The New Orleans Saints currently hold the 27th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft. While there should be some very good players left remaining on the board when the Saints pick, the "drop-off" in talent from the top half of the round to the bottom half could possibly be significant.
If the Saints are looking to make a serious push for the Super Bowl in 2018, this could be a year to trade up.
And then of course, there's that whole "replacing Drew Brees" issue that will continue to loom over the New Orleans NFL franchise until his eventual retirement from the sport of Pro Football in a few more years, meaning that this is also the year that the Saints could target a QB in a potential trade-up, as well.
Here are three players — all of whom are expected to be gone by the time that the Saints pick at #27 — that they should think about trading up for.
Starting first with the most obvious one......
BAKER MAYFIELD, QUARTERBACK, OKLAHOMA
Honestly, we could put another QB's name here such as USC's Sam Darnold or UCLA's Josh Rosen, but as most Saints fans are already more than aware: Mayfield is considered a "Drew Brees clone", and his similar size, skill-set and leadership skills make him the near-perfect candidate to serve as Brees' understudy for a year or two (or 3).
As Saints fans that follow the NFL Draft every year might recall: last year the Kansas City Chiefs traded up from the 27th overall pick up to the #10 spot to get Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes, giving up a 2017 third-round pick and a 2018 first-rounder.
It's likely that the Saints could package their top pick at #27 along with their 3rd Round pick (#91 overall) and next year's 1st Round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft; and pull off a similar trade with a team (Bears at #8? Raiders at #10?) whose front office personnel are run by people that Saints head coach Sean Payton has a previous history with, such as Bears GM Ryan Pace or Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
However, the problem for the Saints in this scenario is that most draft experts have Mayfield — the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and a unanimous 1st-Team All-American — falling somewhere between the third and seventh overall pick.
The 2 teams you hear Mayfield’s name associated with the most is the New York Jets, who own the third pick, followed by the Denver Broncos, who will select fifth; meaning that in all likelihood, New Orleans would have to pull off a deal (maybe with Cleveland picking 4th?) to "leapfrog" those two teams. (As of this moment, the Jets are thought to be "torn" between taking either Rosen or Mayfield).
On a personal note: I don’t think this is the year the Saints should draft a QB with their top pick, for the simple fact that they’re THIS CLOSE to making a Super Bowl run (they were only 10 seconds away from the NFC Championship Game); and the organization seemingly would be much better served by making another push for a World title before Brees hangs it up for good.
However, given the inevitable need to get a "quarterback of the future" along with Payton's notable admiration for Mayfield's intangibles, you'd be wise as a Saints fan to not entirely dismiss the idea. The impetus for making such a move is simply because Mayfield's talents and Brees' ability to serve as his mentor for the first couple of years, could and would (hopefully) make for a smooth transition from one great Era of Saints football, to the next.
ROQUAN SMITH, MIDDLE / INSIDE LINEBACKER, GEORGIA
While the Saints did land top-caliber free agent linebacker Demario Davis in Free Agency a few weeks ago, you still can't have too many good LB's in the National Football League, especially those with elite capabilities to defend the running game from sideline-to-sideline and who can cover speedy RB's and smaller TE's out of the backfield in pass coverage.
In this year's class, there is one player who CLEARLY stands out above all the rest at the middle / inside linebacker position, who possesses that type of elite-caliber talent: University of Georgia linebacker (and 2017 Butkus Award winner for the nation's top linebacker) Roquan Smith.
Because of the evolution at the linebacker position in the past decade or so, today's linebackers are more athletic and have a much greater capability to defend against quicker and faster offensive opponents, than ever before. No player in the 2018 Draft class fits that description more accurately, than Smith. He is the textbook example of the phrase "game-changer", in every sense.
In fact, well-respected NFL scout / Draft Analyst Jon Ledyard of NDT Scouting.com says that Smith’s range is among the best that he's EVER scouted. At times last year, Ledyard says that teams were intentionally were setting up plays away from him on the perimeter and it did not matter. He is a ridiculous athlete, and an elite tackler in space.
Ledyard says that if you don’t change your blocking scheme to account for Smith's whereabouts on the field, you’re "cooked". Ledyard also notes that Smith can get from the core of the formation to the sideline as fast as any linebacker he's ever seen in all of his years of scouting. He's simply THAT good.
Ledyard adds that Smith is an incredible weapon in pass coverage, although he probably could stand to be a tad quicker at diagnosing certain inside run concepts and improve his spacing in zone coverage, but all the traits are in place for Smith to become an elite NFL linebacker.
Certainly, it would appear that the Saints are currently "set" at the LB position, with the recent addition of Davis in Free Agency to put with returning LB's A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o, Craig Roberston, and Alex Anzalone.
But Smith is a "once-in-a-generation" type caliber of player, and adding another elite defender to put with already-elite defenders Cam Jordan and Marshon Lattimore on the Saints defense, could make the unit's ongoing upgrade nearly complete.
Smith is projected to go anywhere within the Top 15 picks, meaning that if the Saints were seriously interested in getting him, it would probably require them to offer a trade package very similar to the one (this year's first and a third) suggested for Mayfield.
HAROLD LANDRY, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE, BOSTON COLLEGE
Last but not least, we come to the one player that of these 3 who are listed this morning, is the one who the Saints would most likely be willing to trade up for, since it probably would only cost them a 3rd this year (#91 overall) or a 2nd or 3rd Rounder in next year's 2019 NFL Draft.
As it's well-known: Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters last week that the EDGE pass-rushing position on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan remains a "must" need for the team to address, despite the team having re-signed veteran Alex Okafor a few weeks ago.
Based on Payton's words, it's safe to assume that the Saints will target an EDGE rusher in next month's 2018 NFL Draft. The 2018 Draft Class's #1 ranked EDGE rusher this year is North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, who as of now is projected to be a Top 5 pick.
Sadly, there's a huge drop-off from Chubb to the remainder of the other EDGE prospects; and he'll be "long gone" by the time that the Saints get on the clock to make their pick at #27 overall — unless of course they decide to trade up and grab Chubb unexpectedly.
However, there are still some very good players at the EDGE position who potentially can become future stars at the next level; and one of them is almost certain to "fall" down Draft Boards (and not very far from the Saints' spot at #27); especially with several teams picking ahead of New Orleans all poised to select a QB with their top pick.
One such player just happens to be the young man who's considered the 2nd or 3rd best EDGE rusher (depending on who you ask) in this year's class: Boston College EDGE rusher / defensive end Harold Landry — who's expected to be selected anywhere ranging from the Top 10, to all the way down to the bottom half of the 1st Round.
Landry exploded onto the college football scene 2 years ago and became one of the most feared pass rushers in the ACC under the mentorship of long-time defensive guru / D-Line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who in 45 years of coaching between college and the NFL has coached everyone from DeMarcus Ware to J.J. Watt. That’s tutelage Landry wouldn’t have received anywhere else; and Pasqualoni arrived right before Landry’s junior year.
Landry had entered 2016 with high expectations, and he exceeded them in every way thanks to his being mentored by Pasqualoni. As a direct result: the talented pass rusher "broke out" during the 2016 season, and led the nation in sacks with 16.5, forced seven fumbles, had 22 tackles for a loss, six QB hurries, four pass breakups, an interception, and 51 total tackles.
Unfortunately for Landry, his 2017 numbers were down considerably after playing in just eight games due to an ankle injury. He had five sacks in his first six games before suffering the injury and being shut down two weeks later after trying to play through it.
But Landry is since recovered and now fully healthy, and despite the love that some have for Chubb of North Carolina State, there are those that think Landry could go on to have the more successful NFL career down the line.
Unlike Roquan Smith, Landry isn't a "once-in-a-generation" player at his position, but you had better believe he's a DAMN GOOD one — and one that the Saints should consider trading up for, in the 2018 NFL Draft........