that if Pettis "blows up" the on-field workouts and various drills that the prospects are put through every year at this time, he could even sneak into the very end of Round 1.

 

HERCULES MATA'AFA, DEFENSIVE LINEMAN, WASHINGTON STATE

Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Examiner

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Mata'afa (pronounced MOTTA-ah-fa) is perhaps THE most intriguing defensive player in the entire 2018 Class. He even played as a 1-Technique defensive tackle and surprisingly did so with great success despite only weighing in at 252 pounds.

One of the most versatile Front 7 players out of all the prospects, Mata'afa lined up at 6 different positions last year, and is a player that would give Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the opportunity to do a lot of different things scheme-wise and for game-planning.

ANALYSIS (via Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst Justis Mosqueda)

As a junior in 2017, Hercules Mata'afa recorded 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Mata'afa did so as a 250-pound defensive tackle in a slant-heavy defense that was one of the most efficient pass defenses in the country.

The projection of Mata'afa is similar to third overall pick Solomon Thomas' last year. He's a super-athletic edge-defender who produced at a high level as a defensive tackle for a West Coast school and declared early. The only issue is that Mata'afa is even smaller than Thomas, making his projection even hazier.

Because of this, Mata'afa needs to have a big week at the combine. If the last two years of film are any hint, he's going to test similar to a Vic Beasley-style pass-rusher. Athleticism is how he wins, so it should come as a shock to no one when he cements himself as a Day 2 prospect, or even more, after the week.

Remember: Thomas wasn't in the top-five conversation at this point last season. Athletic performances for penetrating defensive linemen might mean more than any other position in the sport. Odds are that Mata'afa is going to be on the right side of the post-combine shifting tides.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

One of the biggest wildcard prospects in this class, Mata’afa was dominant as an interior pass rusher last season, but at 250-ish pounds, he will transition to an edge rusher in a 4-3 (he'd play on the other outside edge opposite of Cam Jordan likely, if taken by New Orleans) or outside linebacker position in the 3-4 once he gets to the NFL.

How he tests and performs in drills will be critical to his evaluation, according to NFL Draft Scout's Dane Brugler. As of now, Mata'afa appears to be a Day 2  pick (anywhere from the early 2nd round to the middle of Round 3), but a huge performance could potentially even move him all the way up to the end of Round 1.....

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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