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2019 NFL Draft

Which College Stars Are Being Rumored Most to be Saints Top Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft?

The New Orleans Saints are now only 2 more weeks away from the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft; which this year takes place in Nashville, Tennessee beginning on Thursday Night, April 25th (exactly two weeks from tonight) and ending on Saturday afternoon, April 27th.

Unfortunately for the Black and Gold however, because of the trade they made with Green Bay to move up and select rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport with the 14th overall selection in last year's 2018 NFL Draft, New Orleans doesn't have a pick in the 1st Round this year.

Additionally, due to the trades they made last year with the Jets to acquire current backup #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater (3rd Round pick) and the Giants for starting #2 CB Eli Apple (4th Round pick), the Saints will only have a 2nd Round pick and a 5th Round pick to go along with two 6th Round picks and two 7th Round picks, for a grand total of six picks in this year’s draft.

What means essentially that unless Saints brass (GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton) decides to "wheel and deal" and acquire more picks, they’ll have to make each and every single pick that they end up making, count for something initially and hopefully have a lasting and enduring impact.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

As a result. a lot of attention specifically is now being placed upon just who the team might decide to target with their top pick, which will be the #62nd overall selection in Round 2.

With that very thought in mind, here are a few names for Who Dats to remember of players that currently are projected to be possibly still available once the Saints finally get "on the clock", to make that pick, who have been rumored or mentioned the MOST in recent weeks as the player who they'll likely take on the Draft's 2nd day.

Starting with....

 

JAYLON FERGUSON, EDGE PASS RUSHER / DEFENSIVE END, LOUISIANA TECH UNIVERSITY

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Since the Saints addressed their defensive tackle position in Free Agency, Ferguson now becomes the only defensive player on our list this morning who's continually been among the most-frequently rumored players in recent days on that side of the ball  (especially after it was reported by Sean Fazende of FOX8 New Orleans); who they're thought now to specifically be targeting, given they still need to compensate for the loss of former veteran defensive end Alex Okafor (who left to sign with Kansas City).

Fazende originally reported that will Black and Gold would work out the former Louisiana Tech edge pass rusher and the NCAA's all-time sacks leader (45 sacks all-time) ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, a meeting which is thought since that time to have already taken place and had been conducted some this week.

Ferguson isn't a one-trick pony by any means either, however; and rushing the QB isn't his only best attribute. He is also considered a stout run defender and can chase down RB's, as evidenced by his having recorded 67.5 TFL's (tackles for loss of yards) in that same amount of time. But clearly sacking QB's and making their lives miserable is his favorite past time, as noted by the good folks over at Pro Football Focus.

The 6-foot-5, 271 pound Ferguson recorded 16 sacks (1st in the nation) and 64 QB pressures (5th in the nation) last season, and the Zachary, Louisiana (in suburban Baton Rouge) native and former West Feliciana High School star is thought to be a likely target for New Orleans since it's believed that a somewhat disappointing performance at the NFL Combine last month might cause him to 'fall' several spots well into the 2nd Round.

Ferguson certainly isn't the fastest or the best edge pass rusher coming out of this year's Draft Class, but he's solid, consistent and can impressively stop the run better than most men his size; and he undoubtedly would be a logical pick to replace Okafor at that other spot as a back-up behind Marcus Davenport.

 

DALTON RISNER, OFFENSIVE TACKLE / CENTER, KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

While Ferguson is the one name that's been continually been connected to the Saints as far as defensive players go, Risner is the one O-Lineman linked the most to the Saints with their top pick, a notion that was reinforced earlier by John Sigler of USATODAY Sports / Saintswire; who reported that the Black and Gold had hosted the former 1st team All-American for a visit at their Metairie Training Facility.

Sigler notes that the 6-foot-5, 312 pound Risner started at center in his freshman year, playing all 13 games, but moved to right tackle for the rest of his college career — a streak of 37 games. As a result, Risner is one of the very few players to ever earn first-team All-American honors at both positions.

Sigler adds that Risner is one of the best offensive linemen in this year’s draft, and projects as a 1st round selection, but says that there’s a chance that he slips down in the draft (which is true of every prospect), so the Saints have if nothing else, at least have done their "due diligence".

If the Saints did manage to land Risner somehow, it wouldn't come as a shock if the team anointed him as the new back-up at the center position, with a chance to become the eventual starter. But like most Saints O-Linemen, it's his versatility that makes Risner such a coveted player, and if he's still on the board at #62, don't be shocked if New Orleans decides to "pull the trigger".

 

PARRIS CAMPBELL, WIDE RECEIVER, OHIO STATE

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The first one of three "speedy" outside or slot WR's on our list, Campbell is the one among them who likely will be gone by the time that the Saints pick; although they've done their homework on him as they seem to do with most players from the Ohio State University football program. 

New Orleans has obviously shared a special bond with by taking several of the Buckeyes' former players either in the Draft or also by signing one of their former graduates in Free Agency.

The 6-foot-even, 205 pound Campbell tied for the 2nd fastest time (4.33 seconds) in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, and is equally adept at playing at the outside position as he is lining up inside at the slot position. Last season, Campbell grabbed 90 receptions (ranked 8th in the nation) for 1,063 receiving yards (25th in nation) and 12 touchdowns (8th in nation).

NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein says that Campbell reminds him of former Vikings WR and University of Florida superstar Percy Harvin; and that Campbell's elite package of size, speed and fluidity as a big slot receiver could create a coverage  "conundrum" if the team that selects him puts him with an offensive coordinator that allows him to attack vertically more often.

Ironically, many observers feel that Campbell would make an ideal "replacement" within the Saints WR corps to take over the role as their designated "deep ball" target (on long passes of 50 yards or more) from the man he'd likely replace: former Ohio State WR and current Saints #2 WR  (and soon-to-be 35 year old) WR Ted Ginn, Jr., who could be in his final year in the Black and Gold.

 

ANDY ISABELLA, WIDE RECEIVER, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Clearly, it wouldn't hurt if the Saints were to add another player to help out in the receiving game with Michael Thomas, and the 22-year old Isabella would add an element of speed that they haven’t had at the slot WR position specifically, in some time. Isabella is one of the fastest WR’s in this year’s 2019 Draft Class (he ran a blistering 4.31 at the Scouting Combine) and is considered one of the top players coming out of college at the “slot” position.

The undersized Isabella (he's listed at 5-foot-10 but is actually a lot closer to 5-foot-8) has been overlooked and is very underrated because he played at a “small school” (UMass) that's better well-known for its basketball program than football.

However, make no mistake: Isabella looks as if he will become a star and has drawn comparisons to Patriots WR Julian Edelman. With the Saints looking for a “complementary weapon” to help out Thomas, Isabella could be a player that Saints brass might opt for.

Canal Street Chronicles featured writer Bob Rose says that Isabella — who finished last season with 102 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns — is a fierce and tough competitor who can make plays, beat press coverage, is equally effective from outside or the slot, and says jokingly (but with all seriousness) that Isabella is "as fast as lightning" in the open field. 

The one major concern for the Black and Gold likely would be that Isabella’s size makes his durability a question, and there are many analysts who believe that he might not hold up to the much more physical nature of the NFL. Nevertheless, we’re all familiar with the phrase “speed kills” — and Isabella has plenty of that and then some, at his disposal. 

 

HAKEEM BUTLER, WIDE RECEIVER, IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The third and final WR (and undoubtedly the most of any position on our list), Butler has become very popular among some Who Dats and there isn’t any doubt that given the uncertainty of the health status of returning veteran WR Cam Meredith and the ongoing development of rookies Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood, that Saints team brass might add another receiver to the offense either at the slot position or on the outside opposite of superstar #1 WR Michael Thomas.

As originally reported by James Palmer of the NFL Network, Butler met with Saints scouts at his Pro Day, and the 6-foot-6, 227-pound speedster is considered one of the elite receivers in this year’s class. Last season in 2018 as a redshirt junior, Butler firmly established himself as one of College Football’s premier (and extremely underrated) players at the position; tallying 60 receptions for 1318 yards and nine TDs.

The 22-year old Baltimore, Maryland native has drawn comparisons to several NFL star WR’s similar to his size and skill-set, including Bengals WR A.J. Green, former Lions (and now retired) WR Calvin Johnson, and current free agent veteran WR Brandon Marshall.

The Draft Network analyst Kyle Crabbs notes that Butler is a true “power forward” type of receiver that bullies opposing cornerbacks, has great hands (although he has had issues with a few “dropped” passes), and is a good blocker.

Imagine a Saints offense with Butler on lined up to one side of the field on the outside, with Thomas lined up wide on the other side. That would be a virtual nightmare for opposing NFL defensive secondaries to worry about matching-up with. That potentially would be a "dream come true" (literally) for Who Dat fans.

 

JACE STERNBERGER, TIGHT END. TEXAS A&M

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Saints signed the #1 tight end in Free Agency when they brought in former Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook on a two-year deal, but they still would like to have a young TE to "groom" for the future and learn from Cook, and Sternberger seems to be one of the more logical players in this year's TE class that would be perfectly-suited for that role.

Sternberger actually started his collegiate career at Kansas before deciding to go the junior college route, enrolling at Northeastern Oklahoma until ultimately choosing to enroll at Texas A&M over his other finalist, Boise State. Sternberger actually was current Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher's first new commitment after he was named their head coach a year and a half ago.

The 6-foot-4, 247 pound Sternberger quickly made his presence felt as he exploded for an 8 catch. 172 yards and 2 TD performance in the Aggies' 2018 Spring Practice Game that quickly served every one notice of his outstanding capability as a "pass-catching" / receiving TE and thereby solidifying his spot within the team's revamped offensive attack.

Sternberger went on to have a stellar 2018 season, as he tallied 48 catches for 832 yards and a school record 10 receiving touchdowns for a tight end. He was named a consensus 1st team All-American, but inexplicably was left off the final list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end.

The Draft Network Lead Analyst Jon Ledyard says that physically and athletically, Sternberger is an ideal receiving tight end with good hands and the speed to stretch the field. Sternberger still has room to grow as a route runner and be able to develop the mental aspects of his game, but Ledyard quickly points out that very few tight ends can make "splash plays" like Sternberger can, both before and after the catch.

Ledyard adds that Sternberger will need to prove he can "hang with the big boys" at the next level as a blocker which could limit his early impact in the NFL, but with his arrow pointing up, Ledyard expects that Sternberger will  become a late-blooming stud by his 2nd or 3rd year in the League. Unless the Dallas Cowboys (who need a new #1 TE after this year just like the Saints to replace Jason Witten next year) just happen to snag him right before at #58, then Sternberger could very well end up in NOLA with the 62nd overall pick.....

 

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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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