Don’t assume the New Orleans Saints draft a QB or WR in Round 1

2022 NFL Draft New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints will draft a quarterback and a wide receiver in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL draft.

You’ve read that and heard that so many times by now that those moves probably feel inevitable.

But that doesn’t take into account the team’s salary cap situation.

New Orleans is projected to be over the salary cap by more than $61 million once the spring starts, which would be a league-high. Making matters worse? Left tackle Terron Armstead will be an unrestricted free agent once the season ends.

When healthy, Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk form one of the best tackle duos in the league.

Do the Saints really want to bring in a rookie QB and receiver without a better-than-average LT?

Instead, look for New Orleans to potentially replace Armstead through the draft – and that can’t happen unless the Saints take an OT early.

Round 1: OT Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State

You’ve heard it by now: The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Ekwonu can play either guard or tackle. But New Orleans already has young, core pieces along the interior of its line. Center Erik McCoy was a second-round pick in 2019 out of Texas A&M, and right guard Cesar Ruiz was a first-rounder out of Michigan in 2020. Left guard Calvin Throckmorton, who went undrafted out of Oregon in 2020, is the most replaceable of the three, but he’s only playing right now because of the injury to three-time Pro Bowler Andrus Peat, who is expected to miss the rest of the season after receiving surgery for a pectoral muscle injury.

The 28-year-old Peat, though, has underperformed and missed time due to injuries. Therefore, trading him after June 1 could save the team $10.8 million, according to the Saints Wire, which would help free up money to resign Armstead.

And if the team is able to bring Armstead back, then you would slide Ekwonu in at left guard, the position he played up until this season. Or the team could let Armstead walk away and start Ekwonu at LT, keeping a presumably healthy Peat at LG.

Ekwonu’s selection in the first round, though, also comes down to supply and demand. There are six OTs currently ranked among the top-32 prospects in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board and nine rated among the top-50. However, after Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele (ranked No. 42 overall), the next-highest ranked tackle is Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan at No. 78.

That means the Saints might not have a shot at drafting a tackle capable of starting if the team passes on the position in the first round.

Round 2: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State

The Saints knew they wouldn’t have the services anymore of QB Drew Brees – but they didn’t foresee star receiver Michael Thomas missing the year, too.

Thomas announced in early November that he would miss the entire season after a setback from offseason ankle surgery. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve seen him suit up for New Orleans for the last time, even though the Saints could save $15.8 million by trading him after June 1.

From Saints Wire’s John Sigler: “(Trading him) … doesn’t feel likely given how critical his absence proved to the receiving corps this season. Look for Thomas and the Saints to huddle up, settle their differences, and attack 2022 together.”

That uncertainty, though, is why Dotson would be crucial to the team’s success next season. If Thomas is traded, then Dotson slides in as your No. 1 receiver. If Thomas returns, then you have a speedy playmaker who can stretch the field and take some double-teams away from Thomas. The 5-foot-11, 184-pound senior finished the regular season with 91 receptions for 1,182 yards and 12 TDs, all career-highs.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranked Dotson as his No. 17 overall prospect in his latest rankings, calling him “explosive” while lauding his acceleration, leaping ability and lack of dropped passes.

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