Don’t assume the New Orleans Saints draft a QB or WR in Round 1
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.
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.
My god, Ikem Ekwonu. pic.twitter.com/6BGwCx3PgP
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) December 1, 2021
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.
Senior Bowl WR/DB 1-on-1’s will be a perfect showcase for Jahan Dotson’s separation & ball skills.
Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees was one of the shorter quarterbacks in the league at a generously listed 6-feet tall. So the fact that Zappe is listed at 6-foot-1, 220-pounds shouldn’t scare off the Saints.
If anything, Zappe is the most Sean Payton-pick ever.
Zappe passed for a nation-leading 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions this season, his lone year at Western Kentucky after transferring from Houston Baptist. The next-closest player in terms of passing yardage was Will Rogers of Mississippi State, who had almost 1,100 fewer yards.
However, Zappe will be dinged for the level of competition he faced in college – which is why he could still be available in the third round.
Here’s what Zappe told Crissy Froyd of The Draft Network: “Drew Brees has always been someone who I’ve looked up to mechanics-wise, preparing-wise. Just watching him and the way he is in the pocket and stuff like that—it’s something that I kind of model my game after. We do have some similar things, we’re both not in that 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-5 range, so just watching him and how he kind of combats that.”
Okay, the ball placement on this 2-pt conversion pass from Bailey Zappe is … ridiculouspic.twitter.com/ycZ9G10W8W
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) December 4, 2021
Adam Trautman became the first Dayton football player to be drafted since 1977 when the Saints selected him in the third round of the 2020 draft. He went on to catch 15 passes for 171 yards and 1 TD as a rookie backup to Jared Cook.
Still, it was enough for the Saints to hand Trautman the starting job after releasing Cook in the offseason – and Trautman didn’t disappoint, with 25 receptions for 241 yards and 1 TD this season. However, Trautman went down in early November with an MCL sprain suffered against Philadelphia and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Taking his place in the starting lineup has been Nick Vannett, who has 8 receptions for 123 yards and 1 TD.
Whether Trautman is healthy or not, Kolar would add another dimension to the Saints offense. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound senior has 58 receptions for 723 yards and 5 TDs during the regular season, giving him a four-year total of 164 receptions for 2,148 yards and 22 TDs.
And, should Trautman go down for any length of time next season, Kolar would likely present a better option than Vannett – and more weapons for whomever is New Orleans next signal-caller.
Charlie Kolar rising above a defender to reel in this pass. He is a Power Forward type TE!
— Full-Time Dame
Round 4: Edge/DL Colby Wooden, Auburn
While still one of the most-feared defensive linemen in the league, Cam Jordan’s production has slipped the past two seasons. The 32-year-old Jordan had a still-respectable 7.5 sacks last season, which ended a three-season stretch in which he had 40 sacks. Thus far, Jordan has 4.5 sacks this season, and his ironman streak of 172 consecutive games played came to an end last weekend against the New York Jets due to Covid (of course).
Wooden, meanwhile, would give the Saints another big strong-side end who can play the 3-tech position on passing downs. At 6-foot-5, 278 pounds, Wooden has 4.5 sacks and 8.5 TFLs to go with his 57 tackles and 2 PDs. The redshirt sophomore is listed as the No. 7 interior lineman in the latest Dane Brugler prospect rankings from The Athletic.
However, the Saints already have depth at the Edge position behind Carl Granderson, who went undrafted out of Wyoming in 2019, and Payton Turner, this year’s first-round pick out of Houston. Those two back up Jordan and 2018 first-round pick Marcus Davenport, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks.
So the smart move would be to use Wooden at defensive tackle, where he would be battling Shy Tuttle and David Onyemata for playing time – both of whom are replaceable. Then New Orleans could turn to a defensive front of Jordan and Davenport at end and Turner and Wooden at tackle on passing downs.
Colby Wooden is a go-getter pic.twitter.com/H18PZ5mSxt
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) October 17, 2020
The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Ross has been very productive at Iowa, with 108 tackles, 10 INTs and 15 PDs in his four-year career. And he comes from a school known for producing NFL-ready players.
So why would Moss still be available this late in the draft? Because he completely tore his posterior cruciate ligament while making a diving interception Oct. 9 against Penn State. Moss didn’t miss much time and played through pain to finish the regular season. But he’ll have to move forward without a PCL, and it’s unknown when – or if – he’ll ever regain his track-star speed.
It was speculated that Moss might return and use that extra year of eligibility granted to players due to Covid, but he recently accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. That likely means Moss feels healthy enough to test the NFL waters – and if he can stay healthy, the Saints might have found a steal on Day 3.
Riley Moss (@R_moss5) has great instincts from the CB position with the ability to make game-changing plays
— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) December 13, 2021
Round 6: LB Aaron Hansford, Texas A&M
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Hansford started as a receiver as a freshman for the Aggies before transitioning full-time to linebacker the following season. He finished the regular-season with a team-leading 89 tackles – an impressive feat considering how many draftable players Texas A&M has on defense. Hansford also had 8.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 4 PDs, 2 FRs and 1 TD.
Texas A&M @AggieFootball LB Aaron Hansford
(@AaronTheRealMVP) is a new modern athletic space/cover ‘backer who fits what #NFL is looking for these days in three-down LBs. Accepted @seniorbowl invite last year before returning to school. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️#BestoftheBest pic.twitter.com/FyHtm1W79d
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 16, 2021
Round 7: WR Danny Gray, SMU
The Saints have sorely missed Thomas this season, as the team doesn’t have a player ranked among the top 50 in the league in receiving yards. The diminutive Deonte Harris, currently in the midst of a three-game suspension for a DUI arrest, ranks tied for 110th in the league in receptions (31), 55th in receiving yards (523) and tied for 59th in TD receptions (3). Harris is also a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Translation: Don’t be surprised if the Saints double-dip at the receiver position in the draft. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Gray finished the regular season with 49 receptions for a team-leading 803 yards, and his 9 TDs tied for the team lead. His teammate, Reggie Roberson Jr., may get more national attention, but Gray could be drafted higher.
Danny Gray to the