For the past several weeks now, fans of the New Orleans Saints have grown accustomed to hearing a handful of names that have been often mentioned or Linked to the team recently for next month's 2018 NFL Draft.
Among the names Linked to the Saints most: tight ends Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), and Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), as well as defensive ends Arden Key (LSU) and Sam Hubbard (Ohio State) and the one mentioned more than anyone recently: University of Louisville QB Lamar Jackson.
However with the Saints likely to take the BPA (best player available), which essentially means that they're expected to specifically target a player who fits their scheme the best at that particular moment; it's almost impossible to accurately predict (especially this far in advance) who they will actually end up taking until it finally happens.
Which then opens up the possibility that the Saints could literally be choosing any one from an entire list of players, all of whom they have within their own predetermined rankings, of which they'll have to consider taking at that time.
But it also means that there's a few players out there who could end up hearing their names called on the opening night of the Draft (on Thursday Night, April 26th), that might come unexpectedly or as a bit of a surprise for some Who Dats.
This morning here at Saints News Network, we look at 5 such players that could be taken by the Saints who you might not see coming until their name is called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — starting first with this young man...........
JOSH SWEAT, EDGE PASS RUSHER / DEFENSIVE END, FLORIDA STATE
As mentioned above: while there have been an entire slew of different players who have been Linked to the Saints in several recent Mock Drafts, Sweat's name was Linked to New Orleans for the first time yesterday by renowned NFL Draft Analyst Jon Ledyard of NDT Scouting.com in a 7-Round Saints-themed Mock for FanRagSports.com.
The 6-foot-5, 260 pound Sweat initially made strides as a pass-rusher as sophomore, bouncing back from an in-season meniscus tear to post seven sacks in 2016. The 21-year old EDGE defender then led the Seminoles with 5.5 sacks this past season and settled into a new role as a strong-side defensive end.
Productive and consistent, Sweat managed 56 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss this season before opting to sit out FSU’s bowl game as he focused on starting his NFL career early. Now he brings his talents to the NFL, where he would definitely give the Saints pass rush another viable option with the lack of depth and uncertainty at the position opposite of All-Pro DE Cam Jordan.
Ledyard says that Sweat has real "juice" off the edge, and the bend and flexibility to turn into a double-digit sack artist. He can play right away due to his advanced mental processing and strong run defense with his hand in the dirt, and his selection by New Orleans at #27 would give the Saints a suddenly formidable front line.
D.J. MOORE, WIDE RECEIVER, MARYLAND
With wide receiver still being considered a "must" by Saints head coach Sean Payton, there's at least a better-than-average chance that the Saints could target a WR with their first pick at #27; and although Christian Kirk of Texas A&M is the player most usually Linked to the Saints at that position, Moore is the name to keep in the back of your mind for Saints fans, given that he seemingly would be a "perfect fit" in the Saints offense.
As a sophomore in 2016, Moore led the Terps in receiving (41 receptions, 637 yards, six touchdowns) and took over primary kick-return duties by the end of the season. But it was last year during the 2017 season when Moore truly shined the brightest of all, and NFL scouts quickly took notice.
Moore was named Big Ten Receiver of the Year and 1st-team All-Big Ten as a junior in 2017, catching a school-record 80 passes for 1,033 yards with eight TDs. In his entire time at Maryland, he made 146 receptions for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in 36 games for the Terrapins.
While at Maryland, Moore lined up all over the field: in the slot, out wide, in motion and even in the backfield. He also returned kicks and punts effectively, and was particularly effective on end-arounds, reverses, direct handoffs, and even as a passer.
Pro Football Weekly football / NFL Draft analyst Eric Edholm says that ideally, Moore would land with a team that could use his quickness, field vision and toughness as a complementary option (either in the slot or outside) and not as a true #1 WR.
But with his ability to line up all over the place and return kicks, there should be an immediate role for him somewhere on a creative team. It goes without saying that the Saints would be one of the more "creative" teams under the steady guidance of Payton — who could make Moore the ultimate complement to current #1 WR Michael Thomas.
DA'RON PAYNE, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, ALABAMA
Although the Saints seem to be 'okay' at the defensive tackle position with starters Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison along with back-up David Onyemata, the team still hasn't ever effectively "replaced" former starter Nick Fairley, who was forced to end his playing career early due to a heart condition.
It's the reason why the Saints were interested in free agent veteran DT Ndamukong Suh (who just signed with the Rams), and it's the same reason why you shouldn't be surprised if New Orleans decides to target the best DT on the board at that time
As of right now, that could possibly be Payne; the 6-foot-2, 312 pound behemoth from the storied (and now current defending National Champion) Crimson Tide football program under head coach Nick Saban. How high Payne is eventually selected will ultimately be determined by just how much teams value his potential as a pass rusher, which places him anywhere around the middle of the first round or just a little later — where New Orleans currently sits at #27.
Nicknamed "The Beast", Payne only three career sacks at Alabama, but he’s an outstanding run-stopper and is quick off the ball. He was considered the physically strongest player on the entire Alabama roster, and had a monster season in 2017 with 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 27 QB pressures, a pass batted down, and an interception.
Still only just 20 years old, Payne saved his best for last as he dominated the line of scrimmage against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and was named Defensive MVP. Payne leaves school a year early as one of the premier DT's of this year's 2018 Draft Class; and has drawn many comparisons to Vikings DT Linval Joseph.
NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein says that Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense's ability to slow the run, but also possesses the capability to blossom into a solid pass rusher. If the Saints would like to upgrade not just the DT position but the entire defense as a whole, a selection of Payne at #27 (if he's still available) would certainly do just that.
ISIAH WYNN, OFFENSIVE TACKLE / GUARD, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
We can hear all of the moaning and groaning from a large majority of Saints fans right now, which was immediately right after they saw the words "offensive guard" next to Wynn's name. But the Saints could use more depth for their O-Line, especially with the lingering concerns over the health status of starting LT Terron Armstead that could lead to more additional "shuffling around" for the unit in 2018.
Wynn is certainly qualified to ease those depth concerns for the Saints, given that he is expected to play guard in the NFL: although the 6-foot-2, 305 pounder did play tackle for the Bulldogs at times and did so extremely well. He’s athletic enough to pull and get out on the edge as a guard or center, although Georgia tried making him the man in the middle prior to his sophomore year but then elected to go a different route.
Named a 2nd-team All American by the AFCA in 2017, Wynn is well respected by his teammates and coaches for consistent effort and intensity as well as his leadership ability.
Canal Street Chronicles NFL Draft Analyst / scout Walter "Deuce" Windham (you can buy his 2018 NFL Draft Guide by clicking HERE) says that Wynn has efficient and accurate placement of hands which allows him to get inside the pads of an oncoming defender, and his feet are always constantly moving and driving forward.
Additionally, Windham says that Wynn's ability to initially evaluate and mentally process what opposing defenses are about to do schematically right before the snap of the football, is on par with any O-Lineman in this year's class.
It's those type of traits along with his notable versatility, which the Saints organization places a very high value on; and it's the whole reason why (moan and groan) you shouldn't be surprised one bit if Wynn or another highly-rated O-Lineman who can play both the guard and tackle spots (such as UTEP's Will Hernandez), get the call to come down to NOLA at #27.
MIKE HUGHES, CORNERBACK, UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
Obviously the Saints hit a "Grand Slam home run" in last year's 2017 NFL Draft with their top pick, Ohio State All-American CB Marshon Lattimore; who of course went on to be named 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and gave New Orleans the upgrade that it so desperately needed at the cornerback position.
However, the Saints might not be completely finished with that upgrade, if this past Thursday afternoon was any indication. Both Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen attended UCF's Pro Day in Orlando, FL and were seen interacting heavily with UCF draft prospects CB Mike Hughes and LB Shaquem Griffin.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 29, 2018
But given that Griffin isn't expected to be taken until sometime in the middle rounds, it's evident which of the 2 players that the Saints were in town to see. Would the Saints really take a CB with their top pick for a 2nd straight year? Hughes certainly could be making them "lean" that way.
Hughes joined UCF as a junior in 2017, after he transferred from the University of North Carolina. He started 11 games at cornerback for the Golden Knights, recording 49 tackles and intercepting four passes, returning one for a touchdown. He also made an impact as a kick returner, tallying 635 yards on 20 kick returns with two touchdowns and another 233 yards on 14 punt returns with another TD. He was named first-team All-Conference as a cornerback and second-team All-Conference as a returner for his efforts before declaring early for this year's Draft.
Pro Football Focus Draft Analyst Cam Mellor says that despite the concerns of some who believe Hughes' successful 2017 season makes him a "one-hit wonder", his downfield ability on the popular ‘go’ route, combined with his ability to keep receivers in front of him on hitch routes and shorter-developing routes with his shutdown ability on the outside, could make Hughes an instant upgrade to most secondaries in the NFL.
For a Saints defense that improved dramatically in 2017, a selection of Hughes could give New Orleans not just one but TWO "lockdown" cornerbacks for their secondary AND give them a dangerous kick returner as well — which definitely makes him yet another player that the Saints could potentially take at #27, that you might not expect......