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2018 NFL Draft

Saints News Network’s 2018 Saints Mock Draft 3.0

The New Orleans Saints are now less than 3 weeks away from the opening day of the 2018 NFL Draft, which will be held later this month on the final weekend of April (the 26th thru 28th at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in suburban Dallas).

And it's with that in mind this morning, that we present our 3rd version of our 2018 Saints Mock Draft.

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.......



Photo courtesy of Getty Images

New Orleans could be in danger of losing not one but TWO of their starters from their WR corps this off-season, which obviously makes adding a WR in 3 more weeks from now at the 2018 NFL Draft, a major priority. 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

Entering the 2017 season, Kirk was a consensus preseason All-American who was a do-it-all athlete for the Aggies. Not only was he the SEC's top returning pass catcher but he was also the NCAA's active leader in punt return average and punts returned for touchdowns. He entered the year needing only 793 all-purpose yards to become only Texas A&M's sixth player ever to accumulate 4,000 career yards and only 63 receiving yards to reach 2,000 for his career.

Kirk finished his career with 234 receptions for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns as a receiver and seven touchdowns as a returner (six on punts) for the Aggies. Kirk was named a first-team All-SEC selection as an all-purpose player and a return specialist. He also was a second-team All-SEC wide receiver. 

NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler says that Kirk is an explosive and controlled athlete who has a knack for creating separation before and after the catch with his outstanding start / stop quickness and quick-thinking movements. Although unproven as an outside receiver threat, Kirk thrives in the slot and has room to improve when he adds polish to his route-running.

Additionally, Brugler says that Kirk's mature character will be welcomed in a NFL building, carrying himself with positive energy regardless if the cameras are on him. Overall, he needs to hone his finishing skills as a receiver and return man to take his game from good to great, but all the traits are there for Kirk to be an immediate slot weapon and return man.

Brugler notes that the term “only” a slot receiver can be viewed as a negative description, but in today’s NFL, most offenses rely on the slot receiver to be an impact weapon. Although he isn’t a seasoned veteran as an outside presence, Kirk has the skill-set to shred the middle of the field — and it's yet just one more reason for Saints team brass to "pull the trigger" on a selection of Kirk, with their first pick at #27 overall.



Photo courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

Despite the re-signing of veteran defensive end Alex Okafor a few weeks ago, 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 Florida State defensive end / EDGE pass rusher makes sense at this spot.

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 .

NDT NFL Draft Analyst Jon 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 this spot in Round 3 would give the Saints a suddenly formidable front line.



Photo courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal

It goes without saying that the Saints will have to address their lack of depth (and production) at the tight end position, and assuming they don't do it right out of the gate at #27, then this is the time for them to do it while the tough but talented Fumagalli is still available.

A former walk-on who eventually "blossomed" into a Mackey Award finalist (for the nation's top tight end) in 2017, Fumagalli actually 'broke out' as a junior during the 2016 regular season; recording 47 receptions for 580 yards, and two touchdowns. He put himself on the map with a seven-catch, 100-yard performance in a season opening win over then No. 5-ranked LSU (as many Saints fans that also are fans of LSU would like to forget about), and hasn't ever looked back since.

Compared often to former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura, last year as a senior Fumagalli put up similar numbers; catching 46 balls for 547 yards and four scores en route to being named first-team All-Big Ten (coaches) and second-team Associated Press All-American in 2017. Fumagalli ranks No. 13 all-time in school history with 1,627 receiving yards.

Fumagalli  who lost the index finger on his left hand from a birth defect that forced it to be amputated the day after he was born, but yet has still been able to have a very successful career without it — is a hard-nosed tight end who is just as effective as a road grader in the run game as he is a dangerous weapon as a receiver.

Even more impressive is his blocking ability, which Saints head coach Sean Payton would undoubtedly find to be a quality trait. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Fumagalli has the size to be used trapping and pulling in the backfield on running plays. Saturday Blitz NFL Draft analyst Trevor Jossart says that one thing that will be in question for Fumagalli in the NFL (besides his missing finger) is his speed and whether or not he will be able to utilize his route-running skills in a much faster game.

Jossart notes that while Fumagalli might not be considered the top tight end target entering the 2018 NFL Draft, he definitely serves as a viable option that many teams in need of his position (especially the Saints if they don't address TE with their first pick at #27) cannot pass up, if given the opportunity. It's one that we have them taking with the 127th overall pick in Round 4. 



(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 few weeks 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.



Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Saints have shown that they'd still like to upgrade the middle of their D-Line, and the very underrated Ford (whom they met with at both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl) might be one of their draft targets they intend to do it with. 

Last season as a senior, Ford "broke out" and was named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year by the league’s coaches while serving as arguably the biggest reason why the Longhorns had one of the most improved defensive teams in the country in 2017. For the season, Ford recorded 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a blocked field goal

Sports NFL Draft Analyst Andy Staples says Ford is one of the class's biggest "sleepers", and the 5'11", 303-pound Ford has been dismissed by some as too small to play inside. That’s pretty much what members of the Texas coaching staff thought when they took over last season. It took about one day at practice to realize that Ford is a nightmare for guards and centers who try to block him one-on-one.

Because of his size, Staples adds that Ford will need to play in a defense that prefers gap-shooting defensive tackles. But given the fact that he could be available on day three, he could provide incredible value to such a team. Given that they met with and watched him play on back-to-back weekends, it's probably safe to say that New Orleans is one of them.



Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

While the Saints did in fact sign former Houston Texans QB Tom Savage a few weeks ago 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 like University of Toledo QB Logan Woodside 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.



Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

Saints fans that grew up back during the 1980s will recognize the last name, since Igwebuike’s father Leo is a cousin of former Tampa Bay kicker Donald Igwebuike and also a second cousin of former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, remembered as the "Nigerian Nightmare."

Igwebuike (6-foot-even, 205 pounds) totaled 324 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and seven interceptions over four seasons with the Wildcats, including 108 tackles as a junior in 2017. He has a reputation as an in-the-box safety who can play near the line of scrimmage, but he possesses the capability and versatility to play up to three positions in the secondary for an NFL team.

FanSided NFL Spin Zone writer / draft analyst Dan Schmelzer says that Igwebuike is a strong run defender from the safety position who is not afraid to mix it up on the inside. He is also a quick and athletic player who shows the ability to defend from sideline-to-sideline.

Igwebuike did not play much zone coverage in college, so it is hard to predict how he will do there at the next level. That being said, Schmelzer notes that Igwebuike showed a lot of promise as a man-to-man defender. His ability to defend both big and physical tight ends and quick and elusive receivers is awfully impressive — and it's the reason why we have him being taken by the Saints near the end of Round 6.



Photo courtesy of South Dakota State University Athletics

With their final pick, we have the Saints further addressing the WR position with the young man who might not become an NFL "superstar", but who could go on to have a very solid pro career if he ends up with the right team in the right system, that can properly use his diverse talent in an effective way: meet South Dakota State University WR Jake Wieneke, who with over 5,000 receiving yards and just shy of 50 touchdown catches in his 4-year college career, dominated his competition in the Football Championship Subdivision (known as the FCS).

Wieneke's college career begin with a bang for the Jackrabbits, as he set a school record with 16 touchdowns as a freshman. He gained 1,404 yards on 73 receptions in that season, then managed to top 20 yards per catch as a sophomore by producing 1,472 yards on 72 receptions with 11 touchdowns. Wieneke delivered a similar season as a junior, with 78 receptions, 1,316 yards and 16 touchdowns, numbers that made him the school record holder in receiving yards and receiving TDs heading into his senior year last season in 2017.

Weineke's senior-season stats weren't nearly impressive, though he still added 65 receptions, 965 yards and another 16 more touchdowns, giving him a whopping 61 total scores for his career (a number that includes a passing TD as a junior and a rushing score as a senior). Wieneke then "saved his best for last"; catching nine passes for 140 yards and two TDs (plus a 48-yard rushing TD) against New Hampshire and seven passes for 105 yards and a TD against James Madison during the FCS playoffs.

The 6-foot-4, 215 pound Weineke isn't necessarily a fast burner or a "speed demon", but he gains speed by using longer strides. In other words: the deeper route that he runs, the faster he actually appears to be. And with an NFL frame and a well-rounded skill set, USA TODAY Sports / Draftwire analyst Luke Easterling says that Wieneke could be the rare Day 3 pick that makes an immediate and significant impact at the next level — which is exactly why we have him going to the Saints with their final pick, of the 2018 NFL Draft...........


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer 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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