Who Will The Saints Draft In The First Round Thursday?
The NFL Draft is upon us this week. Over the last two decades, the NFL Draft has smoothly slid into a high-ranking slot in our football conscious. Which is why you now have a chance to enjoy the First Round in Prime Time on Thursday night.
For NFL teams, it's equally as exciting, especially when you're a team who started last season with Super Bowl aspirations, only to fall completely off the map thanks to your defense...looking at you New Orleans.
The Saints are desperately in need of this draft.
This is a team who finished 31st or 32nd in the four main Defensive categories in 2015, yet was Top 10 on the Offensive side in Passing (#1), Scoring, and Total Offense. Meaning they had the offensive firepower to win games, but the Defense just wouldn't allow it.
Which brings us to what this team is going to do Thursday night. Repeat after me: Best. Defensive. Player. Available.
The Saints will more than likely entertain offers if someone REALLY wants to move into their spot at #12, based on how the draft is shaking out (like if no one goes RB by then), but we have already had major moves up, so we can't really forecast a trade at this spot.
It has to be D-line, right?
Of course this would make the most sense on the surface. Last year the team found linebacker gems in the draft with Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha, so that corps is young, and most importantly good. Delvin Breaux & Keenan Lewis can hold it down in the secondary, so there's not much universal worry there. So most people are looking at the linemen. The team has a lot of money tied into Cameron Jordan, and they've given a one-year deal to Nick Fairley (really should have worked to get him in on a longer deal IMO), putting two veteran play-makers on that line.
So if you have a foundation at all three levels, isn't it just as likely for the Saints to take a cornerback as it is for them to take a defensive end? It does, but based on most forecasts for the first dozen picks, those top-line defensive backs will be off the board when #12 comes up, but there will still be blue chip defensive lineman available.
So going back to Best Defensive Player Available, we have to examine who's going to be there. From the looks of it, we'll see players like Clemson's Shaq Lawson, his Clemson teammate Kevin Dodd, and A'Shawn Robinson sitting there. There are some mock drafts that suggest super-stud DeForest Buckner (Oregon) could even slide down to the Saints...though that's HIGHLY unlikely, and would involved some reaches and trades to have happen.
Is there room for an Offensive swerve?
Of course there is, this is the NFL Draft after all.
Here's how it plays out: no one trades up, all the teams sitting there take quarterbacks, defensive lineman, and secondary players...and the Saints look at their issue a Guard are start thinking really hard about it.
Last year, the team took OT Andrus Peat in the First Round, but due to injuries at Guard, he had to slide inside. Not much good news can come out of a 7-9 season, but knowing that you have a First Round talent that can play to the inside at this level, I would take it.
So what if a player like Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame, Jack Conklin from Michigan State, or Taylor Decker from Ohio State is still available, and all of your blue chip defenders are gone? I know I have been harping on Best Defensive Player Available, but what if you are staring at a 10-year-starter at left tackle that just fell into your lap? I mean, you HAVE to consider that.
How about the move no one sees coming...
OK, so let's give a couple of minutes to the ideas that would shake the draft to it's foundation.
There is only one prospect that the Saints organization has met with 3 times during the draft process...that player is Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.
The Saints are painfully aware of Drew Brees' age, and it's been a minor forecast over the last few drafts that the team would target the successor to the Brees Empire. Last year the team even spent a Third Round pick on Garrett Grayson from Colorado State, but after he completed only 50% of his passes in the preseason, there wasn't much hype building.
Paxton Lynch was projected as the #1 overall pick for much of the early draft forecasting, and he hasn't honestly done anything to fall from that spot, its just other quarterbacks like Jared Goff and Carson Wentz have been skyrocketing up draft boards. The only knocks against Lynch are all around his mechanics, namely his footwork, and if there's one guy who can fix a QB's mechanics, it's Sean Payton.
Do not be shocked if the Saints try to set up the next decade here by grabbing Lynch to stash behind Brees.
But, don't be shocked if they try to set Brees up for one more Super Bowl run before he's gone...
I think I may have just lost some of you.
But knowing that Marques Colston is gone, and Jimmy Graham was never successfully replaced, there's going to be a BIG hole to fill in that aerial attack. There are no high quality tight ends available in this year's draft, but there are some elite wide receivers to be had.
Top of that WR pile is Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell. He's two inches shorter than Colston, but he has similar size, and possibly better ball-skills. There have been some mock drafts projecting him as high as #3 overall, but there are other situations that would allow him to fall to the Saints at #12.
One thing I can almost guarantee here (as far as offense goes) the Saints will NOT pick a running back at #12. Even though there are two blue chip guys that could be available here, I don't think RB is a priority on the Saints draft board...in fact, the Saints have only met with ONE running back during the process. That was San Jose State's Tyler Ervin, who happens to be the smallest pure running back in the draft. Which sounds a lot like some more recent Saints running backs. He projects as a mid-round pick though.
Best. Defensive. Player. Available.
It's fun to talk about all of the offensive help the Saints could gather at pick #12, or even the QB-of-the-future (more likely they trade into the end of the First Round to take Paxton Lynch), but the real situation is that the Saint defense was literally the worst in the league last year.
We're going to see a defensive lineman here, the real question is do they go inside or outside?
I really think the best scenario would be DeForest Buckner somehow slipping to them, but that's unlikely. So unlikely, the team never scheduled an official visit with him. Other players they may take here, that they never met with, include DT A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama), DE/OLB Jaylon Smith, and DT Sheldon Rankins (Louisville).
The team took a meeting with Ohio State blue chip DE Joey Bosa at the Combine, but they would need to trade up into the Top 5 to make that happen, and I don't think that's in the cards.
The one player who's projected this high, that fits the team's need, who they've met with more than once, is Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche. The extra visit may have actually been based on character concerns though, Nkemdiche was suspended for a bowl game, and some scouts have suggested that his production has been underwhelming for his skill set.
There could be a case made for one of the two top-level secondary players if they fall this far, but I think the team will focus on the D-line after moving away from Junior Galette, without ever finding a replacement.
I'm going to make the safe call, based on who's picking ahead of them, and what their needs are, I believe the Saints get a play-maker off the edge, who can make an impact right away.
With the 12th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, your New Orleans Saints select, Shaq Lawson, defensive end, Clemson.