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2018 NFL Draft

Saints News Network’s 2018 Saints Mock NFL Draft 2.0

The New Orleans Saints are now almost exactly one month away from the opening day of the 2018 NFL Draft, which will be held on the final weekend of April 26th thru 28th at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (suburban Dallas).

And it's with that in mind that this morning, the Saints News Network presents our 2nd version of our 2018 Saints Mock Draft.

Now in case you missed it, our first version of the 2018 Saints Mock Draft was published back in the 2nd week of February (click HERE to read) before the start of 2018 NFL Free Agency, which didn't take into account the Saints having since gone on to sign a few players who appear to have addressed several team "needs" at key positions.

Which means of course that the picks for this morning's 2nd Mock will "factor in" the Saints moves thus far in the first week and a half of Free Agency.

Please keep in mind as you read further: the Saints don't have a 2nd Round 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. But they will have an extra pick in both Rounds 5 and 6, which are compensation from previous trades made by New Orleans last off-season.

So without further hesitation, let's get started — and we begin with the Saints' first pick at #27 overall.......

 

ROUND 1 (#27 OVERALL) MIKE GESICKI, TIGHT END, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

(Photo courtesy of Joe Hermitt, PennLive.com )

As of this very moment despite the Saints' solid showing thus far in 2018 Free Agency, one of the team's biggest remaining off-season "needs" that still hasn't been addressed is the tight end position; which lacks a player capable of being a serious receiving threat in the passing game.

But the Saints easily would solve that problem by taking Gesicki, whom we here at Saints News Network feel is the best tight end among the Top 3 players at the TE position in this year's 2018 draft class.

This year's 2018 TE Class is one of the deepest in several years, with a few players that are thought to have "superstar potential". Among them are names like Dallas Goedert of South Dakota StateHayden Hurst of South Carolina, and Mark Andrews of the University of Oklahoma.

But the one player at the tight end position who has generated more "buzz" in the past month, and who has ROCKETED up many current NFL Draft Boards for a handful of teams is Gesicki — who "blew away" observers and analysts with his outstanding performance at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine 3 weeks ago.

Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer / Penn Live.com

Gesicki is the most athletically gifted tight end in this year's draft without any doubt, and that's thanks to his multi-sport background. Gesicki was a standout three-sport athlete at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey. He played and started for Southern Regional in volleyball, basketball, and football, but then he ultimately decided to pursue football and chose to attend Penn State in 2014. 

Gesicki's athleticism was on full display at the Combine in Indianapolis last month, when he "wowed" NFL scouts with his measurables and his remarkable showing in a wide-variety of drills.

Gesicki measured 6-5 1/2, weighed 252 pounds, ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash, did 22 reps in the bench press and had a 41 1/2-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump.

NFL Network even compared his combine numbers against some other notable performances in the past by some NFL greats’ Combine results.

Gesicki was faster than WR Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers (4.57), stronger than Donald Penn of the Oakland Raiders (21 reps), jumped higher than Odell Beckham of the New York Giants (38 1/2) and measured taller than Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5), the former WR great for the Detroit Lions who is now retired.

Gesicki is the classic definition of a "late bloomer". In his first 2 seasons for Penn State, Gesicki played in a total of 25 games but only started in 9 of them. During that span, he totaled 239 yards on 24 catches with only one touchdown.

It actually wasn’t until his junior year during the 2016 season, that he really "broke out" as a big-time receiving threat. In his junior season for the Nittany Lions, Gesicki totaled 48 catches for 679 yards and 5 touchdowns.

As noted by CBS Sports: multiple preseason All-America honors then followed, as Gesicki prepared for the 2017 regular season. And yet despite seeing 18 fewer targets as a senior than he did from the year before, Gesicki still managed to break Penn State's all-time marks for receptions (129), receiving yards (1,481) and touchdowns (15) by a tight end.

No one was targeted more often in the red zone than the 6-foot-6, 250-pound "human mismatch", as he caught 57 passes for 563 yards in Penn State's "run first" offense (led by RB Saquon Barkley) while his 9 touchdown catches tied for the team lead.

He scored twice in a game on four separate occasions as a senior last season; and with a catch in his team’s win over the University of Washington in the 2018 Fiesta Bowl, Gesicki ended his college career on a 27-game reception streak. He was also selected 1st-Team All-Big Ten by the media and 2nd-Team by the Big Ten coaches. 

Gesicki seemingly would be a "perfect fit" in the Saints offense, given his size and athleticism and the obvious similarities between himself and former Saints (and now Green Bay Packers) tight end Jimmy Graham; and given Graham's own notable athletic background and success in the Saints offense when he was wearing the Black and Gold.

Gesicki unfortunately, might be similar to Jimmy Graham in more ways than one. 

Most Saints fans know that while Graham was a pass-catching phenom, he was often criticized (and still is) for his lack of blocking skills, and Gesicki appears to have similar struggles. thesportsquotient.com NFL Draft analyst Alex Koslow says that Gesicki is more of a slot receiver than he is a tight end, due to his liability (as a blocker) in the run game. 

Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer / PennLive.com

Koslow makes the observation that some tight ends aren’t seen as run blockers because they just weren’t used that way, but Gesicki strictly can’t run block. He’s tentative to go out and make a block and has trouble keeping the defenders in front of him and away from the runner. 

As Koslow cautions: Gesicki will make a career in the NFL as a tremendous receiving tight end, but if he can’t blossom as a run blocker too, it might not be as good as it could be

That will be something that Saints brass very likely will take into consideration; although it's important to note that it won't necessarily prevent them from selecting him anyway, especially if they feel he can improve his deficiency in that area with some proper coaching technique.

It very likely will all come down to WHO is still remaining on their Draft Board at that point, and if Saints brass feel that Gesicki is the best player available at that particular time to fill their glaringly obvious need for a "pass catching TE".

 

 ROUND 3 (#91 OVERALL) DANTE PETTIS, WIDE RECEIVER, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Sticking with the "filling team 'needs' theme", the Saints did not tender an offer to restricted free agent and #3 WR Brandon Coleman, effectively giving him the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. The team did however tender an offer to restricted free agent and #4 WR Willie Snead, but he has yet to sign it and given his recent free agent visit with the Baltimore Ravens, his return to the team in 2018 is uncertain at the moment.

That means that New Orleans could be in danger of losing not one but TWO of their starters from their WR corps, which obviously makes adding a WR in next month's 2018 NFL Draft a major priority.

Pettis should likely be the highest-ranked WR on the board by this point (91st overall), and his additional talents on special teams as the nation's top punt returner would make it too hard for Saints head coach Sean Payton to pass up.

The Saints could stand an upgrade at both the "slot" wide receiver position and in the kick return game this off-season, and perhaps no one player has the ability to fill both roles quite like the 21-year old, 6-foot-1, 185 pound Pettis did throughout his brilliant college career for the storied Huskies football program.

One of the best punt returners in college football history, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller says that Pettis will make an early impact in the NFL. Not only can Pettis change the game on punt returns, but Miller notes the fact that he's a good wide receiver, to boot.

Photo courtesy of Drew Perine, Tacoma News-Tribune

Pettis has the size to line up outside but is an ideal slot receiver because of his speed and quickness coming off the blocks. He looks like he could be a solid complementary / #2 receiver in the NFL, which would appeal to the Saints as they look for another player at the position to put with soon-to-be 3rd year player, #1 WR, and emerging "superstar" Michael Thomas.

Last season in 2017, Pettis caught 63 passes for 761 yards and scored seven touchdowns but his senior year was slowed by an ankle injury; which was the follow-up year to his ridiculously impressive junior season in 2016 when he was a virtual touchdown-making "machine". In 2016,  Pettis caught 53 passes for 822 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, in 13 total games.

But that's probably not even his most impressive accomplishment.

What's likely more remarkable (and duly noted for many NFL scouts) is that Pettis owns the NCAA record for punt return touchdowns (9) — and he amazingly ran back a total of 4 punt return TD's in 2017.

(Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Pettis averaged a whopping 20.4 yards per punt return in his senior year (14.2 for his career). Breaking Football NFL Draft Analyst Brad Kelly says those incredible numbers were the result of Pettis being well coached in the return game, as he is always trying to work towards the middle of the field and get vertical.

Getting inside the hashes allows for the possibility of cutting back or continuing across the field because it gives the returner room to run on both sides. While at full speed, he shows elite change of direction and the ability to cut on a dime.

Bottom line: Pettis seems to have a knack for finding the end zone, and he definitely should become a beneficiary from more consistent QB play once he reaches the NFL level. 

The biggest knock on Pettis is his lack of size. He's not an overwhelmingly "physical" presence (and definitely not as big as a Michael Thomas), and that is somewhat of a detriment in the eyes of most NFL scouts and front-office personnel members.

But the obvious talents in the receiving and kick return game pair well with his top-level blocking skills; which Pettis has flashed routinely during his rise to college stardom in the past 2 seasons after only a grand total of 2 touchdown receptions in his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2014 and 2015 (when he was a back-up WR on the Huskies depth chart behind current Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross).

Kelly notes that Pettis also possesses a special trait as a precise route-runner; and it stems from him being smooth in and out of breaks, which he then translates over to the return game. Kelly also adds that by using good vision, smooth running form and bouncy athleticism, Pettis is lethal at full speed.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Elite punt / kick returners are "game changers" in the National Football League — and Kelly says that without any doubts whatsoever, Dante Pettis has the ability and potential to be one of the all-time greats in that area.

The only question for the Saints will be whether they'll consider Pettis to be the best player available at that point, but given their "need" at the moment to fill the WR position AND for a capable punt / kick returner. Pettis is a "no-brainer' pick to make at #91 overall.

 

ROUND 4 (#127 OVERALL) DORANCE ARMSTRONG, JR., EDGE RUSHER / DEFENSIVE END, KANSAS UNIVERSITY

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Despite the re-signing of veteran defensive end Alex Okafor earlier this week, the Saints still remain very thin depth-wise at the EDGE pass rush / strongside defensive end position on the opposite side of All-Pro DE Cam Jordan.

That much is an indisputable fact, which would seemingly put New Orleans in the market for adding another player with the capabilities to get big-time pressure (and hopefully some sacks to go along with that) on opposing NFL QB's. Which is exactly why a pick of Kansas University EDGE rusher / defensive end Dorance Armstrong, Jr. makes a lot of sense at this spot.

NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlien says that Armstrong could fit as a 4-3 end (where he would play in New Orleans) or a 3-4 rush linebacker in the pros, but a team would probably be best served by lining him up wide to take better advantage of his explosive traits as a rusher. He still has work to do in terms of developing a rush plan with winning moves and counters, but he has the traits teams look to develop.

Zierlein notes that it would be easy to play the role of box-score scout and surmise that offensive lines somehow caught up with Armstrong last season, but that's not entirely accurate.

While Armstrong went from recording 20 tackles for loss (10 sacks) in 2016 to 9.5 TFL (2 sacks) in 2017, the reality is that the Kansas defensive coaching staff made several changes last year and asked Armstrong to focus on stopping the run more than the pass to help the team. From an alignment standpoint, Zierlein says that Armstrong was often shading the outside eye of the tackle across from him, which limited the use of his explosive athletic ability as a rusher.

Armstrong would capably serve in sub packages for the Saints pass rush as a rookie while he takes time to develop further, with the potential to be the full-time starter should Okafor's recovery from his torn Achilles tendon not go fully as planned.

 

ROUND 5 (#147 OVERALL)  COLBY GOSSETT, OFFENSIVE GUARD, APPALACHIAN STATE

(Photo: App State Sports / Allyson Lamb)

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 former 12-year veteran right tackle Zach Strief having just retired, as well as having just lost versatile tackle / guard Senio Kelemete to the Houston Texans in Free Agency a week ago.

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 with the 147th overall selection in Round 5.

 

ROUND 5 (#164 OVERALL) FOLORUNSO "FOLEY" FATUKASI, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT

Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe

Whether or not prized veteran free agent DT Ndamukong Suh eventually chooses to sign with the Saints or decides instead to go elsewhere (likely to Los Angeles to play for the Rams), New Orleans could still use another player in the middle of their D-Line to essentially "replace" former veteran DT Nick Fairley, who was forced to retire from the sport last year because of a heart condition.

And at this point of the Draft, the opportunity to land a player with "upside" at the DT position is one that the Saints certainly wouldn't be offended with. Which is where a young man like University of Connecticut defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi comes into the picture.

Nicknamed "Foley" because it's easier to pronounce than his given birth name, the 6-foot-4, 318 pound interior defender had a bit of an off year last season with the Huskies, but got everyone's attention during the East-West Shrine game back in late January. During the East West Shrine game practices, he was able to show off his explosion capabilities, tossing aside blockers and displaying his ability to attack gaps.

Full Press Coverage NFL Draft Analyst Sam Smith says that at 300-plus pounds, "Foley" could work at nose tackle as he did most of his UConn career. But he possesses the length and straight line acceleration that could make him a productive 3-technique (which is how the Saints would utilize him) in the 4-3 alignment, as well. His length will come in handy in pass-rushing downs, so long as he learns to keep separation on a more regular basis.

Smith adds that Fatukasi is almost all potential as a pass rusher. He was fairly productive in that area in college with 14 sacks the last three years. But his preferred strategy is collapsing the pocket with powerful bull rushes, which will not succeed on nearly the same level in the NFL. 

However, Pro Football Focus notes that Fatukasi is rarely moved in the run game, and he’s posted outstanding grades in that department for three straight years (85.7 in 2014, 82.6 in 2015, 86.1 in 2016). His pass-rushing took a step back last season, but he flashed his ability in 2015 with an 82.2 pass-rush grade and six sacks, three QB hits and 20 hurries.

A return to that form would definitely make Fatukasi one of the 2018 Draft Class's biggest "steals", and one that the Saints potentially could get with the #164th overall pick in Round 5.

 

ROUND 6 (#189 OVERALL) LOGAN WOODSIDE, QUARTERBACK, UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

While the Saints did in fact sign former Houston Texans QB Tom Savage to replace the departed Chase Daniel (who signed with the Chicago Bears) and compete for the back-up / #2 QB spot with #3 QB Taysom Hill, the harsh reality is that neither player screams out the potential for being "next franchise QB" after Drew Brees retires in a couple of years from now.

And with Oklahoma University QB Baker Mayfield — who allegedly is a "favorite" of Saints head coach Sean Payton — appearing likely to be a Top 5 pick; the chance that New Orleans would trade up to get him would be a long shot, at the very best.

But it doesn't mean that the Saints won't still consider taking a QB, and with an extra pick in both Rounds 5 and 6, the opportunity to draft a "sleeper" at the position might just be too good to pass up.

Woodside continues to rise up many Draft boards, as the underrated QB 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 could see him land in NOLA with their first of two 6th round picks, in the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

ROUND 6 (#201 OVERALL) OREN BURKS, LINEBACKER / SAFETY, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Photo courtesy of Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

While from the outside looking in the Saints would appear to be "set" at the LB spot on defense following the signing of prized veteran and #1 ranked 2018 Free Agent linebacker (and former New York Jets star) LB Demario Davis, they still could use some additional depth at the position.

And getting a player with the talents of Vanderbilt University linebacker Oren Burks would not only provide them with more depth, but also a young man capable of becoming an eventual starter in due time.

As Saints fans have certainly noticed, Saints front office brass places a HIGH PRIORITY on players that have the capability to play MULTIPLE positions on the football field, and Burks definitely fits that description "to the letter"

Burks is an extremely versatile defensive prospect, that will be seen very differently by different NFL teams, depending on their scheme (as noted by NFL Draft Geek.com). He has the range and coverage skills to play as a safety / linebacker hybrid player, as an outside linebacker, or as the play-making inside linebacker in a 3-4.

Burks is a rangy athlete who can cover tight ends and he tackles very well. He also moves well from sideline to sideline, something else that Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and LB coach Mike Nolan would find very appealing. (Burks would most likely play the "Will" / weakside LB spot if he were to be selected by New Orleans).

Compared often to former Detroit Lions and now current Oakland Raiders LB Tahir Whitehead, the 6-foot-3, 233 pound Burks was a defensive co-captain for the Commodores as a junior, starting 10 of 13 games played, racking up 59 stops, 6.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, an interception and six pass breakups. He following up that season with a strong senior campaign, making 82 tackles, seven for loss, one interception, and three pass breakups.

Burks actually played safety as a Freshman in 2014, starting all 12 games and leading the team with three interceptions (also compiling 59 tackles, two for loss, six pass breakups). 

NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein says that Burks will make mistakes in diagnosing plays and is still learning the position, but warns that his instincts may be average for a role as inside linebacker. Zierlein cautions that Burks has to become more capable in slipping or playing around blocks, and be more consistent with his tackling.

Zierlein adds that Burks will have to become more effective at imposing his will despite physical challenges against bigger O-Linemen at the next level. Those deficiencies are something that Burks potentially could improve upon, in the right situation with the right team — and one that the Saints provide with their 201st overall selection in Round 6.

 

ROUND 7 (#245 OVERALL) CHARVARIUS WARD, CORNERBACK, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Photo courtesy of The Memphis Commercial Appeal

In the NFL, there's no such thing as having "too much" depth at the CB position, and as the Saints have learned the hard way in previous seasons, often times you simply just don't have enough.

New Orleans added free agent and former Philadelphia Eagles CB (and original 2010 Saints draft pick) Patrick Robinson just last week, but it wouldn't come as a surprise at all if they decide to grab another one in this upcoming draft.

Most teams are looking for "value" at this point, which is where Middle Tennessee State University cornerback Charvarius Ward could come in at this spot for the Black and Gold. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound McComb, Mississippi native was in on 48 tackles, had three tackles for losses and had a team-high 14 pass deflections for the Blue Raiders during the 2017 NFL season.

USA TODAY NFL Draft Analyst Luke Easterling says that Ward is the rare prospect who offers exactly what NFL teams should be looking for in a starter at the outside boundary position.

Still, he’s rarely talked about as a potential mid-round pick in this year’s extremely deep class, which should make him one of this year’s best values at the position.

Easterling adds that Ward has the size, length, athleticism and technique to quickly develop into a starting material at the next level, regardless of his draft slot.

For the Saints, it would be yet another talented young player to add to the mix of their rapidly improving secondary; and give them even more quality depth at the CB position than they've had in quite some time.......

 

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally 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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