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2018 NFL Draft

A Few Players to Watch For the Saints on the Final Day #3 of the 2018 NFL Draft

The New Orleans Saints will be picking a total of 5 more times in a few short hours from now, on the final Day #3 of the 2018 NFL Draft.

New Orleans will pick once in Round 4 (#127 overall), once in Round 5 (#164 overall), twice in Round 6 (numbers #189 and #201 overall), and finally once in Round 7 (#245). That’s assuming of course that they don’t make any other trades.

With that in mind, here are a few names for the Saints team brass and scouting department to consider once the final rounds of Day 3 get underway, at 12 noon Eastern Standard time…..

 

IAN THOMAS, TIGHT END, INDIANA

Photo courtesy of The Bloomington Times-Herald

Essentially considered a “late bloomer”, Indiana University tight end Ian Thomas proved to be a valuable big-play threat for the Hoosiers in 2017, averaging 15 yards per catch and hauling in a touchdown every five receptions.  He spent the first two seasons of his career at Nassau Community College; where he caught 27 passes before transferring to the Hoosiers.

He played sparingly as a junior in 2016, but last year caught 25 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns on his way to being named All-Big Ten honorable mention. In all, he played for three head coaches and three offensive coordinators during his college career. 

USA TODAY / The Draft Wire NFL Draft analyst Luke Easterling notes that with a big frame that could still add some quality bulk, and an impressive catch radius, the 6-foot-4, 260 pound Thomas has all the physical tools to create mismatches at the next level.

Compared often to former University of Oklahoma and former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, the 21-year old Thomas is considered a raw prospect, which means he’s not totally refined but also has a much higher potential ceiling. NFL.com’s Chris Trapasso says that Thomas is the most fluid athlete in this tight end class.He says that Thomas glides in an out of his breaks without losing much speed, and believes that he’ll be a productive player on option routes over the middle.

Thomas’ biggest weaknesses (and the reason why he’s still likely available this morning on Day 3) are his blocking ability and route-running, which isn’t that surprising for a “raw” player who’s still essentially learning HOW to play the position. But his “upside” is that scouts believe that he will be a legitimate threat in the receiving game and can develop the traits that he lacks, with the proper amount of coaching at the next level.

For a Saints team that clearly could use some “new blood” at the TE position, Thomas would be a great selection for New Orleans. And the fact that he could be “mentored” by long-time veteran Saints tight end Ben Watson as a rookie? A huge plus.

 

PARRY NICKERSON, CORNERBACK, TULANE

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Saints fans living in South Louisiana and especially the local New Orleans metro area surely have heard of local star and Tulane University CB Parry Nickerson, who grew up on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish (Harvey) and attended West Jefferson High School.

Nickerson was a first-team All-AAC player in his senior year after racking up a career-high 55 total tackles (two for loss) and intercepting six more passes, giving him 16 interceptions in his collegiate career. He had a pick in each of his last three games to close the season in strong fashion heading into a potential NFL career.

The 6-0, 180-pound corner was THE FASTEST player at last month’s 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, when he ran a 4.32 second 40-yard dash. He was also one of the toughest CB’s in ALL of college football the past two seasons, yielding a passer rating of only just 41.0 and 32.5 in 2017 and 2016 respectively, according to Pro Football Focus.

NFL.com Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah says that Nickerson has an uncanny ability to locate and play the ball when it’s in the air. Nickerson lines up primarily outside, but he has the right skill set to play inside or outside at the next level. 

He projects as more of a slot corner at the NFL level; a position at which the Saints filled recently in Free Agency with the signing of Patrick Robinson. But a Nickerson selection by New Orleans would give the Saints added depth at the position, and give them one of the more talented CB groups in the entire NFL.

 

KYLE LAULETTA, QUARTERBACK , UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND

Photo courtesy of University of Richmond Athletics

Considered by many as this QB class’s biggest “sleeper” at the QB position, the 6-foot-3-inch, 213-pound Lauletta was a three-year starter at Richmond (an FCS program located in Virginia) and threw for 10,357 yards and 71 touchdowns for the Spiders during his sensational 4-year career.

Lauletta has been compared to 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo (he has a similar “small school” background, comparable size and almost an identical quick release), and markedly raised his stock even further when he threw 3 second-half TD passes to lead the South team to victory in the Senior Bowl a couple of months ago. 

With an athletic build, a “Big League” arm, a quick release and pin-point precision accuracy that improved every day in Mobile, Bleacher Report’s Miller says that there is a lot of intrigue about Lauletta as a developmental prospect, and most of the current projections seem to indicate that he can become a starting-caliber NFL QB in due time.

Originally projected as a Day 2 pick (Rounds 2 and 3 yesterday), Lauletta’s continued availability should put him squarely on the Saints Draft Board later today, given that he seems like the perfect player to be “groomed” as the next heir apparent after the eventual retirement of Drew Brees.

If there was ever a time for the Saints to get a draft-day “steal”, Lauletta could provide them with that opportunity. The Saints have always kept drafting a QB as an option, and if he’s still available when they pick at #147 overall in Round 4, do not be shocked if New Orleans “pulls the trigger”.

 

JOSEY JEWELL, INSIDE LINEBACKER, IOWA

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Perhaps one of the more underrated and definitely one of the more intriguing LB prospects of the 2018 NFL Draft Class, the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Jewell is seen as a “hidden gem” by some evaluators, after he totaled 433 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 26 passes defended, six interceptions, and three forced fumbles in his entire Hawkeyes career; along with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists Jewell as the third best inside linebacker prospect, while Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranks him as the seventh best player at his position and notes that Jewell is the “biggest sleeper” among linebackers and is a heat-seeking missile who’s constantly around the ball”. 

Nevertheless, Jewell’s size and speed have some NFL scouts doubtful about how just how well he will fare at the next level, although he just recently got an endorsement from his well-respected head coach (Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz), who told NFL.com’s Dan Parr of College Football 24/7 that “Josey’s not what I would call a combine guy. He’s not 6-3, he’s not going to run a 4.4 (40-yard dash). But if you’re not careful, you’re going to miss a lot of good players that way. My advice is just watch the film.”

If you actually do watch the film, Jewell will remind Saints fans A LOT of last year’s 3rd Round selection Alex Anzalone (minus the long blonde hair) because he’s literally “all over the place” — and there’s a chance that New Orleans could get another potential mid-round steal if Jewell somehow is still hanging around on the Board when they pick in Round #4 or later.

One can only imagine what having Jewell and Anzalone together in the same LB corps, would potentially mean for the middle of the Saints defense (if they stayed healthy) for years to come.

 

  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 on Day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

TROY FUMAGALLI, TIGHT END, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

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 at some point, and 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 cannot pass up, if given the opportunity. It’s one that the Saints could take with the 127th overall pick in Round 4. 

 

MAURICE HURST, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, MICHIGAN

Photo courtesy of The Detroit Free-Press

Clearly, Hurst has fallen down draft boards and is still available on Day 3, over concerns that he has a heart condition similar to the one experienced by former Saints DT Nick Fairley. Originally slated to be a Top 15 pick, Hurst has been given medical clearance since his initial prognosis, but it’s obvious that teams are still concerned about his health moving forward. But nevertheless: he still is a stud at a position that the Saints are looking to upgrade.

NDT Scouting.com Draft Analyst / NFL Scout Scott Bischoff says that Hurst is going to play as a 3-Technique in a 4-3 base defense (and the Saints would most likely place him in that same role), but he is versatile enough to slide around and play out of different spots along the defensive line. However, the 3-Technique is going to be where Hurst lives, and that is where he will make his money.

Bischoff notes that Hurst has excellent first-step quickness and he can penetrate the backfield quickly to make plays. He is a powerful interior defender, making plays with a rare combination of quickness and power to hold up at the point of attack and defeat blockers inside.

Bischoff also adds that Hurst is a fantastic interior pass rusher, but he is not a one-trick pony as he is stout against the run too. Additionally, he makes the observation that not too many NFL quarterbacks are going to be thrilled about staring down a 280+ pound tackle that can close quickly to make plays inside.

To summarize, Bischoff says that Hurst is going to produce at the next level because of his outstanding capability to disrupt an offensive line — and he will help his new teammates with his next team once that he enters the League, in multiple ways.

Just thinking out loud: imagine a Saints D-Line of Hurst and Sheldon Rankins in the middle, with Cam Jordan and brand new #1 pick Marcus Davenport coming off the edges. If strongside defensive end Alex Okafor is able to recover fully, you’d have to say that would make the Saints D-Line rival that of the Rams, Vikings, or the defending champion Eagles, for the League’s best.

For the Saints, the biggest question will be whether or not they’d want to take the risk of getting “burned” again by a player who has similar health concerns to the very same player that they just lost a year ago…….

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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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