Saints fans are just a little preoccupied right now with the Black and Gold poised to make a run all the way to Super Bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta, which begins with the start of the NFL Playoffs in 2 more weeks from now.
But it’s never too early to consider the ways in which the team can further upgrade their roster with additional talent, although thanks to having the League’s best win-loss record (13-2) this season along with having made a trade with Green Bay last year for rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport, New Orleans won’t actually pick until the FINAL pick of Round 2 (#64 overall) of next April’s 2019 NFL Draft.
Presumably, the Saints’ two biggest needs right now are a speedy #2 WR / flanker to complement starting #1 superstar WR Michael Thomas, as well as a pass-catching / play-making tight end; and this morning we’re taking a quick look at a few of the likely prospects who will still be available once the Saints are “on the clock”, at those two positions in particular.
Starting first with the wide receiver / flanker position……
TYSHUN “DEEBO” SAMUEL, WIDE RECEIVER, SOUTH CAROLINA
With current #2 WR Ted Ginn Jr. about to turn age 34 and rookie Tre’Quan Smith struggling at times to fully digest the Saints offensive scheme, a complementary receiver that can become a legitimate threat on the outside and create problems for opposing defenses opposite of Saints split end / #1 WR Michael Thomas, is what the Black and Gold still needs to improve its passing attack.
The Saints most certainly will look to improve this position in free agency, but the addition of a player capable of having an immediate impact, might have to wait until the draft. And once the Saints finally do get ‘on the clock’, the VERY BEST player still likely to be available by that point will be none other than University of South Carolina WR Tyshun “Deebo” Samuel.
Samuel had 62 receptions for 882 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns in 2018; but has decided to end his final season by sitting out the Gamecocks’ bowl game against the University of Virginia this coming Saturday.
USA TODAY Draft Wire analyst Gavino Borquez says that the 5-foot-11, 200 pound Samuel has explosive quickness and is simply too fast for corners to cover on “go” or “fly” routes. Samuel eats up cushion and runs by most defenders with ease; and Borquez notes that the soon-to-be 23 year old senior is the type of player that NFL coordinators will scheme plays for in order to get the ball into his hands.
However, Samuel isn’t just simply some “speed demon” that can turn a short gain into a touchdown in the passing game, but additionally is a top-rated kick returner as well. Samuel returned 23 kickoffs for 570 yards, tallying a 24.8-yard average.
Bottom line: Samuel could be the “missing piece” in the Saints passing attack opposite of Thomas, and should still be sitting there once New Orleans is on the clock for the 64th overall selection.
IRV SMITH, JR., TIGHT END, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
With starting TE Ben Watson having just turned 38 years old and undrafted free agent Dan Arnold still learning HOW to play tight end, the Saints are in obvious need of an ugrade at the TE position.
And given that New Orleans will be picking at the bottom of Round 2, it means they still should have a crack at selecting a player who barring any serious injuries, should go on to experience a stellar NFL career: University of Alabama tight end Irv Smith, Jr.
The 20-year old Smith, who is a NOLA native and a graduate of local New Orleans institution Brother Martin High School, is also the son of former Saints top 1993 NFL Draft pick Irv Smith, Sr.
SB Nation NFL Draft analyst Timor Dimini says that Smith is a high-effort tenacious football player who not only has obvious NFL bloodlines, but is also a young man who embraces the opportunities to improve his game and seems always hungry to succeed.
In 13 games this season, Smith caught 38 receptions for 648 yards (17.1 average yards per catch) along with 7 touchdowns; after playing sparingly as a sophomore in 2017; when he played in 9 games and only caught 14 passes for 128 yards but with 3 TD receptions.
Dimini notes that the junior prospect essentially is a mismatch in the middle of the field for most defenders and possesses an impressive blend of size, speed, explosion, and athleticism. Smith takes advantage of defenses with his speed up the seam, and can create separation by utilizing his impressive length and athleticism to find holes in zone coverage.
Along with good catching and great YAC (yards-after-the-catch) ability, Dimini adds that Smith’s blocking has shown great improvement as well, something that no doubt would earn him “bonus points” with Saints head coach Sean Payton.
ANTHONY JOHNSON, WIDE RECEIVER, BUFFALO UNIVERSITY
While some Saints fans might scoff at the notion of selecting a player from little known Buffalo University in upstate New York, it’s important to remember that the school has turned out some pretty notable players in past years; such as former NFL RB’s James Starks (Green Bay) and Brandon Oliver (San Diego), and of course the one player that could cause some problems for the Saints in next month’s NFL Playoffs: current Chicago Bears EDGE Pass rusher and League Defensive MVP candidate Khalil Mack.
But next year’s 2019 NFL Draft class will feature a player from the Bulls program that his quietly put his name “on the map” for scouts everywhere: senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson.
The 22-year old is a player whom SB Nation NFL writer Ben Natan says has been as productive as ANY wide receiver at any level of college football, in the last two years. After 14 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards last year, Johnson had 11 touchdowns through the air this year — but yet still remains as one of the upcoming Draft class’s most underrated stars headed into next April.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Johnson is a deep threat who has demonstrated his ability to “take the top off” of a defense; as evidenced by his rather notable performance earlier this season against a much bigger school / opponent in the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, a game in which Johnson had 11 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
There are some analysts that even feel Johnson just might be THE BEST “deep threat” in the sport right now, either college or pro level. That’s quite a remarkable observation, given the considerable amount of collective talent that currently exists at both classifications.
Johnson has demonstrated an impressive knack and ability to catch the football over his shoulders and can contest “50-50” balls that are thrown against defensive backs in man to man coverage. Additionally, Johnson has demonstrated an astute level of awareness that’s allowed him the ability to gain a majority of his receiving yards AFTER making the reception (YAC).
Small school “superstar” he might be, but believe this much: Johnson looks as if he will eventually become a BIG-TIME star, in the National Football League.
JOSH OLIVER, TIGHT END, SAN JOSE STATE
With all of the top TE prospects such as Noah Fant of Iowa and Stanford’s Kaden Smith expected to be already gone by the time that the Saints get in the clock, their best option will be looking at prospects from the proverbial 2nd “tier” of players such as Irv Smith, Jr. whom we listed above, or a young man like “sleeper” prospect Josh Oliver of San Jose State.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst and resident expert Matt Miller says that Oliver is one of this upcoming class’s biggest “sleepers”; and standing at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, is a big-time target who has shown the athleticism needed to become a vertical seam target and red-zone option.
Oliver exploded onto the scene despite the Spartans’ losing record, and caught 56 passes for 709 yards and 4 TD’s. In his entire career, Oliver tallied a grand total of 98 receptions for 1,067 yards and 7 TD’s.
Miller adds that Oliver also has the speed to take linebackers and safeties down the field and has shown the agility and explosion to be a threat over the top or when attacking the ball in the air.
Miller believes that Oliver will project best in the NFL by fitting within an offense that doesn’t ask the tight end to stay in-line and block but will let him move around the formation and find the best match-ups.
That’s something that undoubtedly would prove quite beneficial to the Saints offense, and a reason why Oliver should be an option for the Black and Gold with the 64th overall selection.
PARRIS CAMPBELL, WIDE RECEIVER, OHIO STATE
It should come as no surprise for Saints fans to see a player from Ohio State on this list, given the team’s very notable affinity in recent seasons to target and acquire players from that school’s top-notch and historically successful program.
And make no mistake whatsoever about this much: the 6-foot, 208 pound Campbell is an explosive play-maker who Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst Alex Eisen says can stretch the field, possesses great burst and blistering speed off the line pf scrimmage, and is expected to be one of the fastest prospects (an incredible 4.26 40-yard dash time) in next year’s draft.
That’s ironically the same type of speed (4.28) and talent that Ginn himself once had as a younger player coming out of Ohio State back in the 2007 NFL Draft, and Campbell has drawn obvious comparisons to the Saints 12th year veteran wide receiver who just recently was activated from injured reserve and made a big play in the Saints victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers a few days ago,
But Ginn turns age 34 in a few months from now; and Campbell clearly would appear to be a more-than-viable replacement given their very notable similarities.
The 21-year old caught 79 passes for 992 yards and 11 TD receptions in 13 games played. During his entire 3-year career in Columbus, Campbell tallied 132 total catches for 1,697 yards and 14 TD’s,
Eisen notes that Campbell has the ability to run at all three levels, running the short, intermediate, and deep routes. There is a very distinct big-play ability that would come with a potential selection of Campbell, which is something that the Saints clearly like to have at the position and have done so in the past; with players such as Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and most recently: former 2014 top draft pick and current Rams WR Brandin Cooks.